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Making memories: Past collides with present in Boston Arts Academy interactive installation

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Making memories: Past collides with present in Boston Arts Academy interactive installation
MASARY Design Director Caleb Hawkins stands in front of Memory / Diffusion at Boston Arts Academy. PHOTO: ARAM BOGHOSIAN

The newly renovated Boston Arts Academy building is a state-of-the-art facility designed to provide students at the public high school with all the tools they need to develop their creative skills. It’s also a living memory bank of the students’ high school experience. “Memory / Diffusion,” an installation by MASARY Studios that straddles the line between art and technology, retains memories in the building and showcases them back to students throughout the year.

PHOTO: ARAM BOGHOSIAN

“Memory / Diffusion” was commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture through its Percent for Art program. Physically, the piece comprises a large LED tile screen and a series of custom lighting fixtures that follow a sweeping staircase in the school’s main atrium.

Here’s how it works. Two cameras take in information from the atrium space constantly. Then AI technology parses the images from the cameras to identify things that are “novel” and worthy of making a memory out of. A series of parameters determines what is important, such as color, light and objects. Once the art piece has something in its memory bank, it will call up that memory on the screen when something similar happens again.

“What people are seeing on the screen and in the lights are actually memories from within the school itself,” says MASARY Design Director Caleb Hawkins. “The piece is looking, finding novel moments in time, and recalling other recordings that are similar to what it’s watching or what it’s seeing. It’s real-time memory recollection for the school and for the community that’s mainly fueled by the student’s activities.”

“Memory / Diffusion” installation in progress at Boston Arts Academy. PHOTO: ARAM BOGHOSIAN

He uses the simplified example of color to explain the process. If the art piece has gathered memories of people wearing red shirts, then when someone passes by in a red shirt it will call up similar images — memories — related to that. If someone walks by in a green shirt for the first time, the technology will identify that as something different from the information it already has and will save that image as a memory for the future.

The memories showcased in “Memory / Diffusion” are abstract and painterly rather than video stills or photographs. This allows students to recall their memories within the school based on color, movement and light, appropriate aspects for an artistically inclined group of students.

“We’re using some of the newer technology to create the piece, but we see the themes of memory as being really connected to the students throughout their high school experience, as well as to the experience of learning,” says Hawkins. “I think it also serves to add a level of inspiration to students who are pursuing creative crafts.”

art installation, arts, Boston Arts Academy
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