James Yamada: Our Starry Night

About the Exhibition

Built from powder coated aluminum and punctuated with 1,900 colored LED lights, Our Starry Night by James Yamada (b.1967, Bat Cave, NC) is a twelve-foot-tall sculpture that acts as an interactive passageway to Central Park. As visitors to the park walk through the sculpture, at all hours of the day and night, it will illuminate in response to each person individually.

When visitors walk through the portal in the piece, they trigger a metal detector hidden inside the structure’s casing. This activates the LED lights that perforate the exterior of the sculpture. Common everyday metal objects such as cell phones, keys, belts, jewelry, cameras, computers, and the like will trigger the lights; the luminosity and the light patterns seen in the piece will correspond to the quantity of metal detected. Our Starry Night is literally activated by the public, reinforcing the notion that art — and particularly public art — is dependent on the people around it.

The sculpture will only be illuminated while the participant is standing within the passageway, and therefore he or she will not be able to see the light patterns being created on the exterior surfaces. The lighting will instead be visible to passersby on the street corner and in the park, who will see the facade of the sculpture illuminate.

In this work, Yamada calls our attention to the expanding, yet increasingly subtle presence of surveillance in the contemporary world. It also points toward such philosophical and political considerations as the loss of privacy in the name of greater safety and the use of personal information. By aesthetically and physically engaging viewers, Yamada questions these topics; in so doing, he involves us in the way information is revealed and used.

Yamada works in a variety of media and has previously created interactive works that have included aspects of nature, satellites, weather and wildlife, among other themes. For example, his sculpture Under a Brilliant Sky (2004), exhibited at Art Basel, consists of a light-box sign displaying the title of the piece, which Yamada connected to a solar panel installed outdoors; the phrase then glowed and dimmed with the sun, in effect creating a portrait of the sky.



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