Murmur Wall

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Client: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Location: San Francisco, CA, United States

Completion date: 2015

Project Team

Artist

Jason Kelly Johnson

FUTUREFORMS

Public Art Agent

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Overview

What will the city around us be thinking, seeing, and feeling in the near future? How will its desires and fears manifest? Offering a glimpse into this immediate future, the Murmur Wall is a 60-foot long, artificially intelligent, anticipatory architecture that reveals what the city is whispering, thinking, and feeling. By harvesting local online activity—via search engines and social media—it anticipates what will soon matter most to the city. As a continuously evolving interface, the Murmur Wall provides a place for the city to share, indulge and reflect on the real-time desires—and anxieties—of its citizens.

Goals

The Murmur Wall is a two year installation at the entry plaza for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in downtown San Francisco, California. It draws in visitors from bustling Mission Street with its dynamic shape and illumination and informs them of internet search terms trending within the vicinity. These related terms move through the acrylic and steel lattice as LED light trails until they reach the 3D printed data pods where they transform into readable text messages, or “murmurs,” slowly floating by until they once again become streams of light that flow back into the city. By transmitting these related search terms into the plaza viewers develop an uncanny premonition of topics they did not realize were important—or could not admit they were searching for. Murmur Wall allows individual expression to override the anonymous, big-data flowing through the piece with “whispers”, direct messages sent to the wall through a web application at murmurwall.net. These momentary “whispers” flow through the lattice rapidly in a different color, appearing only once, becoming temporary urban graffiti, never to be collected, reused, or reshared.

Process

Murmur Wall was designed with a high degree of digital and physical craft, relying on effects of geometry, sunlight and shadow, artificial light, and digital media to shape a public space of citizen engagement. It was entirely modeled, fabricated, programmed, wired, and installed in-house by Future Cities Lab and MACHINIC, our sister fabrication company. As a two-year installation the artwork could not permanently attach to the entry wall. It was fabricated in discrete sections, shipped to the site, and attached and wired together, creating a system that could be easily adapted and added to any wall as an added infrastructural layer on the city. The entire piece was designed utilizing parametric software which allowed us to visualize and construct the complex, interlocking steel lattice as well as the intricate 3D printed data pods. The six 3D printed data pods are weatherproof enclosures that house the LED matrices on which the “murmurs” and “whispers” appear as text and required over 250 hours of printing each.

Additional Information

Murmur Wall was completed with generous support from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Yerba Buena Gardens, and an Individual Artist Commission Grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission.