ABOUT SWIRL AND THE ARTIST
The idea of having an electronic installation in Cowles Commons came about several years ago, in 2008, during the planning of Nollen Plaza’s transformation into what would become Cowles Commons. Artist Jim Campbell was involved from the start on a design team with Des Moines-area landscape architect Ken Smith. Campbell knew he wanted to incorporate electronic media and have the space be interactive: plenty of seating to encourage togetherness, water spouts with their own lighting for playfulness – even the Crusoe Umbrella settled here! Finally in 2015, the $1.5 million Swirl began its permanent installation over several weeks in the large, open design of Cowles Commons. As dusk arrives and the sky ventures into darkness, Swirl becomes an “illuminated nightscape” of more than 8,000 LEDs dashing around 18 loops wound around nine 30-foot long poles.
Prior to his joining the design team for the Commons, Jim Campbell’s name was brought up by Des Moines Art Center Director Jeff Fleming, who was familiar with the San Francisco-based artist after curating his work over 20 years ago at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, N.C. Jim Campbell started his electrifying artwork back in the 1980s with video art. In the ‘90s, he transitioned into “electronic sculpture and then LED matrix works that examined the nature of motion and optics.” Campbell has installations nationally and internationally, including a past LED showing on a 108-story Hong Kong skyscraper.
-Adapted from: Morain, M. (2015, December 21). Light art flickers to life downtown. Des Moines Register.
The artist’s own website documents all past and present installations, public arts, and commissions, along with his own publications and an updated newsfeed.
This short article presents Light Festivals around the world with a brief description and official websites for each festival. Consider catching a flight to Amsterdam or keeping things more “local-ish” by heading to Baltimore! While on this website, have a look around at the other News & Stories, along with past and current projects this LED Company has completed.
This lesson plan addresses National Standards and is designed for one class period in grades 5-8 introducing “students to the basic mechanics of how light bulbs work. Students will explore the different types of light bulbs available and the relationship between light, electricity, and heat. Finally, they will build their own flashlights and reflect on this process.” Lesson plan includes activities, articles with Guided Reading Questions, and guiding worksheets.
(5-12) This short Vice profile of Campbell accompanies the video below, with beautiful photos of his 2014 retrospective show, Rhythms of Perception, premiering as his “first major exhibition in a New York museum” (Museum of the Moving Image).
(3-12) Watch this fascinating behind-the-scenes video and interview with Jim Campbell as he takes the viewer through a 2014 series of light installations at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery (NYC). “The exhibition ranges from LED panels that project ultra low-resolution Kodachrome home movies, to topographic LED sculptures created from transparent, molded resin.”
Preschool-lower Elementary teachers can use this video in a full-class activity: task students with taking on 1-2 major events and creating illustrations hung from wire, attached to large paper-printed dates.
(8-12) A comedic look at the history of the light bulb invention.
Make sure to review the vocabulary terms, above, to familiarize students with necessary terms.
(Social Studies, 5-12)
The history of the lightbulb is a fascinating journey, more complicated than the average person knows. Deepen students’ appreciation of Swirl by delving into the origins of the lightbulb with a 44-minute National Geographic American Genius Series documentary: Edison vs. Tesla:
Encourage students to take notes of important dates and events for use in the following Timeline activity. A shorter history video for upper middle/high school students and a much lower-level video for preschool/lower elementary can be found in the Internet Resources.
(5-12, ELA, Social Sciences, Technology, Art)
Using notes from the documentary as well as the timelines links below, older students can create a physical or digital timeline with images to represent the major events in the history of electricity. Physical timelines should include illustrations; digital timelines can include videos, photos, and articles involving key figures and events of each decade. Preschool/lower-elementary can find an adapted version of this activity with the short video in the Internet Resources.
(Pre-K – High School, Science, Technology, Art)
The following activities are separated by grade-range, varying in objective and required materials (all materials and instructions are included on the following links):
The blogger had his 3 ½ year old son help him present this project during a 2014 Print2Pixel Unconference. Modifications for the preschool level are included on this link.
PBS presents a fun play-dough experiment that would excite the elementary-age child, developed by AnnMarie Thomas of the St. Thomas Lab at the University of St. Thomas. A video overview of the project plus instructions to make the two special play doughs are linked within, along with additional fun science experiments.
A large number of projects are linked on this page, from paper circuits to a mini bug robot! Several videos are included as well as an embedded Circuit Sticker Sketchbook. Consider using one of the activities in your classroom, and encourage students to try additional projects at home. While you are on the website, explore the many additional types of STEM activities provided, including robotics and coding.
Incorporate art-making with surface-mounted LEDs to light up students’ paper designs. This activity has many encouraging ideas, like a light-up greeting card or a 3D pop-up paper sculpture. Downloadable Paper Circuits activity guide included.
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