Sanctum is up at the Henry Art Gallery

Sanctum is an interactive video and sound installation led by Juan Pampin and James Coupe. The commission was awarded after an international call for proposals to transform the façade of the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, WA.  The piece draws in live video from around the façade of the museum, looking from the inside of the museum out, gazing down the skybridge past Turrell’s Skyspace, across the skylights of the “rooftop entrance”, and out into the plaza of the University of Washington’s Red Square.  The chaotic flow of passers-by is gathered into 3 video walls spanning the façade, in routines that constantly shift to show a slightly different perspective on the scene around the museum.  Sound beams scan across the various points of entry to the site, reflecting off of the glass of the building, drawing viewers toward the work.


The South-facing video walls of Sanctum. Image by R.J. Sánchez

The South-facing video walls of Sanctum. Image by R.J. Sánchez

Passing through Sanctum. Image by R.J. Sanchez

Passing through Sanctum. Image by R.J. Sánchez


The West-facing video wall of Sanctum. Image by R.J. Sánchez

Once a viewer approaches one of the video wall, the work responds by presenting him or her with video of previous viewers that are deemed by the system to be of a similar demographic.  A text narrative appears overlaid across the video wall–a story generated from Facebook posts of people also matching the viewer’s demographic.  This text is spoken by a synthesized voice, again matching the viewer’s demographic, through highly directional motion-tracking sound beams so that the story is heard primarily by the viewer and not the surrounding passers-by.  The stories continue as long as the viewer remains with the work, all the while the system stores this new interaction for later recall in response to a future viewer.  A continuum of place and viewer is drawn out through the life of the work, two and a half years, ebbing and flowing with the movements of the crowd,  shifting from day to night, reflecting the dynamic shifts of Northwest weather, evolving with the social narratives of the participants contributing their posts to the work.  The piece challenges us to reconsider the “site” of the museum as something that is inextricably rooted in its location on 15th Avenue while it is also not bound by the walls of the building or the edges of the frame. Rather, it extends through time into the communities that pass through it.

You can sign up to participate in the project here.


I was part of a small team that took the piece through every stage of its development from its initial conception, through site visits and research, mockups, proposals, iteration, fabrication, software and hardware development, to installation.  My primary involvement once development was underway was twofold: developing of the software which coordinated the system’s response to viewer interaction, and development and installation of the audio component of the piece–three steerable ultrasonic sound beams which sweep across the façade and skybridge entrance and which speak the text of the narratives.  The piece was many months in development and there were plenty of surprises when bringing it off the screen and into the real world. A great challenge and ultimately a great project! Thanks to everyone involved.

Juan Pampin and James Coupe, artists; James Hughes, video wall, tracking, database programming and more; Tivon Rice, install prototyping and fabrication; Jimmy Johnson, additional prototyping; Dan Gurney, lead installation coordinator at the Henry.

Here’s a short video highlighting the development process.

Videos created by Solstream Media.

This project was supported by many other folks at DXARTS.