Somerville’s latest public art installation is designed to get everybody talking.
“The Conversation,” a six-story LED screen hanging on the facade of 455 Grand Union Boulevard in Assembly Row, depicts three heads — one facing forward, one right, and one left — that are canvasses for digital artwork by local and regional residents.
The piece went live at 1 p.m. on Aug. 24 with the work of five artists: Studio HHH led by Vanessa Till Hooper — which also selected the pieces for display — Pamela Hersch, Callie Chapman, Zebbler, and Bruce Rosenbaum. Hooper said when looking for regional artists to feature, they opted for those with LED content experience, resulting in a series of slow-moving, vivid, saturated works of digital art.
The main piece of content created by Studio HHH, also called “The Conversation,” features soundless videos of Somerville and Cambridge residents who the studio recorded on an outdoor film set as they actively listened to others.
“We’re at this state of the world where we feel like more conversation is really essential,” said Hooper. “We take a little bit of each other away when you have a meaningful conversation or meaningful exchange.”
The digital canvas, Hooper said, is rotating, meaning different selections of the content will play at different times of day in different orders, with new art being introduced and old ones being phased out periodically.
“The message that I would really want people to see is that this is about them — It’s about everyday folks,” Hooper said. “I want this canvas to feel accessible, and of the community, for the community.”
“The Conversation” was commissioned by Federal Realty, which owns the building that serves as its facade. First conceived in 2019, “The Conversation” was a collaboration with Design Communication Ltd, which handled the fabrication and technology integration; Street-Works Studio, which dealt with the urban planning element; and Daktronics, which worked with the LED technology. Federal Realty used the Boston-based nighttime ILLUMINUS festival — of which Hooper is the creative director — as inspiration for the project.
“There’s all sorts of possibilities with the screen that allowed us to tap into what makes Somerville unique, interesting, and cool,” said John Flaherty, development manager at Federal Realty. “Empty storefronts are not what we’re looking for. Any way we can get some art in there and liven up the neighborhood, we will.”
Both Hooper and Flaherty said they hope the installation serves as a force of placemaking for Assembly Row.
“For the community of Somerville to be able to identify as a place where big art happens, a place where artists are invited to create exciting, forward-looking artwork, that is cutting-edge, and that makes a statement, all of those things have a different kind of impact than just creating large buildings or gathering spaces,” Hooper said.