Declarative Lamp Project

Sternlab’s Becky Stern has collaborated with artist Rees Shad on the Declarative Lamp Project, on display as part of the Kingston, NY Sculpture Biennial through October, 2007. (Lamps are on display in the uptown Kingston Peace Park)

Mr. Shad writes:

In January of 2007 the city of Boston was partially paralyzed by a bomb scare wherein a number of found electronic devices were seen as potential explosives. The devices featured a number of small flashing lights depicting a cartoon alien performing a crude gesture. Intended to advertise the upcoming season of a popular animated television show, this misadventure in guerilla marketing was perceived as a potential hazard to the population, or, even worse, a terrorist act. The Bomb Squad was called out to destroy the devices, and the city’s major traffic paths came to a standstill for most of an afternoon. My first thought upon hearing about the Boston scare was that our fears had gotten the best of us. My next thought was that I needed to address this in my work as an electronic installation artist.

The Declarative Lamp Project, created in collaboration with artist Rebecca Stern, uses electronic performance to explore the extent to which fear has been instilled in American culture. Witnesses in a park experience seemingly innocuous electronic pathway lighting that comes alive at dusk with lights and voices in many languages declaring, “I am not a bomb.”

Because these devices exist in a natural environment and use human voices, I wished to add natural and personal elements to the Lamps’ execution. As a child, I remember being fascinated by the mathematical equation to calculate air temperature from the frequency of cricket chirps. If one monitors a single chirping cricket for 15 seconds, the number of chirps plus 39 is the air temperature (in Fahrenheit). In our piece, this equation has been reversed to allow the evening’s temperature to establish the rhythm of the declarative voices. In cold temperatures, the lamps speak less often than in warm.

To give an innocuous overtone, we chose a number of Arts & Crafts style solar-powered garden lights as the framework within which to build our project. Ordinarily, these lamps store energy during daylight hours and engage an energy-efficient LED light at dusk. Ms. Stern and I have repurposed these lamps to flicker as if they hold lightning bugs in correlation with the recorded messages. This process begins at dusk, producing a chorus of voices whose rhythm is directly related to the temperature of the evening air. The lamps each repeat the phrase “I am not a bomb” in one of twelve languages. After a twenty-minute performance, the lamps power down to await the next sunset.

July, 2007

Flickr pictures available.


  • -PIC chip (we use the 16F818) or microcontroller of your choice
  • sound sampling module
  • -5V regulator
  • -TIP120 (Darlington) Transistor
  • -LED
  • Miniature temperature sensor
  • -6V solar cell
  • -Rechargeable Ni-Cd 9V battery
  • -1N4148 diodes
  • Resistors:
  • -2x 220 Ohm
  • -2x 10 KOhm
  • -1x 33KOhm
  • -solder-type breadboard
  • -2.5 inch speaker
  • -wire
  • -solder
  • -IC socket
  • -garden lamp shell
  • -plastic for waterproofing
  • -hot glue/epoxy
  • Tools:
  • -Computer
  • -development IDE (we used Microcode Studio)
  • -compiler and programmer (we used a MELabs programmer, as well as a PBasic Pro Compiler)
  • -needle-nose pliers
  • -wire strippers
  • -wire snips
  • -soldering iron
  • -de-soldering braid/solder sucker (only if you make mistakes like we do)
  • -helping hands
  • -solderless breadboard
  • -adjustable power supply and connector (for prototyping)
  • digital thermometer with wired probe
  • -warm place for testing
  • -cold place for testing (fridge and/or freezer)-


Rees Shad’s site about the project

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