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Alumnus' sculpture outside Florida library responds to touch

"Light Waves," an interactive sculpture by alumnus Christopher Janney, was installed outside the Orlando Public Library.
"Light Waves," an interactive sculpture by alumnus Christopher Janney, was installed outside the Orlando Public Library.

While a visit to the Orlando (Fla.) Public Library may not be at the top of the "to-see" list for MIT community members escaping another New England winter, a new interactive sculpture there by artist Christopher Janney (S.M. 1978, Center for Advanced Visual Studies) may appeal to the art enthusiasts--as well as the puzzle-solvers--among us.

Janney, perhaps best known locally for his musical "sound stairs" in Boston's Museum of Science, created the newly dedicated "Light Waves" as an "interactive light and sound installation" consisting of four 38-foot-tall transparent colored glass forms attached to the facade of the Orlando library.

As sunlight shines through the glass panels onto the building, Janney describes the effect as "coloring the wall with the sun, creating a kinetic painting which changes depending on the intensity of the sunlight, clouds and atmosphere each afternoon." In addition to utilizing Florida's powerful daytime sunshine, "Light Waves" is illuminated at night with neon encased in the base of each colored form.

"Light Waves" interacts not only with the sun, but with visitors as well: ever-changing patterns of soothing, melodic and environmental sounds are generated when a person touches a designated panel. There is also a riddle for the curious pedestrian etched in a nearby panel. If the person correctly deciphers the pattern stated in the riddle and presses the touch plates in a particular order, the waves respond with a "dance" of their own.

Other works by Janney scheduled to open in the next few months include "Sonic Gates: MCC" for Manchester College in Connecticut, "Whistle Grove" at the National Steamboat Monument in Cincinnati, and "Passing Light" at the San Antonio International Airport. In addition, the national cable television station HGTV will feature Janney's "A House is a Musical Instrument" in Kona, Hawaii on a program titled "Extreme Homes of the South Seas," to be aired on Tuesday, Jan. 1 and Sunday, Jan. 6.

Janney is a visiting professor at the Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York City.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 19, 2001.

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