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This Glowing Painting Comes To Life When You Walk By, Knows Your Every Move

Big Painting is watching.

Since mankind first put paint to paper, the ability to bring life to an otherwise static image is one we have never tired of. Thanks to the constant level of tech innovation, we're seeing more and more work become dynamic--often blurring the definition of what we consider art. While not immediately seeming out of the ordinary, artist Camille Utterback's recently completed project, Flourish, springs to life upon closer inspection. Consisting of seven double-layered five by eight foot glass panels, the 70-foot long site-specific artwork explores a new display method for the interactive artist. Projected color and animations interact with the multiple layers of custom glazed and sandblasted glass, allowing three of the seven panels react to passersby.


Commissioned by the Liberty Mutual Group, Flourish currently hangs in an executive corridor in their Boston headquarters where growing tree leaves, soaring wind, and splashes of color responds to movement of workers walking by. "We try to make sure there’s a component that alerts the passerby to the fact that he is part of the piece," explains project Creative Director Michelle Higa Fox, "but we’re also layering the visuals so that someone who sees the piece day in and day out can have an ongoing relationship with the artwork." To achieve the interactivity, three ceiling-mounted Kinects were installed, taking advantage of the cameras' impressive skeleton-detection, color, and depth capabilities. Information gathered by the Kinects is sent to TouchDesigner—the project's primary software program—where it is translated to correspond to six different visual behaviors, allowing short-throw projectors to cast light onto the textured glass, making animations appear in front of, behind, or inside any of the glass panes.

To make the most of the project's digital abilities, Utterback worked extensively with historic glass fabricator Franz Mayer, experimenting with the Munich-based maker to create multicolor panels of glass containing iridescent, opaque, translucent, and sandblasted areas. The variations in texture combined with the projected light creates the effect of physical depth to the piece.

Having collaborated as artists on multiple projects before, Higa Fox's appointment as Creative Director allowed for her artistic eye and technical knowhow to enhance Utterback's painting and interactive ideas. While most of Higa Fox's work is conducted in 2D, the interactive nature of such projects like Flourish necessitate thinking differently about the visuals and narrative, approaching the artwork as a time-based sculpture in a sense. "A viewer’s physical position in relation to the piece changes her experience. The particular moment in time she encounters the artwork means a unique color palette and combination of animations," says Higa Fox.

All images courtesy of Charles Mayer and Michelle Higa Fox.