Step Inside A Digital Zen Garden

New Interactive art exhibit synchs light and sound.


You enter a dark room.

A deep pinging sound stops you where you are.

Light waves catch your eye.

When you visit the SHiKAKU (四角, 視覚, 視角, 死角) exhibit at the Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, you notice one thing instantly: You’re in charge.

SHiKAKU uses motion control to sense nearby movement. Walking around the two light cubes or multiple diagonal beams triggers unexpected light and sound effects. It turns visitors into participants.

It’s no surprise that interactive artist CHiKA has a background in graphic design and visual performance. In the exhibit, open until November 16, she creates a digital Zen garden reduced to its most basic elements of rocks and trees, and water represented by LED lights and the movement of people.

The Symmetry of Light and Sound

Instead of color and stroke, CHiKA uses light and sound as tools because, in her words, “light and sound effect your brain differently – you end up seeing more than what you are actually seeing.” And it all starts with 34 bars of LED lights.

She fortuitously received the lights from friends at Garagecube and 1024 Architecture, the company that used hundreds of LEDs to create the unforgettable light show for Vice’s Up Next interactive fireworks show back in June. But using the lights to create projection mapping like her previous exhibits wasn’t enough. She was determined to add a layer of sound art to the piece. “Sound is very important. Without it, the visual doesn’t work,” says Imagima. She even relates this merging to prehistoric times when man saw the searing brightness of fire with the hissing and crackling.

To further tie the exhibit to noise, the title is a homophone in Japanese–a word that sounds the same but means different things like pair and pear–and in this case translates to square, visual, optic angle, and blind spot. “I like this idea of different meanings and it’s all related to what you hear and what you see. I might use different media or different technology, but I won’t separate the visual from the sound. That’s where my heart is.”

The Sound Art Movement

She isn’t alone in her desire for sound in art. The trend has swelled. Until November 3, the Museum of Modern Art is also presenting their first major exhibition of sound art, entitled Soundings: A Contemporary Score, which includes friends of CHiKA.

She knew her sound strategy immediately. To achieve the specific ping she was looking for, CHiKA partnered with Phan V, a sound artist/programmer/former classmate from NYU’s ITP program. He had been working on Gameboy-genre music and knew how to solve for her request: two versions of a sound that you can feel – that create deep reverberations through your body.

After making the installation in less than a month, with support from GarageCube, Madmapper, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant, she has been iterating on the concept to refine it. Partly because troubleshooting is inherent in a tech-forward exhibit, and partly because her creative process is always evolving.

To see what version she builds for the Interactive Art Fair 2013, which happens at same time asArt Basel in Miami this December, follow CHiKA at http://www.imagima.com/.