Digital Neuron

Submitted by HEAVY

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Client: University of Geneva

Location: Geneva, Switzerland

Completion date: 2016

Artwork budget: $50,000

Project Team

Artist

Chris Nunes

Heavy Projects

Artist

BC Biermann

Heavy Projects

Artist

Dan Acher

Happy City Lab

Overview

Project was to celebrate the inauguration of the University of Geneva's new medical school building by creating interactive medical themed art. We were given choice of installation site, material selection, and artistic content. We collaborated with the university marketing team, the building architect, a local experiential arts group Happy City Lab, and a student body representative to create a design and accompanying interactive Augmented Reality experience that both fit the new building's aesthetic as well as the interests of the medical students – sharing ideas via study of the brain.

Goals

Goal: create an interactive installation that would engage the inaugural attending public in a different way than at a traditional building opening, as well as provide an ongoing interaction point for medical students as they navigated the new building & plaza. The mural depicts the neuron's central importance in human cognition and therefore the meta-engine of medical research. An electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information in the brain, the neuron is now - for our purposes - a visual metaphor for the connectivity required between students for modern research pursuits. While the physical mural boldly depicts an empty laboratory enshrined in latin medical texts and housing a static neuron image, in augmented reality via our HEAVY AR app, the 3D lab recesses into the building and fills with books and lab equipment, brought forth by a now animated and electronically living neuron. The laboratory is both a physical room and a metaphorical brain (with both the right and left representative halves), surrounded by the tools of research. And to share ideas, the neuron emits smaller neuron particles into space around the viewer, representing "memes" - ideas passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means.

Process

Heavy Projects was the designer of the artwork and the accompanying AR interactive art. We collaborated with the project sponsor (UniGe) and a local arts group (Happy City Lab) to generate ideas around engaging medical students with modern technology to explore concepts of the brain. The Universite de Geneve was founded in 1556 and today lies in the geographical center of Europe's modern brain study efforts. So the concept was developed to juxtapose old and new learning methodologies in a laboratory setting. The 3D lab houses both old and new research equipment in the left and right "hemispheres" of the lab-cum-virtual brain, centered by the pulsating neuron. Working with the building's architect on aesthetic and placement, we finalized a location that fit the exterior's design, as well as good sitelines for the mobile experience. AR art requires a certain quality of visual imagery with high contrasting elements, preferably of a "blocky" nature, that are easily seen by a phone's camera. Because of the extremely fast turn-around times, we were given broader than average discretion on all artistic conception/development matters, subject to approval by the client, and everything was approved on the first round of submissions.

Additional Information

Please download the HEAVY AR app, available free on both iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/app/heavy-ar/id1175941601) and Google Play (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.heavy.heavyarapp&hl=en_US). Select the "Geneva" level and point the app at the CodaWorx mural image to see the AR experience first-hand. The accompanying video also tells a supplementary story of the creative process, including the importance of real-world physicality even in the creation of digital art.