Last weekend, I attended SXSW Interactive to help my friends at Contently, meet new people, and soak up the energy of Austin. It was a wonderful blur of speakeasy chilling (thank you HUGE!), parties, and breakfast tacos. The whole experience was, literally and figuratively, glowing. We had thunder and lightning, danced with light batons and glow rings at MRY’s party, and finally soaked up rays of generous Austin sun on Monday. Closing out the theme, I visited SXSW’s Eco Light Garden in Republic Square on Fifth and Guadalupe.
Monday night in the rain, artists stood by their works, explaining or encouraging visitors to interact. I noticed a group of people wearing all white. “Those must be the creators,” I told my friends.
One member of that group was Jon Morris, the artist behind Brooklyn-based Windmill Factory. Inspired by bioluminescence and wind patterns, his team produced “Light Field,” a garden of balloons containing wireless radio-controlled LED light chips. The chips, designed by Lumigeek, are RGB rechargeable and individually addressable. Each weighs only six grams. When singer Leah Siegel said “blue” into a microphone headset, the balloons all turned a shade of aqua.
The team has designed similar installations for MIT Media Lab and the Unfair, but this is the first time they created it outdoors. The rain kept the balloons from taking any strict formation, but we all appreciated the sound of the droplets as they bounced off the installation. “When you work in public space, these are the things you have to battle with,” Jon said. “That interplay between nature is really exciting for me. How do you showcase nature’s effect on your work?”
Steps away, members of Houndstooth Studio
oversaw “Intersection,” a triptych of flickering geometric sculptures. Viewers could control the light distribution, colors, and patterns through software using Leap Motion, a Kinect-like technology that transfers movement onto surfaces.
Across the park, a group of people gathered around the Cathedral of Mathgic, a musical experience designed by Ilya “Tinker” Pieper, Team Frabjous, and Clever Maven Experiential. For SXSW, the artists constructed a wooden sculpture (a type of polyhedron called a Frabjous—20 points and 12 sides) whose points were capped with metal tips containing touch capacitive sensors. When slapped or tapped, each point emitted a different sound.
The whole thing was a welcome reprieve from the chaos of Sixth Street and a playful piece of SXSW’s overarching exploratory feel. I’m going to make sure to stop by earlier next year, because it’s those quieter conversations and moments of exuberant experimentation that make SXSW a worthwhile destination.