Client: City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture
Location: Boston, MA, United States
Completion date: 2022
Artwork budget: $375,000
Jeremy Stewart, PhD
Fabrication / Installation
Design Communications Ltd..
Memory / Diffusion is an interactive artwork that explores concepts of memory as proposed and developed by the French philosopher Henri Bergson through his major works—Time and Free Will (1889), Matter and Memory (1896), and Creative Evolution (1907).
Installed at the Boston Arts Academy, the artwork uses machine learning and camera vision to detect ‘normal’ activity in front of it and recognizes when ‘unique’ activity takes place. The artwork records these ‘memories’ and expresses them back onto the large scale display and custom lighting fixtures. Constantly learning and making memories, the artwork plays back stored memories based on what it observes in real-time based on the school activity.
Installed in a high-traffic area with a two-story atrium and wide staircase that serves as a performance and hang-out space, “Memory / Diffusion” was designed as an integral part of the everyday landscape of the school – absorbing and recalling unique actions that occur near it through a high-tech digital display and colorful lighting elements that change with the school’s spectrum of activity.
More than two years in development, the interactive installation comprises a large LED tile screen and custom lighting fixtures that cascade out and over the space’s grand stairway. Behind-the-scenes proprietary software and hardware, built and programmed just for this piece, use leading-edge machine learning and artificial intelligence to assess activity in the school’s main atrium and absorb images it hasn’t previously encountered. At the start of the academic year in September, students flowing in and out of the school, and a steady stream of people and equipment finding their way is helped to load digital cameras with thousands of new images. The processors began storing digital memories just as students arrived ready to make some of their own.
Two live-input cameras serve as “eyes” for the piece; they perceive the environment and movement in the main communal space. As the eyes observe activity in front of them, the processor brain determines whether what it sees matches something it holds in its image bank. If it recognizes the real-time action or image, the computer conjures a similar past memory and displays it through a range of abstraction filters. If the image it sees is new, it is captured and stored – to be conjured and displayed later.
Memory / Diffusion is an interactive artwork that explores concepts of memory as proposed and developed by the French philosopher Henri Bergson through his major works—Time and Free Will (1889), Matter and Memory (1896), and Creative Evolution (1907). Bergson’s metaphysics deals extensively with memory: he developed theories of different types of memory, the functionality and form of memory, our experience of memory, and the ways that memory formulates the basis for our experience and understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Knowing Memory / Diffusion would be a part of the everyday landscape for an arts school, the creative process set off to question how this artwork could both evolve over the course of years and mirror the vibrancy and diversity of activity in and around the school. Through research, philosophy, and inventive technologies MASARY has embarked on answering these questions and offering new speculation through this contemporary artwork.