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Installation: Vitruvian Man

Yale Art Gallery 2017

Frederick Kennedy 

Lucy Dawkins

Yaara Bar


This audio and visual installation inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci's picture of the same name, explored the relation of the body to transitional space. By reimagining the idea of a transitional space as a destination rather than simply a pass-thru, we asked: What is the symmetry of our own physical space, the space of the body, to the spaces we inhabit and where we transit?


The base of the auditory experience was a 3-hour long sample of a Shepard tone—a sound consisting of a superposition of sine waves separated by octaves, the effect of which is a perpetually rising or falling tone, much like the way in which a traditional  barbrershop sign can spin continuously, appearing to always be rising. This created an undulating series of nodes throughout the two spaces. The Northwestern staircase is a tall, enclosed concrete cylinder, and the palpable, very physical relationship to the sound was quite acute as audience could descend and ascend through the various sound nodes that occurred as a result of standing waves throughout the volume. 

In addition to the general design gesture, a motion sensor triggered randomized samples from a long interview with Louis Kahn, the architect who designed the modernist wing that houses the staircase, discussing his approach to volume and spaces.


The delivery system consisted of a series of narrow custom ribbon speakers rigged to the beams of the staircase architecture, such that they blended in seamlessly to the visual of the staircase handrail. A single subwoofer at the basement level, tucked out of sight assisted in creating a full and visceral aural experience.


In interplay with the sonic dramaturgy, a small camera and projection apparatus broadcast an image captured from the ceiling facing down and rebroadcast that back onto the ceiling creating an MC Escher-like sense of dislocation.


At the South east staircase, a similar gesture was used, by rear-projecting onto the bottom surface of the frosted glass staircase. A small camera then showed an inverted live feed of that angle on the bottom of the staircase. Hidden speakers under the stairs carried over the auditory gesture from the northwestern wing; however small contact microphones underneath the stairs were used to trigger randomized samples.


The two staircases sit at opposite wings of the Yale University Art Gallery on Chapel Street in New Haven, Connecticut, nearly bookending the block-long interconnected buildings.

Vitruvian Man© Frederick Kennedy 2017
00:00 / 02:38

Photgraphy by 

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