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Nightscape: Designing an Experience

By Heather Coletti, on August 16, 2015
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Last Friday, Longwood Gardens hosted the second installment of the Artist & Friends Speaker Series for Nightscape: A Light and Sound Experience by Klip Collective. Ricardo Rivera, creator of Nightscape and founding partner of Klip Collective, returned to participate with Josh Goldblum (Founder and CEO of Bluecadet) and Nick Fortugno (Co-Founder and COO of Playmatics). The discussion centered on the role of technology in Nightscape, especially regarding its power to add depth to the viewer’s experience. The panelists debated the concept of “experience” and its relevance to cultural institutions. How do we draw the line between engaging with something personally—such as physically walking through and taking in the Nightscape installations—and viewing images of it on a screen or hearing about it second-hand? Both are experiences … but how does one create something that’s deeply affective rather than passive or even derivative?

Artist & Friends Speaker Series: "Designing an Experience," August 14, 2015. Photo by Heather Coletti.Artist & Friends Speaker Series: "Designing an Experience," August 14, 2015. Photo by Heather Coletti.

Rivera acknowledged that technology, a thing many people approach with caution or skepticism, allowed the Nightscape team to execute the aesthetic and emotional vision for the installation. He and Goldblum explained that Nightscape is a great example of how technology goes beyond staring at screens or downloading overwhelming amounts of information. Goldblum said Bluecadet’s past work, for example, has included partnerships with institutions such as Monticello, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and the Penn Museum. By developing mobile apps and touch screens for museum installations, Goldblum and his team have reintroduced people, places, and events from the past to twenty-first century viewers. Recalling Bluecadet’s recent Monticello project, Goldblum noted that his team was able to bring back to life the estate’s forgotten history and people in a beautiful narrative through an interactive mobile app. As a result, Goldblum knows firsthand that a long-standing cultural institution such as Longwood can also choose to use technology to enrich the guest experience rather than distract from it.

Flower Garden Walk during Nightscape. Photo by Hank Davis.Flower Garden Walk during Nightscape. Photo by Hank Davis.

The collaboration between Rivera and Fortugno on the Flower Garden Walk portion of Nightscape serves as great example of this kind of magic. From the beginning, Rivera and Fortugno wanted the Flower Garden Walk to be the interactive portion of the installation. This space presented a number of design challenges for Rivera. Because of the openness of the surroundings on the brick pathway, there was no desirable way to set up and hide the projectors that would illuminate the plants. “When we first came here we were asking, ‘Where are we going to do this work? How do we create a flow?’ Everything led up to the Large Lake, but I wanted to bring people back this way toward the Conservatory,” said Rivera. Knowing he would need a different plan for this space, he called in Fortugno to help him out. Rivera was considering placing lights in the actual flower beds when Fortugno suggested, “What if you walk through and the closer you get to the lights, the further they get away from you?” The blinking lights acquire a life of their own on the path and initiate a chase with viewers.

This element is one of many throughout Nightscape that draws the viewer into a story, a story initiated by the artist but written by the viewer. For Rivera, the technology that makes the Flower Garden Walk—a simple brick pathway—come alive also provides guests with “an arc, a path, a breadcrumb trail” to follow, but the individuals on the path fill in the blanks of the Nightscape story for themselves. “On the Flower Garden Walk, we don’t tell you what you’re chasing. We don’t tell you where the light came from or where it goes when it flies away, but there’s an arc to that experience,” added Fortugno. Ultimately, it’s an experience that will feel different for each person who moves through this space.

Erin Feeney, Nightscape Project Manager and Landscape Architect at Longwood Gardens; Ricardo Rivera of Klip Collective; Josh Goldblum of Bluecadet; and Nick Fortugno of Playmatics. Photo by Heather Coletti.Erin Feeney, Nightscape Project Manager and Landscape Architect at Longwood Gardens; Ricardo Rivera of Klip Collective; Josh Goldblum of Bluecadet; and Nick Fortugno of Playmatics. Photo by Heather Coletti.

Given all of this, it’s not surprising that the panelists view technology as imperative to cultural institutions at this moment in our cultural history. When used in a thoughtful and meaningful way, technology can offer a more physical and engaging experience in a place like a museum, gallery, or garden. “Technology can enable us to dig deeper if we want. A museum exists as a different way of learning, not for the sake of the collection itself, and technology can augment that form of learning,” suggested Fortugno.

Longwood guests can hear the next Artist & Friends panel on Friday, September 11, at 7:00 & 9:00 pm.

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