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Creative Machines brings Interactive Experiences to Life

By Joseph O'Connell, Artist for Creative Machines
6 January 2023
5 min read
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Located on eight acres outside Tucson, Arizona, the Creative Machines workshop is hard to miss. The colorfully painted 77,000 sf workshop is devoted entirely to pushing the boundaries of art production, comprehensive design, and advanced interactive technology. Founded by Artistic Director and Principal Artist Joseph O’Connell in 1995, Creative Machines is one of the largest artist-run design and fabrication studios in the world. The imaginative work that Creative Machines dream up and bring to life is all about one thing: creating interactive experiences and permanent sculptural works of art for public spaces all around the world, including a growing number of hospitality venues.

 “What can art do anything for hospitality that other amenities cannot?”

Art contributes enormously to the cultural, aesthetic, and economic vitality of a place. Public art has long been a means to promote a community’s identity, but it goes much deeper than that. Large-scale sculptural artwork cultivates pride and a sense of belonging among residents and visitors while enhancing the quality of life for those who experience it daily. Investments in placemaking art have proven to raise the public profile of a city, hospitality setting or any other destination. Placemaking art serves communities and businesses in a variety of ways — bringing unique destinations to life, strengthening the characteristics of a location, and honoring local values and history. Creative Machines has a demonstrated ability to create buzzworthy artistic landmarks that aid in the overall recognition of place — they have achieved that and so much more for the clients and communities they serve with their art. 

“Do you have any examples of artpieces that took on a life of their own and contributed to the identity of a destination?”

Growing Home

When we installed Growing Home in downtown San Diego we didn’t realize how popular it would become. The day after we installed it, the property developer waved a copy of the local paper in my face “look at us here on the front page of the business section. I couldn’t have paid for this level of positive publicity.” The local community quickly adopted the sculpture as their own – taking and posting “shelfies” (ie. selfies in the shell). People started taking their wedding pictures in and around the shell, and the popularity grew virally. I’m not sure why, but at least five of our artpieces have become the site of weddings.

“How do you see large scale art evolving? What are we going to see next?”

In the long historical sense, I think we’re seeing a return to art that serves civic goals – and I don’t mean the expressed goals of any political party – but perennial goals like increasing community, honoring true heroes, and facilitating healing. In the immediate future, I see us finally getting interactivity right. By this I mean creating art experiences that are beautiful and generous even if nobody does anything, yet they invite deeper involvement if people want that. I’m working on a new series of dichroic sculptures for a hospitality district in Scottsdale. These sculptures are inarguably beautiful with richly saturated color that bathes its surroundings and changes as the sun moves through the sky and then again as artificial light sources turn on. No interaction is needed. But if someone wants to move them, we have figured out a way that people can spend a lot of time causing some of these sculptures to move in captivating ways that cast colored shadows all over their bodies. They provide beauty all the time, and interactivity if you want it. We don’t want anyone to feel pressured to interact, to put themselves out there.

Another thing I see on the horizon is art for wilderness destinations on the edges of cities or far removed. Some of the first structures that humans built were elaborate sculptural installations for ceremonies, astronomical observations, games, and festivals; these precede structures of fortification and accumulation. I have been designing a series of sculptures to enhance hospitality destinations that are in remote areas – solar/stellar observatories, music spaces, sculptural animals to spend the night in, a walk-through color-changing sundial, and other sculptural amenities for the edge of wilderness.

“In concrete terms, where would you install the art in a hospitality destination?”

The art is there to serve a function, while looking like its minding its own business. For the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, we put a large sculpture at the main entrance. Because they receive many international groups, we built an easy-to-use touchscreen at the front desk that allowed staff to adjust the programmable lighting in the sculpture to match the color of national flags or sports teams. We also put projecting sculptures at a pedestrian entrance and in a garden, as well as smaller pieces on a terrace where people sit by the water and spend more time. We calibrate the level of engagement for whether the sculpture is in a high-traffic zone or whether it is off the beaten path.

The Ben West Palm

For The Ben in West Palm Beach, we put a series of colored glass sculptures in a location where wedding parties like to take photos. For a new property north of Miami, we are making a large walk-through color-changing sundial – large enough to entice people from a distance, but with enough compelling experiences to make it worth their while once they get there, and lots of opportunities for posing and photographs. And finally, for remote areas we’re starting to work on large sculptures where special groups can spend the entire night experiencing the stars from within an all-encompassing sculpture.

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