Four Transitions – The (unstoppable) passing of time on the half a century of technological advancement

Created by Jürg Lehni for the collection of HeK – House of electronic Arts in Basel, ‘Four Transitions‘ is an artwork about the passing of time. Together, four displays work in tandem to unveil the current time, with each unit taking one minute to compose one numeral, deploying visual compositions and choreographies that correspond to the nature and character of each technology.

The four chosen technologies represent half a century of technological advancements. They were selected due to their very distinct character and potential, their different resolutions and the related distances at which the human eye “dissolves the separate pixels into a coherent image”. The black and white Flip-Dot discs are flipped electromagnetically, each giving off a characteristic sound reminiscent of information boards at airports, railway stations and stock-exchanges. The coarse monochrome LCD pixel grid glows in cold blue light caused by the electro-optic characteristics of the liquid crystals that either block the light or let it pass. The LED display introduces the capability to mix almost any color, by varying the intensity of three separate light-emitting diodes in bright red, green and blue color. And lastly, the modern-day TFT display deploys the same technique introduced with LCD but at much smaller size and in color due to its thin-film transistors and multiple color layers.

Four Transitions shines a light on the continuous advancement of technology and celebrates the many different inventions that keep being made redundant by the unstoppable advancement of time and scientific progress. The work investigates the poetic potential that all technology holds but that often is only understood in hindsight – or when put in direct comparison with other such technologies.

Jürg Lehni
Authoring environment that emulates animations and plays them directly on the hardware. They system is controlling just one of the 4 screens. This animation is based on an SVG file which is read an animated with PaperJS. Jurg and Arno developed a system of transitions that could easily be attached to graphics using attributes. Pure JS scripts are also used.

To create the displays, Jürg found that each technology came with its own set of challenge but by far the most difficult turned out to be LCD – having to construct own lightbox, avoid leakage and relying on a 20-year old C code. The animations are all generated in realtime, nothing is pre-rendered or played from movies. Most animations are created using PaperJS except for the meta-balls on the TFT, which are rendered directly by a GPU shader on a Jetson Nano. All other embedded systems are using Raspberry_Pi. Together wit Arno Schlipf, Jurg worked on a realtime authoring environment that could emulate the animations on the computer screen, play them directly on the hardware, or both. This workflow allowed a process of rapid prototyping of animations, and testing them even while not in front of the hardware. All systems communicate among themselves through SocketIO over a WiFi access point. They find each other and start communicating and coordinating the animations when powered up.

The work is the continuation of a concept originally developed with Alex Rich for a public art proposal at the HeK Museum in Basel.

Project Page | Jürg Lehni | HeK collection | Twitter Thread




One thought on “Four Transitions – The (unstoppable) passing of time on the half a century of technological advancement

  1. I really like that this piece also retains functionality as a clock! Wonderfully executed vision in regards to capturing the passage of time.