The Savant Guard

Ashok Sukumaran

The Savant Guard ,
Co-workers & Funding
This work is supported by an grant from the David Bermant Foundation. It is commissioned by Richmont Development and the city of Pasadena
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The Savant Guard is a public art commission for the city of Pasadena, California. Since its opening in July 2006 it is one of the few outdoor, publicly accessible "interactive" artowrks in the US.

This project is a collaboration between myself and Christina Ulke, co-founder of c-level (now betalevel) in Chinatown, Los Angeles. It began as an parking booth sculpture: a memory of the booth on the empty lot of this development. The idea was that the booth lights up, reacting to the movements of passersby, marking it as a kind of placeholder for its obsolete security function (now taken over by security cameras).

In our experiments with lighting the booth, we found we were always fighting against sunlight, the awesome lumens per square foot of the California sun. I have had an interest in the sun for some time, especially as a precondition for almost all early experiments in optics, and thus omnipresent in the history of visual perception. This seemed like an opportunity to work with the sun, also as an acknowledgement of a larger 'location' of the work. The sun figures prominently in California's mythical landscape, its virtues being tom-tommed by generations of California "boosters". Its inversion, as shadow, also occupies a crucial historical space, in the literary and cinematic constructions of noir.

We took a decision to use the sun itself to light the booth. We modified a sophisticated sun-tracker developed by Egis GmbH (for solar lighting applications) for these purposes. Using a combination of pre-programmed co-ordinates and live sensing, a large mircoprocessor-controlled mirror tracks the sun constantly through the day, and through the year. In combination with a second mirror, it casts a constant oval beam (the shape changes constantly) onto the booth. As people walk in the 50-foot space between the tracker and the booth, they are hit by the sunbeam, resulting in a shadow in the sunspot. As you cross this threshold into (or out of) the building, you feel a warm brush, and the booth responds by 'waking up' and playing back light sequences. The internal lighting fills the shadow as it is formed, see pics.

In this way, the sun-tracker and the booth co-perform, strung together by a thread of sunlight. The linkage is often disturbed by passersby (who are often unaware of its existence). This arrangement bears a direct resemblance to an electronic “trip wire” or movement sensor. It is also a deliberate conflation of some things that we have only begun to notice (surveillance) , and those that we have forgotten (sunlight), in our urban environment.

The Savant Guard is at 141 South Hudson Ave. Pasadena, CA. It is best viewed in the daytime after noon and before 6pm.
  • aesthetics
    • installation-based
Technology & Material
Installation Requirements / Space
Technical notes:

Within the booth is a stand-alone DMX-512 controller, the Lanbox LCX from Four IR photo-diodes mounted on a ring inside the booth detect light changes and trigger and manipulate lighting sequences played on 2 high-power led lamps (color64's from colorkinetics).

The diodes are connected to different a/d ports on the Lanbox and sequences are triggered using a combination of Forth and stored light sequences. A simple Forth program calculates the trigger, and then applies it to various light cues, also stored on the box.

The solar tracker is manufactured by EGIS GmbH, Germany, the two-mirror format being specially designed for this project.

Maintenance instructions and code