One of the recent Public Art Fund projects to infiltrate the streets of New York City, James Yamada's Our Starry Night comprises a freestanding aluminum structure rigged with 1,900 colored LED lights. Installed in the Doris C. Freedman Plaza at Fifth Avenue and 60th Street and flanked on three sides by Central Park, The Plaza Hotel, and Apple Store's transparent, cuboid exterior, Yamada's work is out-of-place enough to feel strangely at home. The 12-foot sculpture bears resemblance to a psychedelic flower with a cut in its center, through which visitors can pass. Metal detectors embedded within the work's casing activate the arrays of LED lights on its exterior, producing light patterns and levels of luminosity that correspond to the amount of metal on each visitor. But while visitors active the artwork -- and thereby affirm its "public" nature -- the light patterns are only visible to viewers standing on the exterior of the piece. It thus falls upon these detached observers to monitor a given visitor's occupation of the passageway and draw inferences from the intensity and variety of the accompanying light patterns. In a beautiful and deceptively benign way, Yamada's work forces visitors into partial positions of engagement, in which interactivity and observation carry undertones of surveillance and control. - Tyler CoburnImage: James Yamada, Our Starry Night, 2008 (Photo by Seong Kwon, courtesy of the Public Art Fund.)
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