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Terrapin Learning Commons in McKeldin Showcases Digital Art

A digital art installation to be unveiled Wednesday in McKeldin Library’s Terrapin Learning Commons showcases the work of six students whose dynamic, data-driven creations will be projected onto the walls of the space’s central corridor.

The artwork—an arresting display of movement, color and light—blends the students’ computer programming skills with their artistic creativity. In the technology-rich environment of the Terrapin Learning Commons, data becomes art.

Turning computer code into time-based visual art, these artists worked on a canvas consisting of multiple video projections spanning 70 feet on the second floor of McKeldin Library.

A brief kickoff celebration with take place on Wednesday, September 19, at 3:00 p.m. in the Terrapin Learning Commons.

Associate Professor of Art Brandon Morse led the project and directed the students, all of whom were enrolled in Morse’s course in the university’s College of Arts and Humanities.

“These artists made works that transform the space and comment on the role of a library as a hub of interconnectedness and repository of cultural history,” Morse says.

One student’s project graphically represents real-time computer use by showing arcs emanating from Maryland to points on the globe where students are accessing servers. Another reveals lines from great literature by gradually accumulating and layering letters of the alphabet. 

A goal of the project was to create artwork specifically for the environment.

“The artists were asked to create work that would take into account the architecture of the library, and also address the context of the library environment,” Morse says. “The works on display are dynamic visualizations that are generated in real-time. As such, they will change and evolve over time on their own, and will never look the same twice.”

The projections will cycle virtually non-stop until November, when the work of other students will be displayed. Morse plans to build the project into his curriculum, cementing a new partnership between the University Libraries and the Department of Art.

“We envision McKeldin Library and all libraries on campus to be centers for this type of partnership and collaboration,” says Patricia Steele, dean of University Libraries. “Libraries are so much more than books—they are environments to engage and inspire. We contribute to student learning in many ways, and in this case it’s especially satisfying to be able to display and enjoy the results.”

The installation coincides with other improvements to the Terrapin Learning Commons, the second floor space in McKeldin Library that fosters collaborative work and group activity. A new service desk offers students the ability to print posters, get help with multimedia production, borrow laptops and more.

“Not unlike the art itself, which is dynamic and full of motion, the Terrapin Learning Commons is constantly evolving,” says librarian Cinthya Ippoliti, who directs activities there. “Each year we seem to be adding more services or features that provide students what they need to succeed.”

The TLC opened in 2010 and last year unveiled new furnishings and more than 100 desktop computers, and introduced an online group-study room reservation system and a popular reading collection.  McKeldin Library, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Library and the White Memorial Chemistry Library launched  equipment loan programs in 2011.