This Cool Art Installation Lets You Control the Lights on the Science World Dome

Swing by the False Creek seawall this August to get the chance to personally control the night-time lights on Science World.

August 4, 2017

By Alec Regino / Photo: Tangible Interaction

There’s no denying that Vancouver’s public art scene is growing. Between the Mount Pleasant Mural Fest and Alley-Oop on Hastings, new and exciting projects are emerging in the city everyday for Vancouverites to enjoy. One new public art installation is coming to Vancouver’s night skyline by letting the public alter the outdoor lights of the iconic Science World building in real time.

Tangible Interaction Founder and Artistic Director Alex Beim with OH!

“We’re calling it ‘OH!’ because that’s how people react when they see it,” says Alex Beim, creative director and founder of Tangible Interaction, the creative studio responsible for the project. “We want to accentuate a sense of surprise and wonder.” OH! is an interactive piece that lets users decide how the exterior of Science World glistens through a hands-on miniature model replica of the building.

This control centre, found on the Olympic Village sea wall, uses 240 sensors to measure the movement of and distance between people’s hands, which in turn control the lights on the actual dome—the closer your hands are to the replica, for example, the brighter the lights will be. Beim has also programmed six light animations that users can activate with specific motions: if you tap the model, a ring of light will appear, which you can then move by tracing your finger along the model globe.

The installation will open to the public on Friday, August 4, and will remain active every Friday and Saturday throughout August. On it’s first weekend, Science World will light up to form a rainbow celebrating Vancouver’s Pride Festival. The general public is free to interact with the model replica and alter the skyline with their two hands. “The experience is simple and because of that, it speaks to everyone,” says Beim. “This piece empowers people to participate and creates social interaction. We wanted to create an attractive piece of art that brings people together and makes them talk to each other.”

Beim’s vision for the project first came to him back in 2008. “When you go to Science World, everything is hands-on so people can experience the science and technology,” he says. “So I thought, what could be better than taking that experience outside of the museum and making the whole building an experience?”

The original proposed site for the project was on the Cambie Bridge, but when the Olympic Village was built in 2010, Beim realized that the art installation would receive more traffic there. Funds needed to illuminate Science World were secured through a grant covered by Creative BC.

This isn’t the first time Tangible Interaction has worked with Science World to create interactive art. Halo, a light-based installation that activates when someone touches the artwork, is one permanent fixture in Science World that Beim created. For years, Tangible Interaction has worked tirelessly with various groups in Vancouver to create work to contribute to the growing public art scene in the city.

Recently, the group was commissioned by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association to transform the alleyway behind the Orpheum theatre into a vibrant public space. This project, called FIELD, also uses sensors that respond to movement to create light and sound in the laneway. FIELD is one of many projects that Beim and Tangible Interaction do to encourage the local public to interact with each other. “Technology is constantly stealing you away from the moment,” Beim says. “Instead of feeling present and grounded, you’re just getting lost in your phone. I want to use technology to bring it back and to make you feel connected. I want to bring people together and make them feel alive.”

The inventiveness behind OH! and Alex’s other projects comes from his early childhood experiences. “As a kid, there’s a lot of joy in doing something really simple, like playing with a massive ball, helium balloons, or even playing with toy planes,” says Beim. “That ability to simply connect and enjoy something like that doesn’t die—we just stop looking at the world that way. Everything starts to become formal and square.”

As he and others contribute to the evergrowing art scene in the city, Alex hopes that his work can shake-up how Vancouverites socialize with one another. The drive to create interactive art for him comes from his interest in unlocking the inner childlike curiousity and the openness to interact with new people and things that rests in each person.

“My inspiration is to teach people to be surprised and connect with others in a more emotional way.” Beim says, “I’m just trying to bring them back to being children at heart. I think we all have it, and a simple moment that makes you say ‘Oh!’ can do that.”

Get the Newsletter

Own your city with Vancouver’s thrice-weekly scoop on the latest restaurant news, must-shop hotspots and can’t miss events. Rest assured your email is safe with us.