Ben Rubin’s San Jose Semaphore

Perhaps my favourite digital art piece, Ben Rubin’s San José Semaphore. Photo by Peter Elst.

From Ben Rubin’s Vimeo:

San José Semaphore, by artist Ben Rubin, is a permanent public artwork commissioned by Adobe Systems Incorporated in collaboration with the City of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affair’s Public Art Program. Located within the top floors of Adobe’s Almaden Tower headquarters in San José, California, San José Semaphore is a multi-sensory kinetic artwork that illuminates the San José skyline with the transmission of a coded message. Cracking the coded message is posed as a challenge for the public. San José Semaphore’s four ten-foot wide illuminated disks rotate every 7.2 seconds, engaging viewers with a steady, glowing, and purposefully moving presence. The artwork’s illuminated disks perform a kind of mechanical dance as a method of communication. A low-power radio broadcast provides a soundtrack that is audible within 2-3 blocks of the Almaden Tower on AM 1680. An online simulcast provides a way to see and hear the piece remotely.”

Rubin obviously doesn’t want to reveal the coded source, but it’s Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. The book is transmitted over and over, in coded form, out into San Jose. Perhaps I love this piece because of my pre-existing love of Pynchon’s odd novella, but there is something about the way Semaphore captures the half mysterious, half mundane surrealism of the book, which was also set in Pynchon’s corporate/academic SoCal, that makes it keeps resonating. I keep coming back to this piece. And I think it escapes the fate of much digital art, which so often falls into the trap of random aestheticization of data. This piece doesn’t do that; it has turned code back on itself with the reflexivity so often missing in software art. It’s brilliant and it’s beautiful. You might need to read the book, if you haven’t already, to sink into this piece. More work by Rubin here. See also his Four Stories.

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