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designspace

Mike Wharton • FeaturesMay 2021 • May 7, 2021

“Digital Alchmies” photo by Erica Lin/ASU

Lightswitch and ASU Students Create an Artistic Drive-Thru Experience

You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead — your next stop….

It’s been a long year of home stays, interspersed with all-too-brief visits to the outside world around us through two dimensional screens. The students at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, under the guiding hand of John Featherstone of Lightswitch Inc., have blown through those screens with a unique immersive experience called designspace (asugammage.com/designspace).

With the collaborative efforts of structural artists behind HYBYCOZO and rental companies Video West and ILC, the students enrolled in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts have pulled together an elaborate drive-thru art experience that takes attendees on a journey from our world to outer space.

“Here’s the deal,” explains Featherstone. “Students enrolled in this theater arts studies [program] generally work on the basics for their first two years before getting the hands-on experience so desperately needed during their final two. With Covid-19 ending the 2020 season prematurely, we feared the same results could happen this year. These students have spent as long as we have doing stuff virtually. So, I kicked some ideas around of how we could engage the students in a project at a time when lots of lighting and video gear, as well as technicians, were sitting idle.”

A HYBYCOZO creation, photo by Erica Lin/ASU

‡‡         The Wellspring

Featherstone first approached Jacob Pinholster, associate professor of performance design at the college, with his idea. They would take the students who normally work in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Gammage Auditorium and give them a larger canvas on which to work, transforming ASU’s Packard Parking Garage into a drive-thru student art showcase.

While sketching out his concept to Pinholster, Featherstone noted how Lightswitch had designed other drive-thru events “while pivoting from our norm this year.” says Featherstone in. At the Morton Arboretum in Chicago, for instance, Lightswitch transformed the annual Illumination walk-through experience into a drive-thru visual design concept. (See PLSN, Feb. 2021, page 18). Featherstone then reached out to several peers and vendors as they started the design process and production layout of the parking garage.

“The team at Eamotion were quite helpful with tips and lessons they had learned with their Jingle Beat event at a Nashville speedway (PLSN, Dec. 2020, cover story) and ILC out of Chicago provided a ton of IP65-rated movers we had used on the Arboretum. While rain is not expected in Arizona, when it does come — it pours. They shipped us down any lights we would require which might be subject to inclement weather.”

Video West, full production vendor located in nearby Phoenix, were able to deliver the majority of the production needs allocated for the show. “Owner Jack Waitkus and senior account exec Donny Lodico have been a preferred vendor of Lightswitch for many years and are big supporter of the arts, as are Scott Falbe and his team from ILC in Chicago. When I contacted them for support, they immediately rose to the occasion.”

“I was quite stoked about being involved with this project,” says Lodico, who designed the entrance for the designspace project and took on the role of production manager/technical director for the show. “For Video West to get a chance to give the future workers of our business some inside knowledge and the chance to excel at a show of this magnitude in the future, just makes us all feel good about what we do.” Video West supplied more than 300 Martin 5mm video panels along with hundreds of light fixtures. “I told John [Featherstone] simply, if it is on the shelf, it’s yours.”

Other artists once again collaborating with Lightswitch included Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu, the principal artists behind the Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone installations, a.k.a. HYBYCOZO, that have wowed arts lovers at Burning Man and other events. “Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu have always provided fascinating art structures to adorn events,” says Featherstone. “Their creations take light and emit it very well. As soon as we approached them, they were all in.”

“Pufferfish” illuminated by 30K Barcos. Photo by Micah Rind

‡‡         The New Generation

Featherstone points out that the student interactions with this project were based on three modalities. One group of students were engaged as stagehands. A second group were handed a kit of parts and told to “go create something.” A third group of artists, mostly graduate students, created their own pieces. “They told us, ‘We want to do this.’” This group created all the CAD detail and programmed all the Touch Design, d3/disguise and grandMA consoles, with input and supervision from the Lightswitch team.

Wrangling the students for this massive undertaking while invisibly donning the hat of co-creative director fell upon Featherstone’s daughter, Hailey. She is a graduate of ASU with a wealth of experience in the creative and technical sides of live production. “She did an amazing job of coordinating all these groups of students,” beams Featherstone.

One group of students wanted to create a piece that spoke to constraint and restriction representing the isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Video West owner Jack Waitkus provided Pufferfish balls for this idea. Nestled on a short upright structure, an ingenious array of mirrors inside display content from a 30K projector at its base. The group of students consisted of a choreographer and dancer (Kathy Luo), a composer (Laura Brackney) and a vocalist, Leia Wasbotten. They created the artistic content, and Video West mapping that content to the sphere.

Anastacia Meconiates, another student artist, designed, created and curated all the elements needed for Boötes Constellation Sonification, an artwork inspired by the Boötes (a.k.a. Herdsman) constellation. Visible in the night sky over the southwestern U.S., it is a prevalent image in Native American art. Paula Dinkel, an Arizona-based lighting design consultant for major theme parks around the world including Shanghai Disneyland and Motiongate Theme Park in Dubai, mentored Meconiates, with suggestions of how to expand, broaden and facilitate her creation.

The designspace roof experience, meanwhile, was designed by Matt Soson, a graduate student at ASU. In this section, the vehicles the patrons are in is turned into virtual stardust. Upon entering a tunnel of walls of LED, a camera captures the vehicle, which then melds into the stars and drifts into the constellations surrounding it. The immersion reinforces the idea that we are all made from stardust.

Stardust on the roof. Photo by Micah Rind

‡‡         A Drive-Thru Art Gallery

The designspace drive-thru experience is largely driven by video imagery played back via PRG Mbox and disguise media servers along with individual computers running Touch Design. As an art installation, “the whole notion of designspace was to create the feeling more like a museum gallery rather than theme park,” says Featherstone. “The added benefit of such a large space where cars could move past others really enhanced our gallery conception for this.”

Featherstone has gained valuable experience and lessons from these drive through projects. “We have learned a lot about the diversity a drive through can provide. As an industry, we need to be boxing clever, thinking about ways of ways of getting people back to work doing innovative projects.”

While breaking new ground in terms of its artistry, designspace was a whole different paradigm financially as well. “This was a partnership between ASU, Video West, Lightswitch, HYBYCOZO and ILC,” Featherstone says. “Everybody has got skin in the game. There is no promoter, no big equity partner. If we make some money, everybody is going to split it in equal proportion to the amount of skin they have in the game.”

Just a few of the many students who contributed to designspace are mentioned here, but their work will travel with them. “designspace was a manifestation of how we have always run Lightswitch,” Featherstone says. “We don’t credit individual designers, and we are not crediting individuals with designspace. Every student who participated can put this on their resume. They can take a portfolio piece with them that they can show to employers or graduate programs and say, ‘Look, I did a thing that people came to see.’” (designspace, still open as this issue went to press, ran from April 9-25, with an anticipated total vehicle/passenger count well over 4,000 and 16,000, respectively.) “And that, at its core, is what we do.”

Related links: www.lightswitch.net, www.videowestinc.com, www.hybycozo.com, www.asugammage.com/designspace, www.ilc.com

The Packard parking structure entryway. Photo by Erica Lin/ASU

designspace: The Collaborators

Lightswitch: John Featherstone, Chris Merriman, Chris Trosper, Collin Mulligan, Dennis Connors, Ellen Beckett, Hailey Featherstone, Lacey Taylor, Steve Hiben, Zach Buckingham

Video West: Jack Waitkus, Donny Lodico, Jerry Villaire, Nick Phrasavath, Rob Nimmo, Silas Flores

HYBYCOZOY: Yelena Filipchuk, Serge Beaulieu

ILC: Scott Falbe, Joby Benoit

Student Designers & Technicians: Axel Adams, Elizabeth Kraus, Ian Irizarry, Krystalynn Newbury, Leah Zweig, Lucy Primiano, Sierra Holly, Valerie Stutterheim, Veronica Mangu, Wade Yorke

Student Documentarian: Micah Rind

Student Artworks and Artists: Bootes Constellation Sonification: Anastacia Meconiates, Nikhita Sheller, Wyatt Dittmar, Ziyu Wang, Elora Mattison; Dancing in Augmented Reality: Kathy Luo, Laura Brackney, Leia Wasbotten; Digital Alchemies: Shomit Barua; Dissonant Waters: Xavier Nokes, Olivia Hernandez, Julian Nguyen, Shomit Barua; Dancing Into Starstuff: Matt Soson, Lauren Gold, Shomit Barua; SloMoCo Spring Phase Immediations: Andrew Robinson, Garrett Johnson

Contributing Artists: Megan Young (Cleveland); PlaceHolder Group: thispatcher, Kavi, Renee Carmichael, Emory Martin (Toronto/Buenos Aires); Fidelia Lam (Los Angeles), Fernando Gregório (New York City), Lisa Jamhoury (NYC/Vermont), Nuntinee Tansrisakul and Yuguang Zhang (NYC), Thembi Rosa and Joao Tragtenberg (Brazil), Lydia Jessup (NYC), Hannah Tardie (NYC/Maine), Nire and Laura Stinger (NYC), Selwa Sweidan and Nina Sarnelle (Los Angeles)

More photos by Erica Lin/ASU:

 

More photos by Micah Rind:

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