Revisiting the Site of Pixel Pour
I recently paid a visit to the site of Kelly Goeller’s brilliant 2008 installation, Pixel Pour on 9th Street in New York City. The artist’s own photo of the ephemeral work graces the cover of The Emergence of the Digital Humanities.
When I give talks, it’s one of the images from the slides that people always want to discuss. Pixel Pour was dismantled within days in April 2008 and no trace of the colorful pixelated water remains.
The building in Greenwich Village where it was installed was once a branch of the Hebrew Technical Institute, a vocational high school that closed in 1939 (Wikipedia says). When I stopped by, the vent pipe had a graffiti sticker on it commenting on the self-surveillance state (“If you see ONLY. Say Something”), and I noticed another addition: one of those grey rectangular boxes you see around the city labeled DEP, for Department of Environmental Protection.
This is a sensor, a Meter Transmission Unit, part of a 2008 New York City program (it must have been installed soon after the artwork was removed), used for capturing data from water meters and transmitting it to data-collection nodes and the DEP, reportedly to make billing more accurate and to send automated alerts of leaks and malfunctions.
In other words, despite the removal of Pixel Pour, the site itself couldn’t have done a better job of illustrating the book’s focus (and, in my reading, a theme of Pixel Pour, as well)—the eversion of the data network out into the physical environment, for good and ill. The point of the book isn’t at all to celebrate this eversion, but to call attention to it as part of the conditions for the emergence of the new Digital Humanities, which happened at around the time Pixel Pour was installed, and to consider what DH might do in response to such changes in the world we move through every day.