Status : Complete
Year : 2012
Location: Oakland, CA

As the urban environment darkens, the pedestrian relationship to it changes. As the scope of the unknown territory through which one is moving increases, the level of curiousity one exhibits about that territory decreases. A feeling of threat can become palpable in certain moments.

At the same time, the visual gravity of the objects within the landscape is upended - massive buildings become unreadable except as shadow, while small points in space leap out if they are lit. These lights may become beacons, falsely or otherwise, promising observation and infrastructural connection.

To enter an area of light surrounded by darkness is no less fundamental an experience - it can produce dislocation, discomfort, reassurance and enjoyment.

paralite draws on these multiple and contradictory properties of light in the urban nightscape, questioning how much is required to transform the experience of a darkened public space, as well as how much is required to break pedestrians from their carefully cultivated habit of un-seeing elements of their surroundings after dark.

paralite | reactions from Nathan John on Vimeo.

Though originally conceived of for an underpass, the paralite was instantiated on the side of a derelict hot dog stand, as seen above. In spite of this change of site, there were ways in which paralite performed as expected, and ways in which it demonstrated unexpected potentials. Foremost among the latter is the way that users felt moved and empowered to touch the piece, presumably as a result of the textural quality of the silicone - simply by looking at the piece, it can be perceived that it has an extremely unusual material quality. It remains to be seen how the haptic nature of the piece as installed can be reconciled with the imperative to make it as difficult as possible to uninstall, were it to be more permanently mounted in a site.

As well, the willingness and desire of users to interact with the piece, rather than simply have it react to their presence, was remarkable, and suggests that future versions might benefit from more robust interaction design.

paralite | timelapse from Nathan John on Vimeo.

Full instructions on the creation of the paralite piece can be found here.