LED Art: Artistic LED Displays

LED Labs "Chill Pill"

By Danielle Roof

We first met up with Chris Schardt, of LED Labs, at last year's Maker Fair where his installation in the "Dark Room" was all about helping attendees relax in an otherwise chaotic environment.

In a room full of large-scale pieces that flash, make noises, and move there is constant stimulation and plenty of eye-catching projects. But Chris's installation is a dominant force in the room. The towering structure with a suspended LED panel shaped like a star takes up a large physical space, and the crowd around and under it at all times only draws in more people.

The installation is a combination of two pieces: a star-shaped panel called Nova and a tower called Firmament that he created for burning man a few years ago. The panel has a constant stream of images and colors seemingly moving across it constantly, with speakers pointed toward the center of the structure for those below the panel to hear music that corresponds to the images. The tower has an LED ball at the top where the supports of the structure all meet, and the Nova panel hangs in the space underneath.

LED Art Chris says, "Maker Faire has needed a chill space for years" and he was inspired by the way people would lie down under Firmament to relax at Burning Man. However, the space in the dark room is nowhere near as large as the original tower; Firmament was originally 50 feet in diameter and featured a different suspended display that stretched across the full diameter. So, he brought about half of the original tower and created Nova to hang in the middle. The two pieces are made up of mostly off-the-shelf parts, including power supplies from Jameco, but the way Chris combines them creates a space that is uniquely technological and artistic.

The piece, according to Chris, is "mostly a software project" because of the intricate software needed to map the images and colors across the 21,600 LEDs on the Nova panel. Chris has a background in both electrical engineering and computer science, and he wrote the iOS mapping software. The software is used in the form of an app called LED Lab, used in this piece on two separate iPads – one for the ball at the top of Firmament, and one for the Nova panel. The software essentially creates the images the viewer sees out of the LED panels, mapping the various pictures and patterns across the thousands of lights on the panels. LED Lab is available on the app store, and has been used by artists around the world to map images in an LED pattern.

Chris sees this installation as both a technological achievement and an artistic one. He takes pride in the images he chooses to project on the Nova panel and the music he pairs them with, working to create a particular experience for the people who come into the space. He tries to project peaceful, soothing, and fun images that move across the panel rather than just flash the way many LED pieces do.

Much of his inspiration comes from nature, including outer space – one sequence shows two galaxies crashing into each other while others show more of a flowing spectrum of different colors. For Chris, making an LED piece that is beautiful "can be tricky" and requires him to combine his various areas of expertise.

While LED technology is widespread, he believes it is much harder and more rewarding to use it to make art rather than just light. He has always believed that “the best art pieces are places,” and the hybrid of Firmament and Nova creates a perfect place of rest and calm.

For more information, visit www.ledlabs.co or email [email protected]. The iOS app is available on the iTunes app store.
Danielle Roof is a senior at Tulane University originally from San Carlos, California. She is studying Political Economy and Education, and hopes to go into teaching. Her favorite things to do when she's not studying are dance, yoga, and traveling to new places.