Particle Falls at the Wilma Theater. Visitors see the falls reflecting the changing levels of particulate pollution around them.
The inaugural projection of Particle Falls on Philadelphia’s Broad Street reminded me how powerful a good spectacle can be.
A sizable crowd was watching when the falls part of Particle Falls began digitally pouring down the Wilma Theater’s wall. As they precariously occupied the narrow median on Broad Street—pointing, cheering and filming—they inspired others to look in the same direction.
As a public art piece Particle Falls—a collaboration with CHF's Sensing Change exhibit—has forced its way into people’s lives. They might not choose to watch the projection or analyze its light patterns, but they will impact the falls by driving, riding the bus, or just smoking cigarettes nearby.
Artist Andrea Polli seems particularly drawn to this kind of collaborative element in her work, and she’s been willing to experiment to get it right. When Particle Falls debuted in San Jose, she placed the nephelometer (the device that monitors and samples the air) right next to the projection. Some people realized they could create pleasing designs by smoking cigarettes near the wall (and nephelometer)—not exactly the intended result of an art piece about pollution. Polli laughed as she described this learning experience, and said that since moving the installation to San Jose and Philadelphia she and her team have made some tweaks—namely putting the nephelometer higher up and farther from the wall.
One of the people I spoke to on opening night was a man who works in the parking area directly below Particle Falls. He seemed intrigued by the installation, which is good, because he’ll be spending a lot of time with it over the next two months. It made me wonder what effects, if any, this project will have on its viewers’ behaviors. Subject material for Polli's next project? I'd be interested.