Jim Campbell

Yesterday Kelly and I went to see the Jim Campbell exhibit at the Hosfelt Gallery. It was pretty cool.

There were some photos which were digitally composted images of the protests in New York for the Republican Convention. Those were kind of lame.

Jim Campbell sort of invented his own genre- In most of the remaining works, a grid of LEDs is mounted on a custom board. A frosted glass pane is mounted in front of them- the LEDs are a uniform, soft glow behind it. BUT the LED intensities change individually- forming a very blurry television image. It reminded me a lot of the kind of image you get from a televisor.

Ironically, the one Kelly liked the best was something in the back, which was just a few blue LEDs. It didn’t show a picture, just a random wave. I told her you could buy something like it at Target. She didn’t seem to care.

So, for fun, last night I worked out a simple mostly-digital implementation of the LEDs. My first version uses no processor, only ROMs, multiplexors, counters, a clock, latches, and a digital-to-analog converter. And a bunch of LEDs with transistors. Missing- the actual art part. The images you put into the ROMs.

My question is- how did he get the values for the images? Did he take every frame, reduce it to the given (very few) pixels, and then measure the intensity? Does he have a software tool he wrote to reduce video images to the new ultra-low-resolution format?

He probably didn’t do it “by hand,” since the wave movie takes at least three minutes to loop! At around 700 LEDs per frame, probably 24 frames a second, and 3 minutes = 180 seconds for the piece… that would be a lot of sampling!

Too bad I don’t know anything about image processing. Maybe there’s something in Java that could do that easily- group a big square of pixels, then find the average value of all of them. Yet another project I’ll never get around to doing. You’re safe this time, Campbell!

The works we saw included:

  • Library
  • (something like Library but with a street)
  • Wave Modulation
  • Reconstruction #1
  • Running, Falling
  • a still piece made with tones and a microphone- the tones play one at a time, and the pitch seems to indicate the intensity of the LED- the LED grid lights up, adding one light at a time. the LEDs make a face.