New Digital Media Installation puts the paintbrush in the hand of the city of Chicago

Posted January 15, 2018

Inside an office building on a bustling strip in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, a newly installed piece of digital artwork is putting the paintbrush in the hand of the city. Canvas, a digital media installation commissioned by Beacon Capital Partners for 515 North State Street, utilizes custom software to create abstract color compositions derived from motion of the neighborhood.

As one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods, with a diverse mix of business, retail and residential spaces, River North is in constant motion. Inspired by that perpetual activity, ESI Design created ‘Canvas’ to capture generic moments of daily life and turn them into abstract moments of color. The artwork draws from a library of custom footage we shot around River North, from the rippling of the Chicago River to the trains, traffic and people that course through the neighborhood, using the colors as paint and motion as brushstrokes to abstract the images.

New digital media installation in Chicago.

To design the software that could generate the brushes and brushstrokes from the source videos, we drew artistic inspiration from Post-Impressionist painters like Van Gogh and Seurat and contemporary artists such as Gerhart Richter and Davide Quayola. The digital media installation’s software analyzes the videos for areas of high brightness/saturation and movement—these become the first paint and brushstrokes in the abstraction process. As the process continues, more brushes and strokes are added until the canvas is a completely new composition of pure color.

New digital media installation in Chicago.

Once the video has dissolved into abstraction, it “collides” with another video. After mixing the videos in total abstraction, the motion in the new video pulls the abstract color composition back into legibility, slowly revealing the new video. Then, the abstraction process begins anew. Through these collisions, hundreds of different possible compositions are created not only by which two videos are sequenced together, but by which moments from those two videos are combined. The piece continues to surprise me with new details that are created in these periods of collision and abstraction.

The result is a piece of video art that allows the city to paint pictures of itself. See for yourself in the video below:

Ed Purver

An award-winning media and installation artist with almost 15 years of experience, Ed draws on his expertise in integrating digital media and built environments in his former position as ESI’s creative technology designer.

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