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Artist Daniel Canogar visualizes real-time environmental shifts with LED sculptures

With Echo, Canogar explores subtle changes in our world

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It sometimes seems like technology is at odds with the art world — a tension between brain and heart. But plenty of artists, from Da Vinci to Cory Arcangel, have proved that’s not true, and continue to prove it as technology evolves. In Technographica, we explore how contemporary artists are using technology in unusual and unexpected ways.

In his latest exhibition, Echo, Madrid-based artist Daniel Canogar is trying to make a point about how we interact with the world. The project, a series of abstract LED sculptures that react in real time to changes in the world, explores issues like deforestation, climate change, and pollution.

The exhibition consists of five sculptures. Each sculpture receives real-time data dedicated to certain environmental topics: air quality data, volcanic activity, wind changes in the city where a sculpture is installed, active fires, and rain data from 192 international cities. The sculptures are made of warped sheets of metal fitted with dozens of magnetic LED tiles that follow certain algorithmic patterns based on the data they receive.

Daniel Canogar with ‘Gust,’ the LED lights of which react to wind data collected in a city of choice — in this case New York.
Daniel Canogar with ‘Gust,’ the LED lights of which react to wind data collected in a city of choice — in this case New York.

“My entire project as an artist is always about the impact that technology has on us,” Canogar told The Verge. “About how we communicate, how we see the world, how we experience ourselves and our bodies and how’s that’s constantly being shifted and modified.”

Canogar says he spent two years finding flexible LED tiles that would be able to conform to the warped and twisted sheets of metal. After the tiles were affixed to the metal sculptures, Canogar used an algorithm to pull real-time data from various scientific websites that would determine how each piece would light up and display different patterns.

Daniel demonstrates the flexible nature of the magnetic LED light panels that he uses in all the works in ‘Echo.’ These panels are then placed on a skeletal steel structure. In this case the panel is being applied to the Troposphere.
Daniel demonstrates the flexible nature of the magnetic LED light panels that he uses in all the works in ‘Echo.’ These panels are then placed on a skeletal steel structure. In this case the panel is being applied to the Troposphere.

Each sculpture has “a personality,” Canogar says. The rain data sculpture, titled Basin, is molded into a concave shape, while the LED lights create blue ripples that are meant to “mimic the aesthetic qualities of a pond.” Ember, the sculpture that reacts to active fires, is shaped like a bonfire.  

These twisted sheets of metal helps to give the artwork what Canogar calls a “creature-like,” appearance, each piece curved into a pose with exposed data cables hanging down like tails. “I want [viewers] to be almost sensually attracted to the work,” Canogar says. “Then once I have people’s attention, I’m hoping that they’ll think about the content, the data-driven information that’s gathered on the screen.”

Diego Mellado works on managing the cables of ‘Basin’ during installation of a show of Echo at bitforms gallery, New York.
Diego Mellado works on managing the cables of ‘Basin’ during installation of a show of Echo at bitforms gallery, New York.

The data isn’t necessarily meant to change anyone’s minds, or to take a political stance, he says, but rather to encourage viewers to spend some time thinking about what these data sets mean on a global scale.

Each sculpture in the series becomes a lifelike representation of our world, and humanity’s effect on it. Canogar said he wanted to see what would happen if we stopped seeing screens as screens, and instead as something more sentient. “Screens have taken on a new presence in our everyday life,” he says. “We tend to think of screens as this framed device, that we watch TV on, or a computer monitor. But it started to occur to me that it would be interesting to think of the screen as a membrane.”

Canogar is best known for large-scale public art installations, the largest of which was 2014’s Storming Times Square, a participatory video installation projected onto Times Square billboards. At the time, Canogar said of the piece, “Filming in Times Square has changed the way I think and feel about ‘the crowd.’ I have studied each and every one of the video captures of the participants, over 1,200 of them. They feel like friends and collaborators.”

With Echo, “the crowd” becomes a more intangible thing: sometimes responsible for changes in the environment, and sometimes just experiencing it. As for why he called the exhibit Echo, Canogar says it’s about the way the sculptures interact with the environment they’re representing. “I feel like they’re kind of listening to the planet. Of human phenomena but also natural phenomena,” he says. “They’re not really answering back, they’re just listening to the echoes.”


ECHO: A SERIES OF FIVE SCULPTURES

TROPOSPHERE

The LED visuals on Troposphere (above) react in real time to air quality readings in a particular city — in this case, Washington D.C. The more the color orange is displayed, the more polluted the air; the more blue, the less pollution is present. The information is updated every five seconds, drawing data from five different reading stations in the D.C. area.

EMBER

Ember displays visuals that are created by interpreting data from the number of uncontrolled fires burning around the world — which was approximately 3,500 at the last check, according to Canogar. The more fires burning, the faster the animation moves.

BASIN

The source of data for Basin is rainfall from 195 capital cities around the globe. Basin reacts to this data by moving slowly when a small amount of rain is falling and speeding up when more rain is recorded. 

‘Basin’ in the foreground, ‘Gust’ on the left, and ‘Magma’ on the right.
‘Basin’ in the foreground, ‘Gust’ on the left, and ‘Magma’ on the right.
‘Basin’ hangs in the center of the gallery space. ‘Magma’ is displayed to the left.
‘Basin’ hangs in the center of the gallery space. ‘Magma’ is displayed to the left.

MAGMA

The patterns displayed on Magma are created by drawing data from the volcanic activity of over 600 volcanos from around the world. Volcanic activity is rated between 1 (dormant) to 5 (full eruption). Every time a volcano changes its rating, the lights on the panels change accordingly.

GUST

The LED lights on the surface of Gust react to wind speed data collected from pre-selected city — in this case, New York.