Me + You
Showing daily at the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building through July 6, 2022.
I was given an incredible opportunity to collaborate on me + you, an interactive light sculpture created by artst & architect Suchi Reddy, commissioned by Amazon Web Services and curated by Isolde Brielmaier. Along with my crew at Hovercraft Studio, I developed the software that powered dynamic, volumetric animations across over 10,000 individual LED lights. I also developed the "capture stations" that detect user presence via an Arduino & LIDAR sensor to toggle a physical microphone that captures visitors' voices. Working with Suchi and her designers, a team of lighting designers, the Hovercraft creative team, the AWS machine learning team, and the fabrication team at Bednark, we built an emotive light sculpture that responds to visitors' spoken words with personalized animations.
I also developed the sculpture's website, which serves as a virtual version of the experience and concept. Visitor interactions with the website will influence the sculpture, and vice versa.
Technology has brought us immeasurable knowledge, but it is our human imprint on this knowledge that shapes its being in the world around us. Weaving the wisdom of humans and the intelligence of technology together, me + you is created through combined strengths, as an emblem for a positive future of coevolution.
me + you marks Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) first major art commission and is curated by Isolde Brielmaier. The sculpture’s blurring of responsive light, color, and AI, coalescing in a human-centric form, is groundbreaking in a public artwork.
Viewers are invited to speak a word describing their future into the cloud base of the sculpture at designated points. Acting as an emotional translator, me + you reflects back to each visitor a unique kinetic mandala. As individuals interact with the sculpture, the collective vision of all users is also displayed as an artifact at its center. The interaction between humans and artificial intelligence is visualized as a visceral experience of the balance between individual responsibility and collective agency. The work will evolve constantly, a metaphor for the beauty of diverse points of view accumulating into a singular whole, a balance between individual agency and shared responsibility.
me + you, created by globally renowned artist and architect Suchi Reddy, is a site-specific artificial intelligence (AI) and light sculpture that blends physics, neuroscience, and data technology with the human voice. Situated in AIB’s expansive central rotunda, visitors can activate the two-story installation by speaking their “future vision” into its cloud base. An Amazon Web Services (AWS) machine learning algorithm will translate meaning, tone, and sentiment into a unique kinetic mandala of color and light. Each visitor’s “future vision” will flow into a central totem to create an awe-inspiring monument made up of the collective future visions of the visitors themselves.
The blending of responsive light, color, and AI is groundbreaking in a public artwork. For this first-ever major contemporary art commission by Amazon Web Services (AWS), a team of AWS engineers worked closely with Reddy and project curator Isolde Brielmaier for more than 1200 hours over two years to custom-create machine learning and cloud technology infrastructure.
An algorithm devised by AWS translates the word into a colourful pattern that then floats up into a central totem. As more people speak into the sculpture, more patterns will emerge, creating a beautiful, ever-evolving collective vision of the future.
“The sculpture takes sound and turns it into light,” explains Reddy. “I devised it in a way that I am allowing the machine to inform me—all I do is set the rules and the patterns for each letter, and see how the machine learns from that.” The way the totem weaves the patterns together is inspired by Reddy’s fascination with Kanchipuram handlooms, and also references the Vedic ideology that says, we are all one. “I wanted it to be an emotional sculpture that lets people know that whatever you do leaves an imprint,” she adds. “Technology could be used for the worst, but it doesn’t have to be. It is all about how you choose to interact with it.”
A huge fountain of lights stands in the AIB’s central, 108ft rotunda bedecked with Moorish stenciling, where Thomas Edison once premiered his lightbulb. Visitors are invited to share their dreams at the base of Indian-born Suchi Reddy’s me + you (2021), which spews patterns in soothing shades of blue and green when hearing positive thoughts or red in reaction to swear words. The work, Amazon Web Services’ first major art commission, evolves using artificial intelligence and depending on the thoughts shared in person or online using an app. In an era dominated by Big Tech, the project was designed to avoid collecting personal identifying data.
In the Media
CBS Sunday Morning
Wall Street Journal
To understand the shimmering 20-foot-tall work requires knowing how to interact with it. Visitors to the museum can step up to one of the sculpture’s nine mandalas. When the mandala turns green, they can speak “my future looks…” and add a forth word of their own choosing that represents how they feel. Through voice-recognition technology, machine learning and an algorithm, the final word (and the tone used to convey it) is interpreted into a unique explosion of color on the mandala. After the personal presentation ends, the colors all join the central tower—creating a colorful, collective vision of the hopes and dreams of all participants. It functions on so many levels: the aesthetic experience is fantastical; the conceptual undertones are thoughtful.
New York Times
Images courtesy of @reallyfarrah
On the 'gram
Behind the Scenes
Prototypes & Simulations
The Artifact's seamless 360-degree composition
The Mandalas and their gradients and 2d pixel map
The full sculpture simulation and visualization
The Closing Party
The me + you website directly mirrors the physical sculpture in digital 3d space. Using THREE.js and custom shaders, I recreated the animations that run on the physical sculpture's LEDs with two large GPU-powered particle systems. The Mandala and Collective elements from the sculpture were translated to efficient WebGL code, and are optimized to run well on any modern smartphone. The AWS-powered backend collects and returns the same data sources for the scultpure and the website, so we were able to map the animations and colors directly between both canvases. Visitors to the website have a chance to save their own Mandala snapshot to their phone or computer, as a keepsake artifact of this collective, distributed experience.
The Collective GPU particle system
Mini Mandala UI element
User-generated share images
Collective GPU particle system, with parameterized configuration:
Mandala GPU particles, with spherical subdivision in the vertex shader:
- Suchi Reddy
- Smithsonian Institute
- Hovercraft Studio
- Reveal Design Group
- Boca Flasher
- Web Serial
- ATLAS Institute
Interactive software designed by Justin Gitlin part of Smithsonian Institute’s FUTURES exhibition
- CBS Sunday Morning
The Smithsonian looks toward the "Futures"
- Wall Street Journal
Machine Learning and Mandalas: Inside Suchi Reddy’s Latest Artwork
- Architectural Digest India
Suchi Reddy's ‘emotional’ installation is ready for its Smithsonian debut
- Washngton Post
‘Futures’ comes alive in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building
- New York Times
At the Smithsonian, an Architectural Treasure Looks Ahead
Suchi Reddy’s Interactive “me + you” Sculpture Inside the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building
Smithsonian Announces New Interactive Installation by Acclaimed Artist Suchi Reddy as Centerpiece of “FUTURES”
- Smithsonian AIB
Suchi Reddy’s me + you
- Smithsonian Magazine
A New, Interactive Sculpture by Suchi Reddy Illuminates Our Hopes and Fears About the Future
Smithsonian Will Celebrate 175 Years With An Exhibit About The Future
- Washington Post
The Smithsonian is turning 175. It’s celebrating with robots, flying cars and hope.
- CBS Sunday Morning
Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building to reopen