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Big LEDs Week 1: Hylozoic Veil

This week I wanted to highlight a sculpture I've seen fairly regularly since 2011 when it was installed in the Leonardo Museum in my hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. Designed by Artist and Architect Philip Beesley, the Hylozoic Veil is a living sculpture made out of synthetic, digitally fabricated materials meant to mimic complex cellular systems.

The sculpture spans three stories in the large entryway of the space and is made out of hundreds of thousands of components fitted with microprocessors, sensors, LEDs and chemicals. Some of the flasks convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, while others collect and filter particles in the air. The sculpture is kinetic and reactive, the large palms move in reaction to temperature changes, while proximity sensors trigger parts of the installation to move if it senses that something is too close. LEDs trigger in response to motion, ping-ponging between large sections of the sculpture in response to these changes.

The lighting designed in the sculpture itself is subtle, there are warm lights that slowly fade on and off, highlighting the kinetic motion when it's triggered. There are also cooler white lights that sporadically blink in and out throughout the tubing that connects the system together. On top of that, there are green and orange indicator lights on each of the sensors, prominently displayed and incorporated nicely into the sculpture. This serves as a reminder to the viewer that the system is entirely artificial - and active.

The glass and clear plastic components of the sculpture reflects and refracts the daylight provided by the skylight above the installation as well as a few spotlights, giving the sculpture almost an otherworldly glow while providing additional light to the rest of the space. Light moving between the palm leaves adds a twinkling effect, similar to the look of dew on blades of grass in the morning sun.

The walls of the Leonardo museum in the entryway are a dark grey color, which makes this installation the brightest thing in the space. The contrast allows you to see every intricate detail of the sculpture from almost any angle and at a distance, which otherwise would be completely lost with a brighter backdrop.

One of the reasons I chose to highlight this sculpture is that it doesn't appear to have aged very well these past 10 years. It used to appear to be very full of life, but nowadays it doesn't appear to be able to move at all. The sculpture also has far fewer dynamic lighting effects than it did during its first few years. The sensor lights are still present and blinking, but the various lights that move along the tubing aren't as brilliant as they used to be. My initial thought when I saw it last year was that the sensors would only trigger under certain circumstances, but after reviewing older footage of it when it was newly installed you can definitely tell that much of the physical movement simply doesn't work anymore. This is a shame because the kinetic movement is really what made the lighting changes so dynamic and life-like. It's still a very beautiful sculpture, but it's lost a lot of its luster over the years.


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