LED technology helping artists reconnect with audiences during COVID

While LEDs have revolutionized lighting, they’re also at the heart of a one-of-a-kind installation in Chicago that is helping performing artists reconnect with their audiences. 

The 150 Media Stream public art installation, launched in 2017, is divided into 89 LED blades of varying heights and widths, and measures more than 150 feet long and 22 feet high. It bears the name of its location — 150 N. Riverside Plaza in downtown Chicago — and features commissioned works by local, national and international artists.

The project is directed and curated by Yuge Zhou, a Chicago-based artist originally from China, who also holds a master’s degree in computer engineering from Syracuse University.

“What makes the 150 Media Stream unique is its one-of-a-kind display structure … and the fact that artworks created by artists in a wide range of mediums can coexist on this uniquely configured display,” Zhou said. “Our playback system can host a variety of digital content, from linear video art to generative, real-time interactive projects.”

Its current installation, “Interim Avoidance,” is a dynamic video installation featuring six members of the Joffrey Ballet: Edson Barbosa, Olivia Duryea, Dylan Gutierrez, Dara Holmes, Hyuma Kiyosawa and Jeraldine Mendoza. “Interim Avoidance” is also the inaugural production of Action Lines, a production company established in 2020 by dancers Xavier Núñez and Gutierrez, along with writer and film producer Eric Grant.

Filming took place at Joffrey’s black box studio, which allowed for complete control over lighting. This was a critical aspect of the production, which features a dramatic red backdrop highlighted by an overhead aperture light.

Although Grant handled much of the production logistics, Núñez used video editing experience to assemble the individual dancing videos into a whole. The finished performance appears as though all six dancers are performing together, when in fact each dancer performed solo due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“You have the entire media wall, which is 150 feet wide. And then you also have the option to edit in four quadrants,” Núñez said. “So, what I did was take these four pieces, and put everyone together. With the edit, I was able to then take these images and put them together to make it feel like all of the dancers were filmed at the same time, in the same room. When in reality, they were all filmed at separate times. They were never together.”

The digital and video nature of the performance also provided opportunities to expand the audience for dance outside its conventional parameters, Núñez said.

“[Each dancer] was filmed at 120 frames per second. So, it’s not the same as going to the theater and watching something live,” Núñez said. Instead, “you get to see this in slow motion. You get to see the things your naked eye wouldn’t see.

“I think bringing it on a more digital platform brings in people who normally wouldn’t see the ballet. Some of the people working there day to day probably would never have thought of going to the ballet, but they see something on the wall and they’d probably say to themselves, ‘this is pretty cool. I think I’m going to go check it out one day.’”

“Interim Avoidance” showings began on Feb. 1 and will continue through April 30, scheduled Monday through Friday from 8:00 to 9:30 a.m., and 4:30 to 8:00 p.m., Saturday showings run 1:00 to 7:00 PM. Performances are free, and audience members must wear face coverings.

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