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On September 20th, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will come alive with more than just the bright colors of autumn. Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer will transform a stretch of Philadelphia’s famous cultural promenade with 24 of the brightest searchlights in the world for an interactive public art project called “Open Air.”

Open Air Logo

Commissioned by the Association for Public Art (aPA, formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association) and supported by a Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia grant, the project moves to present public art in a way that is fully interactive as well as accessible locally and globally. The ambitious installation draws from Lozano-Hemmer’s prior work on a massive light project entitled “Vectorial Elevation,” which debuted in Mexico City in 1999 and has since been shown in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Lyon, Dublin and Vancouver. Philly’s even larger version “Open Air” will occur in conjunction with the 2012 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and 2012 DesignPhiladelphia.

Open Air

Simulated image of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Open Air from PMA steps. Photo courtesy CanaryPromo.com

Robotic lights which will line the Parkway – 12 on either side – are controlled by voice recordings from the web as well as a free, dedicated mobile app designed by Lozano-Hemmer’s studio. Participants can utilize consoles along the Parkway or record voice messages via their iPhones to manipulate the intensity and configuration of the lights. The analyzed sound waves are translated into a lighting pattern, which then occurs over the Ben Franklin Parkway in a live display that will be visible for miles. Participants from around the globe can see visualizations of their contributions on the project website www.openairphilly.net even if they are not in Philadelphia during the exhibition. Interactions from the Parkway are given priority, however, and app users are notified live when their message is being displayed.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Photo courtesy CanaryPromo.com

Lozano-Hemmer aims to cross the worlds of technology and public space in an undertaking that is accessible and innovative. The many ways to participate with or experience the event make it extremely democratic, since literally anyone can contribute and the lights will be seen by countless people around the Philly metro area. Having spent time talking to local residents, the artist hopes this is a way for Philadelphians to express themselves and honor their history of free speech and creativity. Ultimately, Lozano-Hemmer’s goal “is to create intimacy and not intimidation. While the project will be spectacular in scale, what matters to me is that individual participants can personalize their city with their contributions.”

The free opening night celebrations kick off at the start of “Open Air” on September 20 from 7:30-11 p.m. on the closed inner drive of theBenjamin Franklin Parkway. There will be a special presentation by Lozano-Hemmer,  virtuoso vocal performances, special guests and a countdown to the ceremonial lighting.

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