Under One Sky

Sophia Brueckner

Exhibition Dates
April 2 – 30, 2022

First Saturday Opening Reception: April 2, 2022, 4-7pm

Sophia Brueckner, Under One Sky C++, YouTube videos of skies, 2021

About the Exhibition:

All over the world, people are captivated by the sky. They record it using their smartphones or with DSLR cameras to create time-lapse sequences. Sometimes these videos are created to be used for meditation or during prayer at church. Sometimes people simply want to share the beauty that they see in the world with others. They add music earnestly attempting to express how they feel looking up at the sky.  They upload these videos in a generous, asynchronous act of sharing. YouTube is notorious for its toxicity, but there are no cruel comments on YouTube sky videos. Commenters give compliments and say thank you for sharing as well as make polite requests to use the clouds themselves. The original poster says thank you for the compliments and thanks people for reaching out for permission to use the video. Often the original poster also expresses interest to see people’s projects and how they used the skies. There’s only kindness and generosity.

Artist Statement:

For nearly 10 years, I have been downloading all the YouTube videos of the sky I could find using the words “sky” and “clouds” translated into many languages. To date, I have collected hundreds of videos.  I wrote a C++ program and OpenGl shader to combine these sky videos. When this program runs, it generates a collective sky synthesized from the skies captured by real people all over the world. The accompanying generative soundtrack is made from the original soundtracks of the sky videos that you are seeing blended on the screen. This work can run forever never producing exactly the same visuals or sound. The structure of the algorithmically generated visualization and soundtrack reflects the structure of the asynchronous online interaction between strangers engaged in this generous act of sky sharing. During this unprecedented time of social distancing, we live under one sky, both together and apart. 

Artist Bio:

Sophia Brueckner is a futurist artist/designer/engineer who researches how technology shapes us. Inseparable from computers since the age of two, she believes she is a cyborg. As a software engineer at Google, she designed and built products used by tens of millions. At the Rhode Island School of Design and the MIT Media Lab, she researched the simultaneously empowering and controlling aspects of technology with a focus on tangible and social interfaces. 

Since 2011, Brueckner has taught Sci-Fi Prototyping, a course combining science fiction, extrapolative thinking, building prototypes, and technology ethics at MIT, Harvard, RISD, Brown, and the University of Michigan. Both the class itself as well as the students’ individual projects received international recognition and were featured by The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, Wired, NPR, Scientific American, Fast Company, and many others. 

Creating new ways to apply science fiction to the design process, Brueckner prototypes alternatives to the tech industry’s limited visions for how we live with technology. She makes both physical and digital artifacts combining software programming, digital fabrication, and electronics with traditional media. These projects challenge the norms of the tech community, whose work has enormous impact on our day-to-day lives, as well as translates the problems in ways that are understandable to the everyday user. She invites others to embody an attitude of “critical optimism” and to imagine what technological futures they might prefer for themselves. 

Brueckner is the founder and creative director of Tomorrownaut, a creative studio focusing on speculative futures and sci-fi-inspired prototypes. Brueckner’s work has been featured by Artforum, SIGGRAPH, the Peabody Essex Museum, Portugal’s National Museum of Contemporary Art, Leonardo, Eyeo, ISEA, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, and more. She was an artist-in-residence at Autodesk Pier 9 and Nokia Bell Labs E.A.T. She is currently an associate professor at the Stamps School of Art and Design and co-director of the Center for Ethics, Society, and Computing (ESC) at the University of Michigan. Her ongoing objective is to combine her background in design and engineering with the perspective of an artist to inspire a more positive future.