Artwork Spans Fifty Years Of Display Technology

Swiss artist and designer [Jürg Lehni] was commissioned to create an artwork called Four Transitions which has been installed in the HeK (House of electronics Arts) in Basel. This piece visually depicts the changes in technologies used by public information displays, such as those in airports and train stations. As the title of the installation suggests, four different technologies are represented:

  • Flip-Dot, early 1960s, 15 each 7 x 7 modules arrayed into a 21 x 35 pixel panel
  • LCD, 1970s and 1980s, two each 36 x 52 modules arrayed into 52 x 76 pixel panel
  • LED, 2000s, six each 16 x 16 RGB modules arrayed into a 32 x 48 pixel panel
  • TFT, current, one 24 inch module, 1200 x 1920 pixel panel

The final work is quite striking, but equally interesting is the summary of the the design and construction process that [Jürg] provides on Twitter. We hope he expands this into a future, more detailed writeup — if only to learn about reverse engineering the 20 year old LCD controller whose designer was in retirement. His tweets also gives us a tantalizing glimpse into the software, controllers, and interconnections used to drive all these displays. There is quite a lot of interesting engineering going on in the background, and we look forward to future documentation from [Jürg].

You may recognize [Jürg] as the creator of Hektor, a graffiti output device from 2002 which we’ve referenced over the years in Hackaday. Check out the short video below of the displays in operation, and be sure to unmute the volume so you can listen to the satisfying sound of 735 flip-dots changing state. [Jürg] also gives in interview about the project in the second video below. Thanks to [Niklas Roy] for sending in the tip about this most interesting exhibition.


20 thoughts on “Artwork Spans Fifty Years Of Display Technology

  1. What; no CRTs? They were the most common displays in the airports and train stations I’ve visited.

    Also, no incandescent lamp dot-matrix displays. These were the oldest display technique I recall seeing.

  2. Also missing: Plasma (pinball tables, luggable computers, HDTVs), vacuum fluorescent, EL matrix…

    Also the implied timeline is weird. Both TFT and STN LCDs are present but one is a refinement of the other. TFT LCDs became widely available well before blue LEDs were cheap enough to put in a LED wall.

        1. Given the first commenter’s observation about the ubiquity of CRT-based information displays in decades past, I can pretty comfortably say that the correct title is “Four kinds of display technology that just happen to still be widely manufactured”.

  3. I’d like to see some examples or where to even to obtain “hix8” format displays. I saw a few of of these on busses and the air port in Berlin in the early 20teens. Also saw some used at the Zurich airport that same trip. It took about a year of googling every now and then with the itch hit me to finally stumble upon the patent for hix8. I had never seen them before that trip to Europe. It seemed like it was some variant of LCD since you could see the light bleeding though the dark portions, it wasn’t until I got close to one of the information walls using them at the Berlin airport I was able to pick out that it was a many segmented display, but not a bitmap display.

  4. I want to complain about the lack of representation, too, but I get this is a commissioned “art piece”. Really that means some people with money want an artist to make some non-art for them based on some dumb theme somebody with more control over the previously stated money thought up.

    Seriously, who else would bother making stuff that “represents” transport displays? These types of “art installations” are often found in corporate offices for large companies and typically highlight the company’s “accomplishments”. Think the graffiti art in the tv show, Silicon Valley.

    He did the best he could with a dumb idea. Good job on the effort. Getting paid for doing art is nice.

    LOL: From the HeK website: “Four Transitions draws attention to the sensual experience of the aesthetic qualities each technology offers.”

    I think that should say “sensory experience”… I HOPE they meant sensory, anyway. Imagine being caught getting sensual with a display.

    1. I’d say the real art comes more from actually obtaining some of the displays flipdot and those LCD, assuming they are the real ones like in places like the Berlin train stations where they are just monochome blue/white LCDs with an extremely coarse pixel pitch and not just using a normal LCD tv/monitor to simulate one. Those are entirely purpose built for where you need text to be visible from 30-50m away. and the engineering and software coding for actually driving them and then displaying some kind of interesting pattern on them. Wouldn’t take much for just about anyone with some experience using tools to mount them into a frame.

      1. Did you watch the interview? Most of the effort on this was taken up with finding a way to control the LCD displays. He tried to make the boxes all the same size which restricted the display size, and the controller provided with the display couldn’t do what he wanted. It sounds like getting just that box to work took about 2 years!

    2. I agree with everything you say except the sarcastic ‘non-art’ quip. If people with money asking an artist to make them something makes their art not art we’ll have to empty most of the galleries of the world.

      1. The best art requires the artist be dead, under appreciated in their life time. It only comes into its own when the rich and powerful throw money at it hand over fist, validating the the tortured existence of the artist, the more tortured the better.

        It is only then, when the money thrown at it exceeds the wealth of a small nation and is truly the inverse of the artists existence that it can be fully appreciated.

        Anything less isn’t art, anything less is merely a retail transaction for goods.

  5. Wow. Comments on HaD are often really good, as they add different perspectives and ideas to a project and thus inspire further developments. Unfortunately the ones below this article are rather lacking this brilliance :/

  6. Wow, you guys sound like being straight out of the movie MEAN GIRLS. Bored, entitled and really into hating on other people. Would love to see more of all your brilliant, thought-through work. You must be geniuses.

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