The goal for Mirror—a new permanent installation on the facade of the Seattle Art Museum—was to create a “living system” that constantly changes in response to its surroundings, says its creator, artist Doug Aitken. The piece, inaugurated last night just after sundown with a Seattle Symphony performance of Terry Riley’s minimalist masterpiece In C, wraps around a corner of the museum’s 2007 expansion designed by Allied Works Architecture.
The video and light work consists of a horizontal band of LED tiles and column-like LED strips that stretch 120 feet up the stainless steel and glass facade. But rather than competing with the building, Mirror “extends the experience of the architecture,” says Brad Cloepfil, founding principal of Allied Works. “It brings in a narrative of sorts,” he says.
Aitken’s narrative relies on hundreds of hours of footage that the artist filmed at various locations in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, capturing both natural and manmade environments, such as the snow-covered Cascade Mountains, the city’s skyscrapers, and workers assembling jets on the floor of a Boeing factory. The imagery moves across the building’s facade both horizontally and vertically, creating kaleidoscopic patterns that combine and overlap. Sensors placed just outside the museum capture real-time conditions—including automobile traffic, pedestrian movement, and weather—and then a computer algorithm adjusts the sequence and rhythm of the vignettes according to changes in the museum’s surrondings.
The artist refers to the installation, his third on or in an Allied Works project, (a loft in New York City and a house in Dutchess County also have Aitken pieces), as “liquid architecture.” The dynamic data, he says, make Mirror “specific to Seattle and this place.”