Seattle's Current Generation

Seattle's Current Generation

Adam Frank in front of his installation, Current, at the Armory/Center House at the Seattle Center. (Ariel Rosenstock)
Adam Frank, center, in front of his installation, Current, at the Armory/Center House at the Seattle Center. (Ariel Rosenstock)

Just steps away from the Space Needle, locals and visitors can see how hydroelectric power is generated, transmitted, and consumed in Seattle. Projected on the giant north facing wall of the Armory/Center House, the installation Current, by Brooklyn-based artist Adam Frank, uses light to create a real-time map of electricity distribution through the city’s neighborhoods. Frank was recently named artist-in-residence at the city’s public utility company Seattle City Light (SCL), and this is his first project. His art is part of a series of events taking place through October at the Seattle Center, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Seattle 1962 Exhibition.

In Frank’s light map, which resembles an aerial view of the city grid (turned on its side to fit the space) illuminated at night, two currents—or waterfalls—of electricity flow from the north and south, mimicking the flow of energy delivery. The real-time electricity usage is drawn from computer data measuring kilowatt hours along distribution lines. The city’s hydropower systems originate from the Boundary Dam on the  Pend Oreille River in the northeast corner of Washington State as well as from dams along the Skagit River in the northwest. These two rivers provide over 85% of power used in Seattle. The remainder comes from nuclear, coal, wind, and other power sources.

Frank highlights the metaphor of electricity as water flow: “Electricity and water generation are governed by almost identical equations. In school, students understand electricity flow via water movement, as droplets of light,” he said.  Clearly Seattle’s downtown business district uses the most electricity, he added, pointing to the brightest area to the west along the Puget Sound. As for other patterns? Time will tell. The installation will be up for a month, and he is looking forward to analyzing the data.