Monday, May 7, 2012

NOVA in Zurich Main Railway Station

Is it art or is it science?

Hanging from the ceiling of Zurich Main Railway Station, just in front of Mario Merz's The Philosopher's Egg and caught by the gaze of Niki de Saint Phalle's Guardian Angel, we find the NOVA. Designed in 2006 by scientists at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of this world class university (ranked in the Times Higher Education Supplement as the best in continental Europe), NOVA provides a sort of dialogue across the frontiers that lie between art, science, mathematics and society. At least, that's the theory.

NOVA consists of 25,000 luminescent spheres, each equipped with 12 light emitting diodes, capable of generating 16,000,000 colours. I don't know how many combinations can be generated, but I'm pretty sure its an awfully big number - probably bigger than can fit on any regular calculator. NOVA can refresh itself at a rate of 25  pictures per second.  I have no idea what that really means, but it certainly wowed me when I first heard it.

And here is the neat thing: you, the spectator, can participate in this work (hence the society part).  At the group meeting point in the station stands a large, very tall glass box with a touch screen embedded into the glass.  You can draw your finger across the screen, then stand back and watch the effet on NOVA.  These days you can even  hold your mobile phone (if you have one - I don't) to the screen and scan your text message onto the NOVA.  Funnily enough, I've tried this, using a friend's phone, when looking for a student who was late at the group meeting point.  The student's name appeared on  NOVA, but the student himself never turned up. Maybe it's a good way of making students disappear!

NOVA reacts to sound, especially music. When it turned five, in 2011, a 50 piece brass band played in the station and generated eletrical fireworks. Alas, NOVA is destined only to reach the age of 6. It is supposed to be dismantled sometime in 2012.

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