Glow Goings

   Summertime in Florida is always hot, but this year it will be electric. The city of West Palm Beach, in partnership with the Downtown Development Authority, Visit Palm Beach, and Discover the Palm Beaches, has organized Summer in Paradise, a series of events that honors the essence of summer fun. The bedrock of this initiative is The Pool, a temporary, interactive light installation by artist Jen Lewin. Nightly, from 7 to 11, visitors are welcome to run, jump, and play on The Pool‘s glowing concentric circles, which transform through touch, creating streaks of fluorescent color. The Pool has delighted pedestrians around the world and will make its Florida debut on the Great Lawn at the West Palm Beach Waterfront on June 4. A number of activities will coincide with the installation—on display to July 4—including glow-in-the-dark mini golf at the Waterfront Landing, moonlight watersports, and popular downtown happenings like Screen on the Green, Sunday on the Waterfront, and Clematis by Night, all culminating in the not-to-be-missed Fourth on Flagler celebration.

   Before you jump into The Pool, read our Q&A with the brains behind the art. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Lewin is an innovative artist who specializes in interactive sculptures that utilize cutting-edge technology. The Pool has exhibited in cities like Singapore, Sydney, Prague, and Lisbon, to name a few. No matter the location, Lewin has found commonalities in the ways people interact with the work. spoke with her about her relationship to the piece and what she hopes the public garners from it.

Artist Jen Lewin poses on The Pool. What about light as an art medium is inspiring to you?

Lewin: My real goal behind my work is to activate people. [For The Pool] I wanted to activate them physically. I wanted to create a really large, collaborative experience and to be able to have 100 people interact with the artwork but also with each other. … I turned to any kind of tool that would allow me to create that kind of experience. Light is one of the tools that allows me to do that. For me, it’s not really necessarily about the tool; it’s about creating that really amazing, dynamic, playful, participatory experience in the artwork. When you can do that on a large scale, people are not only interacting with the work, they actually interact with each other, and you create this really great community experience.

Why is public use and participation such an integral part of your artworks?

I’m not really sure (she laughs). It must stem from where I come from. I grew up in Maui, and my father was a doctor and my mother was a choreographer/dancer. I grew up around a lot of communes and there was a lot of communal living. Really prolific and amazing people would come and visit us, people like inventor Buckminster Fuller. There was this really rich community that I was a part of as a kid where there were great discussions about science, art, and politics. I went into my adult life and have always tried to find ways to bring back some of the elements of that that I loved. I love community and bringing people together; it’s an inherent part of who I am and of my personality. There’s this great humanity around bringing people together, and particularly if you can get all ages and all cultures to experience something as a community.

The Pool seems to achieve this cross-generational goal.

Yeah, and that’s not something I consciously thought I was doing, but all of my work has had that. We have babies who love it—babies to teenagers to hipsters to grandma and grandpa. To me, art should be that way.

What was the inspiration behind The Pool?

The original spark behind all my pieces almost always comes from some experience that I’ve had in nature where I’m just astounded by beauty. With The Pool, I was 19 years old and I was camping on the west coast of Australia, which is extremely remote. I was in an area where the tide comes in 14 miles and goes out 14 miles—it’s that flat—so a slight change could create miles and miles of tide. The tide had gone out in this one area and had left miles of tidal pools. We were walking around at night, and the moon came out and was refracting in these pools of light, and I was just astounded. I was with a couple friends, and we started running around. We were surrounded in this experience of natural beauty together, and I immediately wanted to recreate that experience and that awe, wonder, and playfulness. … It took me more than 10 years to figure out how to create a sculpture like that [mainly because] the original idea came about before LEDs really even existed as a viable product for me to use.

Can you describe the circular pads that makeup The Pool? What goes into creating one of those?

An enormous amount. I have a very small team, and we build all of that ourselves and develop all of the technology ourselves. One of the things I feel fairly strongly about is that as an artist, if you’re going to work within a medium then you need to understand the medium. If you don’t really understand the medium, you can’t iterate and play, you can’t have accidental failures that are actually great. … We don’t just buy LED strips, we have a LED strip manufacturer who creates the colors I want. We build our own small circuit boards and controls; there’s a little brain, the equivalent of a small computer, in each one of those pucks. We design the entire inside form and build as much of it as we can. The outer shell is made out of polypropylene cast plastic, and that’s not something we can do in our studio—it’s a really huge industrial project. So we model that, build the models, work with someone to make the molds, and then have a company [create] the bigger plastic forms. But then, it comes back to us, and we assemble it and repair it and do all the rest of the work.

Do the discs require upkeep between exhibitions?

Yeah. The Pool, before it goes anywhere, we set it up, clean it, and make sure everything’s perfect. When it comes back, we do the same thing. We have certain upkeep that we know we need to do, and it’s not necessarily about the number of events, but actually the number of people. We learned, for example, that a single puck can handle about a million jumps. And that seems like a lot, but we’re actually hitting that within a year. … It’s a dynamic, interactive sculpture, and part of being an artist who makes interactive sculptures is that you have to be prepared and have the acumen and the infrastructure to maintain it and to allow it to be interactive. It’s not super fragile—it’s something that millions of people are going to jump on with all their weight.

How do the individual pads interact and relate to one another to create The Pool?

That differs depending on where we install it and on the crowd. For example, there’s some really cool patterns and ripple effects that you can create in The Pool, but those might only work in an exhibit that’s going to have five to 10 people at any given time. Imagine if you throw a rock into a pool of water and you see all these beautiful ripples. That’s gorgeous, and if you were one person doing that, that would be pretty. But then if 100 kids come and jump into the pool, that effect would be muddled. So, we actually change the way The Pool works and the way you interact with it based a lot on volume.

What has surprised you about how people interact with the piece?

Kids run and they never stop. I think it’s because each of the platforms is a circle and it’s scaled to feel like it’s your circle and you’re in your circle, but then you can jump to the next and it becomes like a game of hop scotch. There’s something about that feeling of ‘I’m on my circle and now I can jump to the next circle’ that will keep kids going for hours. Through every culture we’re in, kids just run and every parent is just astounded.

We definitely notice that adults often, in certain age brackets, will unify and play games or there will be one person who will instigate the whole group of adults to do the same things. So we’ve seen some consistent patterns from that perspective. One of the things that’s been fascinating is that across all of these really different cultures, the responses have been really similar.

As an artist, what do you hope people get from interacting with this particular piece?

I hope that they have a moment of joyfulness, that they’re delighted, have fun, and have a great time together as a family. It is a beautiful piece, and they can go out and just be like ‘that was a beautiful, delightful experience.’ For me, it’s really succeeded in everything I’ve wanted it to do.

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