The Unique Art of Silicon Valley (Photos)
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Easton; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

Paulette Beete, NEA senior writer-editor, contributed this article as part of partnership between NEA and Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs hosts a robust public arts collection of 250 artworks at 130 sites throughout the city. I recently spoke with San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs Director Kerry Adams Hapner to learn more about the unique connection between the arts and technology in the heart of Silicon Valley (available here), and below is a gallery of some of the most dramatic artworks from the program.

 

Idea Tree, 2013

Artist: Soo-in Yang
McEnery San Jose Convention Center
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

Art and technology are both tools. Art is a tool for communication — communicating ideas, beliefs, experiences, stories, and human expression. Art communicates what it means to be human. The Idea Tree by Soo-in Yang (2013) creates a social space to bring visitors to McEnery San Jose Convention Center together with the general public. Yang's critical concept for the artwork is gathering spoken ideas. Adjacent to the Tree is a sculptured sound booth (the Seed) that encourages the community to leave a short voice message. Once a day, messages are transmitted to sound equipment housed at the canopy (the Fruit), where audio messages are reassembled to create haiku-like whispers within the Tree. (Credit: Photo by Daniel Garcia; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)


Space Observer, 2010

Artist: Björn Schülke
Mineta San Jose International Airport — Terminal B
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

Reminiscent of a spacecraft, Björn Schülke's Space Observer (2010), a glossy 26-foot-tall sculpture standing on eight-foot tripod legs, explores the interactivity between humans and modern technology. Engage with this elaborate, yet delicate object and it will quietly rotate with the help of two propeller arms, using the kinetic cameras to reveal live images. It is installed in Terminal B of the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. (Credit: Photo courtesy of San Jose Public Art Program; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)


Urban Rain, 2008

Artist: Jackie Brookner
Roosevelt Community Center
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

Jackie Brookner's site-integrated artwork Urban Rain (2008) is installed at the Roosevelt Community Center where it serves as a functional filtration system that assists in diminishing the center's environmental impact on nearby Coyote Creek and the city's storm water system. The artwork, which consists of multiple elements, slows and filters storm water runoff from the building's roof. (Credit: Copyright © Cesar Rubio; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)


Watershed, 2014

Artist: Peter Richards
San Jose Environmental Center;
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

Watershed (2014) by Peter Richards is a sculptural assemblage installed adjacent to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility at the San Jose Environmental Center. It is composed of integrated elements that relate to a fundamental of human existence: gathering and storing energy. The 6,600-gallon water storage tank collects and stores rainwater captured from the San Jose Environmental Innovation Center roof. This water is used to irrigate a grove of 100-year-old olive trees. Photo by Jennifer Easton. (Credit: Photo by Jennifer Easton; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)


Show Your Stripes, 2008

Artist: Jim Conti
88 E. San Fernando Street
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

The City of San Jose Public Art Program is funded through a municipal ordinance in which the City of San Jose sets aside one percent of capital improvement project costs for public art. The artwork Show Your Stripes by Jim Conti (2008) — installed at 88 E. San Fernando Street — is not simply a light show. For the changes to be activated, it takes viewer participation, as the activation phone number indicates. Photo by Gregory Case. (Credit: Photo by Gregory Case; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)


San Jose Semaphore, 2006

Artist: Ben Rubin
Adobe's Almaden Tower
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

Audiences are looking for an interactive participatory experience, a way in which they can create their own experience. Rather than making people art consumers or art advocates, San Jose is trying to meet people where they already are. The city wants want to engage in a conversation with visitors about their closely held values and then link the arts to those closely held values. San Jose Semaphore by Ben Rubin (2006) is a unique structure for communication sited on Adobe's Almaden Tower. With four wheels constantly spinning at a rate of 7.2 revolutions per second, it can formulate up to 256 possible combinations. It has been a challenge for those who want to decipher the code with the San Jose Semaphore; people who can crack the code are given bragging rights and acknowledgement on the Adobe website. (Credit: Photo courtesy of San Jose Public Art Program; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)


eCLOUD, 2010

Artists: Nik Hafermaas, Dan Goods and Aaron Koblin
Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport — Terminal B Concourse
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

In eCLOUD, a dynamic artwork by Nik Hafermaas, Dan Good and Aaron Koblin completed in 2010, thousands of switchable glass squares suspended from the ceiling continuously change from opaque to transparent with the transmission of real-time data. The work is installed in the Terminal B Councourse of the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. Travelers can explore current weather conditions around the world on the artwork's dynamic display. Photo by Spenser Lowell. (Credit: Photo by Spenser Lowell; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)


Dreaming F.I.D.S, 2010

Artists: Ben Hooker and Shona Kitchen
Mineta San Jose International Airport — Terminal B, Gate 26
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

Airport information and security system data animate a dynamic aquatic ecosystem of schooling fish, underwater cameras and video screens. Dreaming F.I.D.S. by Ben Hooker and Shona Kitchen (2010) is both a celebration of the beauty of complex technological and organic systems and a statement about the ubiquitous prevalence of surveillance in American's lives. The artwork is installed in Terminal B of the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. Photo by Daniel Brown. (Credit: Daniel Brown; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)


Solar Illumination 1: Evolution of Language, 2008

Artist: Lynn Goodpasture
Pearl Ave. Branch Library
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs 

Lynn Goodpasture's Solar Illumination 1: Evolution of Language (2008) at the Pearl Avenue Branch Library includes four art-glass windows located in the children's area and a suspended glass lamp near the library entrance. The artwork's visual imagery refers to ancient alphabets as the foundation of the written word, which in turn is fundamental to libraries and illumination of the mind. Each pane contains characters in different scripts that are the basis for written Latin, Russian, Vietnamese and some Indian languages. Another critical but unseen aspect to the artwork is the use of photovoltaic cells embedded in the four glass panes that collect solar energy, providing power to light the lamp. Photo by Lucas Fladzinski. (Credit: Photo by Lucas Fladzinski; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)


Hands, 2010

Artist: Christian Moeller
Commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs

Located on the east side of the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport's Consolidated Rental Car Garage, the hands of 53 Silicon Valley residents greet the world from a mural by Christian Moeller created with plastic pixels affixed to architectural mesh, spanning 1,200 feet and standing seven stories high. Photo by Dave Mathiasmeier. (Credit: Photo by Dave Mathiasmeier; Artwork commissioned by the City of San Jose Public Art Program, Office of Cultural Affairs.)

Caption information by Kerry Adams-Hapner. Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.