Shanghai Express

© 2013, Laurent MIGNONNEAU & Christa SOMMERER


Shanghai Express is an interactive installation we developed for the City of Counter Light exhibition at the Shanghai Power Station of Art in November 2013.


It allows users to create and interact with digital cityscapes that appear on an interactive train window. Users sit perpendicular to this screen and as they swipe their hands on it, light patterns and buildings appear.


Our parametric and generative software calculates the cityscape according to the users interaction parameters. While the view is that of a train perspective, none of the visible images are pre-calculated. They appear in real-time on the screen surface and disappear when the virtual train ride continues. There is no past or no future, only the here and now of the images on the screen.


Users can influence the train ride by swiping their hands in the desired direction. They can also collaborate and make the ride become faster, or work against each other to bring the ride to a standstill. The speed of this virtual travel depends on the speed of the hands movements. The complexity of the overall cityscape is directly linked to the users' interaction parameters; up to10.000 buildings and 100.000 streetlights can appear in a complex image scenario. The height of the view point, the size and window arrangements of the buildings, the city layout, the ambient lightning as well as the placement and number of street lights are all influenced by the users interaction parameters; they decide what kind of image composition appears next. As users sit back in their chairs and interact with the screen, they become aware of an ever-changing cityscape that is abstract but figurative. Interaction creates reality and engagement creates involvement.


Shanghai Express can be seen in a tradition of early interactive art works by Jean-Louis Boissier from 1984 on virtual travel [1], or virtual architecture installations by György Kepes from 1967 [2]. It is also a new interpretation of our own interactive train window installation from 1999, called Haze Express [3] where users could ride through a landscape of abstract artificial life forms that they created through their interactions.


Shanghai Express refers to the context of information architecture and the concepts of The Digital Ground as expressed by McCullough [4], who asks for a new discussion on public space in light of the continuous integration of smart and interactive technologies. As an interactive art work, Shanghai Express aims to create awareness about the city as a living organism that changes through interaction, and asks the users to get involved into the creation of a real-time city [5].



References :


[1] Frank Popper, Art of the Electronic Age, Thames and Hudson, 1993, pp. 107-108.


[2] Nina Czeglédy and Róna Kopeczky, The Pleasure of Light, György Kepes, Frank J. Malina at the intersection of science and art, The National Centre for Culture, Laznia Center for Contemporary Art Gdansk, and Ludwig Museum Budapest, 2011, pp. 81-84.


[3] Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, HAZE Express, In: Ars Electronica'99 - Cyberarts99, Vienna/New York: Springer Verlag, 1999, pp. 92–93.


[4] Malcolm McCullough, Digital Ground, Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, The MIT Press, 2004.


[5] Dietmar Offenhuber and Katja Schechtner, Inscribing a Square -Urban Data as Public Space, Springer Verlag, 2012.