ARTIST: Ryan Wolfe
TITLE: Sketch of a field of grass, Pacific Coast, 2004
MATERIALS: Mixed media
DIMENSIONS: node: 3.25" x 18" x 4.5"; 8 nodes: 33" x 78" x 4.5"
DATE: 2004

This piece explores the idea that a memorable time, place or experience can be condensed in a singular, physical object that embodies the essential qualities of that experience. It is one in a series of sketches that encapsulate the experience of watching the rise and fall of a summer breeze across a field in a single blade of grass (or a series of blades of grass).

This particular sketch is comprised of eight blades of grass. Each blade is a complete computational system with the ability to sense and respond to its environment. A simple networking protocol is used to propagate wind data down the network, blade by blade. The technology has been designed to be modular. Future sketches in the series can be scaled up in size merely by adding blade "nodes". Other variations between sketches include changes in the software algorithms that control movement and the generation of wind. The technology developed for this piece is ultimately scalable to a grid network, allowing for an entire gallery space to be transformed into a dynamic kinetic experience.

While it was much more challenging to realize this piece as a collection of decentralized computers rather than as a monolithic computer controlling a network of addressable sensors and actuators, the individual response each node has to its surroundings is an important conceptual element of the piece. Just as in a real field, each blade responds to the wind in a slightly different way. Each blade is both physically distinct and simultaneously part of a larger aggregate phenomenon. The emergent behavior that comes from the interrelation of independent nodal behavior interpreted in a group context is fundamental to the overall aesthetic effect.

In my work I isolate and extract the defining elements of a physical place or moment in time, and then use those elements as a palette for designing objects that embody the essential quality or qualities of the actual experience.

While we all experience the world with analog sensory and cognitive systems, there is a digital-like granularity to how we analyze and store experiences. We don't remember every single point in time as a discreet instant -- rather our memories are aggregations of a number of instances that we have grouped based on some perceived similarity. Our memories are often are defined by a very singular element: the quality of light on a cold fall day; the hive-like dance of people and machines at a crowded downtown intersection; the visible rise and fall of a summer breeze as experienced by a field of grass. My interest is in isolating the definitive qualities of remembered experiences and reinterpreting them within the confines of a constructed object; essentially condensing the whole of a lived moment in time in a refined, physical reinterpretation.

Ryan Wolfe
San Francisco, CA
ryan AT livingindustries.com