GHOST project

Alexander Klein

2012 Fall ARTH 4482

Professor Susan Ryan

November 27, 2012

Pedestrian light cycles (GHOST)

Pedestrian pathways have no interaction between environment and the individual. Street signals are directed at vehicular traffic often with the pedestrian neglected. Society fears a vacancy in the night, often choosing the route with the most visible activity. People like to be by large groups at night because there are eyes on the street watching over their safety. Bridges often sit vacant at night with, an eerie glow coming from the static lighting conditions reflecting off the water. GHOST displays the actions of the pedestrian moving in a forward motion, by creating a light trail behind the participant. The display shows the occupancy level of the bridge with the speed of each traveler influencing the luminosity of the entire display. The artwork creates a destination node, and sends a message to pedestrians that they are not alone in the night.

GHOST is very tactile in its employment of the artwork. The rails of the bridge are lined with incandescent light bulbs. The light bulb was chosen to promote a recycling effort of the inefficient light source. People frequenting the display can replace burnt out light bulbs with in-use incandescent light bulbs from their home, to be replaced by a more energy efficient bulb for everyday use in the home. The rails are four feet in height, with sixteen rows of lights spanning the entire length of the bridge. Each light socket has an individual trigger on the walking surface of the bridge. When a participant steps on a trigger the corresponding light is illuminated. The path of the participant is then traced in real time on the wall. Dependent on the speed of the participant in a uniform direction, the bulb continues burning after the pedestrian has moved forward. The faster a participant moves, the longer the tracing of their path will stay illuminated on the display. A typical walking pace at three mph will create a trail that lasts six seconds; likewise a runner at ten mph will create a light trail that lasts for twenty seconds. The brain of the display calculates the mph of a participant by the time it takes the user to set off triggers. When the display is triggered by jumping up and down on one spot, a radial growth will begin to occur. The radial growth extends by one bulb in each direction every time the trigger is activated in a row. When a meandering path is detected the interface will begin suggesting where to step next to the participant by illuminating a path on the wall before the trigger is activated. If the display has a large amount of foot traffic to the point that pathways intersect, the light will take the adverse effect of what is on display when triggered; meaning if a light is on when your path reaches it, the light will shut off upon the activation of the trigger. There is no intuition necessary on the participant’s behalf to understand and utilize GHOST.

How to make a digital art installation respond to the user and make them more aware of their sense of place was the initial answer of GHOST. People feel more comfortable in well-lit areas with large groups of people around them at night. A sense of place is diluted under the darkness of the moon, but re-engaged by this beacon defining a node. The light medium was inspired by the installations of Dan Flavin. The way he skews perception of what actually has color and what is being implanted by the brain, on the white wall environments that his displays sit in. GHOST developed from that idea of activating the environment in the abstract.

Locative media is the beacon of activity, allowing everyone to know the activities of the pedestrian. Radar indicates the location of individuals and the activity level of those participants activating the node. The abstract radar then transforms itself again to the physical nature of water.

GHOST does not exist without foot traffic over the bridge. Nicolas Bourriaud’s understanding of relational art is the base of GHOST’s societal impact. “An art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space;”[1] is relational art.  GHOST is making travelling at night safer and more desirable, with activity being pronounced in a language clear to everyone. The light, in the most basic dialogue between user and interface is a locative art. The display is a series of dots tracking the motion of participants and leaving a trail for spectators to notice. Lev Manovich said “Radar is the best example of the rationalization of sight in the 20th century.”[2] GHOST is immediately understood by users as a radar tracking system leaving behind spirit lights for varying amounts of time. Participants are aware of their own individual influence on the display from their activation of the foot triggers, but the relations of the composition are better recognized when the piece is viewed as a spectator outside the immediate environment. From a distance, the length of the ghost trail, and arrangement of the entire composition’s interface become more easily understood. It is not until this removal from the display that they realize the scope of its function.

“A technology is interactive to the degree that it reflects the consequences of our actions or decisions back to us.” (Rokeby, 1995). David Rokeby describes interactive art as “transforming mirrors”[3]. “The medium not only reflects back, but also refracts what it is given; what is returned is ourselves, transformed and processed.” (Rokeby, 1995) GHOST attempts to reflect back the viewer in motion, in a simplification of human travel into a single line. The line of lights is clean and directly relating to the grid of triggers on the ground surface. This cleanliness of form does not exist in the fluidity below the bridge. The water is part of the composition of the display as another level of presentation. The tertiary visual experience for the bystander is the manipulated reflection of the linear pathways over the surface of the water. The otherwise dark water is activated and produces a total awareness of space for users.

Myron Krueger is evident in the way the participant is able to participate in the display. For his Psychic Space[4] installation, Krueger investigated the optimal method to gage the footstep as a catalyst for the interaction between the environment and participant. There are two phases in the stepping process, what he calls the “unfootstep”[5] and the footstep. “A number of response schemes were tried, but the most pleasing was to start each tone only when a new switch was stepped on and to terminate it on the next ‘unfootstep.’” (Krueger, 1977) He described the initial reaction of the participant to be playful and excited, but then realizing the complexity and investigating the environment in a more thoughtful relationship.

GLOWFLOW[6], completed in 1969, was Krueger’s first interactive art installation that set many principles in his mind as to how interactive Digital Media exists. Krueger says “Interactive art is potentially as richly composable medium quite distinct from the concerns of sculpture, graphic art or music.” (Krueger, 1977) He then goes further in his separation of interactive arts from the traditional notion. “The visual response should not be conceived as art nor the sound as music. The only aesthetic concern is the quality of the interaction.” (Krueger, 1977) This opinion resonates in the quality of GHOST’s environment. The visual environment is not concerned with being a compositional art piece, but rather the projection of information to the surrounding environment activated by the interaction between participant and interface. The lights being activated when stepped on and the acknowledgement of the “unfootstep” in the bridge pathway use the precedents Krueger had conducted in his schematic research.

The radial growth of lumens from a repetitive jumping motion comes from the mimicry of a single person’s action in Psychic Space[7]. Participants that would jump quickly and then pause for a longer period would hear the environment replay the tones during the pause. The mimicry was not recognized by users without explicit instructions posted. The intimate relation of play and the display without compromising the original intent is something the radial growth achieves. GHOST takes that relationship and amplifies to become easily recognized and interactive with the entire visual display. The jumping trigger is recognized by participant’s own curiosity in the interface. The radial growth can extend the entire length of the bridge, and become melded with another radial growth. The pathways contrast themselves to the radial growth switching to an inverse lighting effect.

GHOST was completed using tools that have been readily accessible for decades. Using tools that have already been established is part of what makes the installation relevant. In the fast forward culture of today, the installation takes what has been learned from history and reintroduces them in a piece that has the capability of empowering night time activity. The recycling message that is prominent in the upkeep of the lights is a relevant issue of the time, which speaks closer to a pedestrian traffic. There was little retrospect in the growth of the digital media and its power to interact during the 1990s and early part of the 21st century. Now, more than ever people are looking back for guidance, and further looking for solutions to the issues of the current environment. GHOST is the installation looking to be made by the community for the people, from material readily available, and a simple computer interface that provides structure to the randomness of human will to increase the well-being of nightlife.

The installation is very successful in its delivery of a message of safety and activity. The display does not involve any auditory components that are triggered, which is not a necessary fault, but rather a consideration for the time that the installation is to be used in a residential area. Potentially replacing the incandescent lights with a different visual source could make the display more responsive to different environments.


Hemment, D. (2006). Urbanity and Locative Arts. Leonardo Journals, 348-355.

Krueger, M. W. (1977). Responsive Environments. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin.

Rokeby, D. (1995). Transforming Mirrrors: Subjectivity and Control in Interactive Media. In e. Simon Penny, Critical Issues in Electronic Media (pp. 133-158). New York: State University of New York Press.

[1] Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (Paris: Les Presses du Reel, 2002).

[2] . Lev Manovich, “Modern Surveillance Machines: Perspective, Radar, 3-D Computer Graphics, and

Computer Vision,” in CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother  (ZKM, Karlsruhe/The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2002) p. 386.

[3] David Rokeby describes the interaction between human and interface as a mirror that transforms the original input.

[4] Psychic Space (1971), Myron Krueger’s interactive art space installation at the University of Wisconsin

[5] Krueger during his studies of the foot for Psychic Space coined the term the ‘unfootstep’ to describe the lifting of the foot from the ground in the function of walking.

[6] GLOWFLOW by Krueger was the first attempt by the artist at an interactive media. From this project Krueger made many decisions on how Interactive media should function.

[7] The mimicry in Psychic Space, was difficult for participant’s to grasp without explicit instruction. GHOST attempts to make this relationship clearer and more apparent to users.

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