December 19, 2006
Calling For Change
An interactive art installation allows participants to temporarily change a local landmark.
In 2003 after telecommunications giant Ericsson left its Stockholm headquarters, the iconic Telefonplan tower, there was talk that the tower symbolized the city’s corporate takeover. Local designers wanted to give the community some control of this 72-meter-tall structure. So together, artist Erik Krikortz, architect Milo Lavén, and interactive designer Loove Broms devised an interactive display. “The privatization and commercialization of the city is getting faster and stronger,” agrees Lavén. “This turnover of the public space needs some kind of counter force.”
This winter the trio outfitted ten floors of Telefonplan with lights that can be seen and controlled by the public. Sets of 36 red, green, and blue lamps are located in each floor’s four windows. A cell phone, wired to the lights, can change the color spectrum of each window and a voice recording instructs touch-tone phone users how to change the lighting. “The response you get from calling the tower is very direct. It adds to the experience tremendously,” says Broms. Calling their project Colour By Numbers, the group advertised the interactive phone number in newspapers, blogs, and on their own Web site, colourbynumbers.org.
Visible from everywhere in Stockholm, Telefonplan struck Krikortz as a fitting site to reverse architecture’s corporate identity by using a common object like a cell phone, an Ericsson product. “On a contextual level it was important that the tower used to belong to Ericsson, a company with a dominating position in Sweden as a very large employer,” he said.
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Area residents recognize the irony. Since the 1940s this suburban fringe of Stockholm grew up around the Ericcson headquarters and the neighborhood and nearby train station are both called ‘Telefonplan.’
Before they planned the project, the tower’s new owner—real-estate holder AP Fastigheter—had already renovated some of Telefonplan’s interior. In 2004 Konstfack —Sweden’s University College of Arts, Crafts, and Design—moved into the renovated space. While Krikortz, Lavén, and Broms found the company receptive to Colour By Numbers, they were hesitant to pay the project’s bills. With encouragement from the local city council and funding from local real estate holders, including AP Fastigheter, the project was realized and the tower’s windows lit up in late October.
The addition of a live camera feed on the site opened the project to a global audience. It receives calls from regions as far as Russia, Australia, and South Africa, but U.S. calls rank highest. Stockholm’s position close to the Arctic Circle makes an ideal environment for round-the-clock light displays. In winter, the sun rises at 8:30 in the morning and sets at 2:45 in the afternoon. “Working with colored light during the dark Swedish winters automatically creates a positive reaction among the citizens,” said John Peter Nilsson, curator of Stockholm art museum Moderna Museet. “It makes the tower a cozy reference point for those who are regularly in contact with it.”
None of the artists involved in the project ever worked on such a large scale before, but they share a common passion for pushing boundaries in the local art world. “It would also be nice to see more openness and curiosity towards different artistic expressions in Stockholm,” said Krikortz. “We hope our project can make other artists think outside the white cube.”
Colour By Numbers’ lights will fade March 31st.