Artist Bill Bell has been creating displays with light for the past two decades. His work can be seen in science museums, private collections, and public spaces such as the new Sound Transit light rail tunnel in Seattle, Wash. His creations have been featured in exhibits across the U.S. and in cities around the world, including Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Munich, Paris and Barcelona.
BILL BELL was born in Pittsburgh and obtained a degree in Physics from Princeton University. Bell is best known for his “Lightstick” art pieces, vertical light units which pulse lights at a rate of five thousand times per second. With normal saccadic eye movement our eyes register these pulses and reassemble them into pictures. Bell’s Lightsticks can be found in unexpected places all over the world. One was located for years at the back of the Museum of Contemporary Art and could be seen when passing south on Alameda Street in Los Angeles.
Bell’s Subliminary Artworks appear in permanent public art displays. Marrying art with science, these works have appealed to a variety of organizations, including the Los Angeles Metro Gateway, The Exploratorium San Francisco, Roxbury Latin School’s Bauer Science Center, SONY Mediage Expo Tokyo, and Boston University’s Photonics Center. Seattle boasts an earlier Bell artwork in the Metro Station at University Street, and his “tech art” is part of private collections from Hong Kong to Beverly Hills.
Photo courtesy of Bill Bell.
Lightsticks LED Art in Seattle Rail Tunnel Uses Echelon Power Line Communications
You might say that artist Bill Bell has tunnel vision. Or more specifically, he’s given riders on the Seattle Light Rail system visions of art in the tunnel.
Bell used Echelon devices to control his “Lightsticks” LED artwork that’s located in the two mile-long tunnels through Beacon Hill. Embedded in the tunnel walls like glowing neon icicles, Bell’s “Lightsticks” let train riders see images – of playing cards, naval signal flags, insects and other underground dwellers – flash on the tunnel walls as the trains fly by.
‘LIGHTSTICK’ OF ILLUSION
You will only see its essence if you don’t look directly at it; you can only see it in the dark; and if you’re not prepared for what you see, you might think that you’re hallucinating.
An apparition? A new sort of hologram? Neither. It’s “Lightstick II,” an electrical artwork installed downtown that lends new meaning to the term optical illusion.
The two-inch-thick vertical bar of bright red light, invented and designed by artist Bill Bell, is affixed to an exterior wall of the Museum of Contemporary’s Temporary Contemporary at the corner of Temple and Alameda streets.
When stared at straight on, the six-foot-tall device appears to be a steady strip of light. But when one glances past the strip, the museum’s acronym, “MOCA,” spells itself out horizontally in bright red neon-like letters. (Other words, such as art , can be made to flash from the computerized artwork.) Advertisement
“Images appear to jump out of the lightstick and hang in space for a fraction of a second,” writes Bell, whose similar works flash everything from bicycles to elephants.
“The optical effect is created by what Bell calls ‘saccadoscoptics’ ” explains a statement written by the museum, “and that is a combination of rapid eye movement and persistence of vision.
“What appears to be a steady light is actually an array of 2,500 separate light-producing elements, each independently controlled,” the statement says. “The individual elements are flashed on and off in accordance with patterns stored in the memory of the device. The rapidity of the individual flashes of light are well beyond the capacity of the eyes to perceive, yet when one’s eyes are moving, each flash of light is retained at a different place on the retina and one sees the flashes strung together to form the programmed word” or image.
Adds Bell to the statement: “Your nimble, educated mind integrates this series of dots into complete words.” “Lightstick” is one of several public art works or works situated outside of museum or gallery walls around Los Angeles.
The Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned the piece, which was permanently installed at its Temporary Contemporary site in the spring of 1986, said museum spokeswoman Cynthia Campoy. Before that, the work appeared outside the museum’s first administrative offices–now located at its Grand Avenue site–on Boyd Street downtown.
“Lightstick” is one of several public art works or works situated outside of museum or gallery walls around Los Angeles. The Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned the piece, which was permanently installed at its Temporary Contemporary site in the spring of 1986, said museum spokeswoman Cynthia Campoy. Before that, the work appeared outside the museum’s first administrative offices–now located at its Grand Avenue site–on Boyd Street downtown.