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 lightening 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

Overview video:

Flickr pictures available.

Rees Shad’s site about the project


-PIC chip (we use the 16F818) or microcontroller of your choice

sound sampling module

-5V regulator

-TIP120 (Darlington) Transistor


Miniature temperature sensor

-6V solar cell

-Rechargeable Ni-Cd 9V battery

-1N4148 diodes


-2x 220 Ohm

-2x 10 KOhm

-1x 33KOhm

-solder-type breadboard

-2.5 inch speaker



-IC socket

-garden lamp shell

-plastic for waterproofing

-hot glue/epoxy

-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)-




Tyvek Lunch Bag

I made a reusable lunch bag out of a FedEx Tyvek mailing envelope. I modeled it after a paper lunch sack. To keep glue away from our food, I used a sewing machine to do up the seams. Because Tyvek is tear-resistant, the stitches should hold it for many lunches. It should make a great water resistant, reusable alternative to the paper sack. I don’t expect it to last forever, just until I find another free Tyvek envelope.

Tyvek lunch bag

Creative Commons License

Charlie’s Birthday Surprise

My boss, Charlie, took the day off on Monday for his birthday. Since the computer lab is desolate in the summer, we have a little time and a lot of equipment on our hands. Dave, the head of the lab, made a Max/MSP patch that flashes bright colors and the text “Happy Birthday Charlie” in a random font and location. We piled as many monitors into Charlie’s office as we could and hooked up computers to drive them. When Charlie came in to work on Tuesday, he had a big surprise waiting!

Happy Birthday: Charlie's Office

He loved it!

Happy Birthday: Charlie's Office

LED Bike Helmet

I was always losing those lights you clip on to your bike, and they’re not cheap or good quality. I had wanted to play with conductive paint for some time, so I purchased some in order to attach safety LEDs right to my bike helmet. I have made a page on Instructables detailing its construction. Here’s a nice picture, however, which is a link to the Flickr set. You can also view the circuit schematic.


Fake MySpace

I made myself a MySpace page that lives off the MySpace servers. It’s half fake and half links to other places.

Holon A.

Holon A.

Materials/Languages: Various

The word “holon” signifies a collection of nested systems. Based on the writings of Michael Pollan and Arthur Koestler, Holon A. reflects the holons of American industrial agriculture through an interactive miniaturization. Five integrated modules invite the visitor to ask questions about the efficiency of our industrialized ecosystems. Diorama-style modules cover such topics as E. coli contamination during fabrication of beef, the varying public uses of the term “chicken,” traditional fiber arts, and the government’s role in the American corn economy. Holon A. utilizes a wide variety of industrial and hand-made materials from electronic components and wood to hand-silkscreened plush steak.

Holon A. at the Chelsea Art Museum, 2007

The modules

The radiation level required to combat E. coli contamination of livestock varies with the amount of corn in the cattle’s diet, as it is not its natural food source.

Corn Currency asks about the US government’s role in the market value of corn, and when the corn economy is good, livestock eat more of it. The visitor is left with plastic waste.

The cornstalks’ adjustable light source self regulates the light output and also influences glowing of the beef module.


The fiber module consists of a knitted viewer with sound to encircle the face, giving the feeling of a private space. The conforming body of the knitted object reflects our once traditional fiber practices being industrialized under our noses.

Live Internet-scraped images can be seen as the somewhat “public” opinion of chicken today. The visitor has control over the playback of these images.

The modular, rough-cut construction fits with the conceptual framework of industrialization of nature.

Press: Featured in MAKE Magazine issue 11 and The 2007 New School Sustainable Design Review.

Elevator Urinal

Experiments for a Pleasant Elevator Ride, or, This is Not a Urinal: a Proposal and Framework

This is an OPEN CALL for intervention ideas and documentation. Responses will be published to this page.

Some elevators in large Brooklyn apartment buildings are subject to what some would call “undesirable” or “inappropriate” behavior: urination. As these buildings’ lobbies are used as gathering spaces for non-residents, such visitors relieve themselves in the private spaces these elevators afford. 302 Eastern Parkway is one such building. Its lobby and stairwells are venues for neighborhood drug dealers and, in the colder months, vagrants. This elevator is cleaned daily by building maintenance staff, but maintains a constant and very pungent odor. The purpose of this proposal is to suggest three interventions to be executed in this elevator in Brooklyn at any point in time. The interventions intend to alleviate the urination’s negative effects, not necessarily prevent or punish it (see Fig. 1).

The Interventions

1. Urinal Cake Floor (see Fig. 2)

The elevator currently has two ceiling-mounted air fresheners at opposite corners, reassuring that the Management is aware there is an odor and sanitation problem. This intervention proposes to line the floor of the 7-foot by 7-foot elevator with urinal deodorizing blocks, commonly called “cakes.” The purpose of this experiment is to provide riders with a more pleasant journey while calling greater and more focused attention to the elevator’s alternate use. Those participating in this alternate use may also notice that their behavior is indeed noticed as a nuisance to others in the building. Regardless of any change in behavior, the elevator will smell more fresh.

2. Moisture-triggered Monitoring & Reaction (see Fig. 3)

This intervention proposes to mount four moisture sensors in the lowest part of the non-level elevator floor. When triggered, the ceiling-mounted, locked and secured wireless camera will transmit images and/or video to a monitoring station in a nearby apartment. The speaker also located in the camera mount will then play soothing “elevator” music, in this case by the work of musician Kenneth Gorelick. This experiment is expected to capture both urinators and custodial staff, enabling the comparison of frequencies of the two actions. It is meant to entertain cleaning staff while they mop the floor as well as surprise and alienate the urinators. The presence of a conspicuous security camera is expected to radically change urination behavior in this elevator. Those who still remain motivated to urinate in the elevator, it is proposed, should be acknowledged with Adult Contemporary saxophone music.

3. This is a Urinal (see Fig. 4)

Repurposing the elevator entirely, this intervention transforms the elevator into an actual restroom. Four urinals are proposed to be installed, and the elevator is to remain on the ground floor or the building for the duration of the experiment. A sign with the words “Elevator Out of Order” is to be placed on it sliding door. Data is to be collected regarding communication received from tenants to the Management.

Download the PDF below, which contains details concerning collaborative partners and budget & materials required for the above interventions.


Kevin C. (New York, NY): Cover the elevator floor with a metal plate so that when urination occurs, a circuit is grounded and the participant receives a mild electric shock.

Paul S. (Ashford, CT): Place a grate floor inside the elevator, under which is small plastic containers. Test the contents of the receptacles for drug content, and assign police officers to the area according to the results.