Thursday, September 29, 2011

Communicating with the city itself: Minimaforms brings "Memory Cloud" to Detroit

Photo by Jiinyi Hwang
(originally published 9/29/11 in Bad At Sports)

For three successive nights starting Friday, September 30, the experimental architecture and design studio Minimaforms will install Memory Cloud: Detroit in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts. The interactive piece (a “transient light environment,” in the words of its creators) will consist simply of manufactured fog and words written with light. Those words, which will be projected onto the rolling fog as it fills the nighttime sky, will be yours, if there’s anything in particular you’ve been meaning to say to Detroit.

This isn’t the first Memory Cloud. Minimaforms (which consists of brothers Theodore and Stephen Spyropoulos) originally installed the piece in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2008. Participants contributed text messages about whatever they liked, then watched as those messages were projected onto the fog, growing, shimmering, multiplying, and passing over their heads before finally disappearing. There were more than 1,500 messages submitted over three nights. Together, they formed a dreamy, evanescent pastiche of loves notes, cultural references, confessions, inside jokes, questions, pick-up lines, philosophical musings, calls to political action, reactions to participating in the piece, and much else. All of the messages from the three nights are archived here. They make for fascinating (and sometimes hilarious) reading. Some of my favorites include:
this makes me feel sexy
the future is here
Please will someone give me a job?!
do I dare disturb the universe?
I lost my knickers
Wigs are fun! you should try one
I iz in ur smoke makin ur arts
The Detroit version of Memory Cloud, while formally similar to the London performance, will have a tighter focus. In the weeks leading up to it, Detroiters were invited to submit “memories, stories, and personal aspirations for the city of Detroit” in 150 characters or less via the website Voice of Detroit. You’ll still be able to submit text messages at the event, but the content is likewise intended to be Detroit-centric, forming an “evolving diary,” a multifaceted exploration of a city created out of hundreds of subjective impressions.

Minimaforms creates temporary environments that are rooted in participation, communication, urbanism, and contemporary technology. With Memory Cloud, they give elegant, transient physical form to the digital spaces we’ve already become so used to inhabiting this century, spaces made from endless streams of others’ thoughts. But by giving us an event, an opportunity to physically exist in such a space together, they simultaneously reaffirm our ancient connections to place, and to one another.

The brothers were kind enough to answer a few questions over email about their work andMemory Cloud: Detroit. Because their practice tests the limits of what architecture and design can be, I thought I’d start with the basics.