Phases, 2013
By Sophia Brueckner and Catherine D’Ignazio

Boston, MA – Phases is a new generative art installation by Media Lab artists Sophia Brueckner and Catherine D’Ignazio, created for the Boston Harbor Islands Pavilion located in Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Pavilion is the Welcome Center for the Boston Harbor Islands national park area. Starting Monday, July 8th and running only after sunset, the animation renders moonlight sparkling on ocean waves receding into the nighttime darkness.


It is purposefully reminiscent of the condensed landscapes in early computer games where the complexity of nature is distilled into such a small number of pixels, analogous to modern difficulties in reducing complex real-world environments and situations into simple metrics computers can understand.

The animation is alive, and the computer program pulls information in real-time regarding the conditions of the Boston Harbor Islands to influence the constantly evolving animation. The tides affect the shape and speed of the overlapping and receding patterns. The middle column of light changes with the phases of the moon. Weather conditions affect the beams of light moving across the scene, and, on clear nights, flickering pixels emulate the glitter of light on water. While bringing awareness to the challenge of capturing real-world complexities using limited representations within the computer, Phases uses technology to link two places together in real-time, bringing a little bit of the Boston Harbor Islands to the city.

Programming for the low-resolution LED screens at the Pavilion is sponsored by the National Park Service and Boston Harbor Island Alliance. The programming content, curated by Boston Cyberarts, is designed to enliven a focal point of the Greenway after dark with themes that connect the viewer to the islands-based park 15 minutes from downtown Boston.


Sophia Brueckner, born in Detroit, MI, is an artist and engineer. Inseparable from computers since the age of two, she believes she is a cyborg. She received her Sc.B. in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics from Brown University. As a software engineer at Google, she worked on the front-end development and interface design of products used by tens of millions and later on experimental projects within Google Research. Brueckner earned her MFA in Digital + Media at the Rhode Island School of Design and was also an instructor there teaching a course on science fiction and art. Her artwork has been exhibited internationally, and, in particular, she is interested in interaction design, generative art, algorithmic writing, and, as a technology antidote, painting. She feels an urgency to understand and bring awareness to technology’s controlling effects, and to encourage the ethical and thoughtful design of new technologies. She recently joined the MIT Media Lab as a graduate student in the Fluid Interfaces research group.

kanarinka, a.k.a. Catherine D’Ignazio, is an artist, software developer and educator. She is the Director of the Institute for Infinitely Small Things, and formerly led the Experimental Geography Research Cluster at RISD’s Digital+Media program. She is currently a graduate student at MIT’s Center for Civic Media. Her artwork has been exhibited at the ICA Boston, Eyebeam, and MASSMoCA, and has won awards from the Tanne Foundation and kanarinka has a BA in International Relations from Tufts University (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and an MFA in Studio Art from Maine College of Art. She has lived and worked in Paris, Buenos Aires, and Michigan, and currently resides in Waltham, MA.


Boston Cyberarts, the National Park Service and Boston Harbor Island Alliance have collaborated on an ongoing project to commission public algorithmic art for display on the LED screens at the Boston Harbor Island Pavilion on Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway. Boston Cyberarts commissions algorithmic artists, asking them to write computer programs that will create real time generative art that will be constantly changing. In an effort to directly relate to the Harbor Islands themselves, they draw from the National Park’s geographic information system (GIS) databases or streaming data from the islands themselves as a source, but the work remains somewhat abstract in nature. This program ties into the innovative strengths of the Boston area, using digital art algorithms to heighten the interest in Boston Harbor’s history and natural complex ecosystems.