[ISEA2011] Paper: George Legrady – 60,000,000 Transactions Later: Visualizing Data at the Rem Koolhaas designed Seattle Central Library.


“Making Visible the Invisible” is a commission by the Seattle arts Commission for the new central library which opened in 2005 realized by artist George Legrady in collaboration with artist/engineer Rama Hoetzlein. The electronic installation was activated in September 2005 and is continuing until 2014 or beyond. It is located on the technology floor, on a wall of LCD screens behind the librarians’ reference desk giving patrons and librarians an insight as to where patrons’ interests lie. Between 12000 to 36000 books, movies and cd’s are checked out each day at the library. Since September 2005, we are receiving this amazing data every hour, approximately 10 million items checked out per year. Four animations that float across a wall of display screens interpret the data fed directly from the Library’s Information Technology department to the artwork, which is powered by four computers. At the time of ISEA2011 Istanbul we will celebrate the project’s 6th year of continuous operation. This paper will give an overview and analysis of the data, discuss the potential of the project as a historical document at a time of the massive transition to the internet, presented with animations and visualizations using the data, created by graduate students in the Media Arts & Technology PhD program at UC Santa Barbara and during workshops in the past 4 years.

I explore the sculptural, experiential and sometimes humorous possibilities of light and natural phenomena, often referencing devices from the history of science and optics in installations that include a machine for making rainbows, a camera obscura journey through the center of the earth, paranoid dinner-table devices based on a 17th c. Czech periscope goblet, an interactive computer/video rifle that references E. J. Marey’s photographic rifle of 1882 – and site-specific periscopes and camera obscuras.   Scientific visualizations and the devices that produce them (historical examples and contemporary innovations) have influenced my artwork and my teaching.

Several sculptural and photographic projects explore time making devices, including water clocks and sundials.  Several works involve tracing shadows over regular intervals: at the Roman Forum in Italy; over lunch in Rome, Shanghai, London, Berlin, Sydney, Seattle; at the Palo Alto Red Barn; and in the desert by moonlight. Skylight Aperture Sundial, a public art commission with the Seattle Public Library and the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs tracks solar noon within the Montlake Public Library.  Also directly relevant to this proposal is 2 Dog Dial, a playful use of the heliodon and the Leech Barometer (in homage to the Tempest Prognosticator by George Merryweather, 1851).

Along with presenting examples of these devices and artworks – and of collaborations with a physicist, an astronomer and a meteorologist, I will discuss two related courses: Art and the Cosmos – Making Giant Sundials co-taught with Astro-Physicist Woodruff Sullivan and Black Holes, Grey Matter and White Cubes: Visualizing Science, a studio art course which considers the artistic possibilities of scientific representation and instruments.  mat.ucsb.edu/~g.legrady/glWeb/Projects/spl/spl.html   mascontext.com/issues/7-information-fall-10/making-visible-the-invisible   Video:  Seattle Public Library