There are many considerations to reduce the environmental impact of this project.
“Border Tuner” allows people to control searchlights that use 126kW of power in total. While 126kW is a very substantial electrical consumption, for perspective, the entire 11 night duration of the project can be powered by the electricity used in a single football game. The project has a carbon offset plan in place with the Nature Conservancy to reduce the project’s carbon footprint to zero.
The lights are tightly focused so that all the power is concentrated into narrow beams that are never pointed towards neighbouring buildings, flight paths or sensitive ecological areas. The lateral light pollution generated by the beams is much smaller than any street light, advertisement or corporate logo found on any of the region’s buildings. Contrary to lasers which concentrate light in a perfectly parallel beam, our lights do diverge with distance and lose intensity by the square of their target’s distance.
Our team of technicians, surveyors, officials and civil engineers have measured the exact position and orientation of each searchlight and built accurate 3D models of the surrounding buildings; our control system is programmed to prevent searchlights to be aimed towards these buildings.
The project is very quiet compared to any concert or public festivities. During the programmed content, that starts the project at 6:30PM every night, the sound volume will be higher than once the microphones are open to the general public and only small speakers are used, audible only close to the microphones
The project has been developed in consultation with ornithologists and partner organizations in a collaborative effort to minimize and mitigate any effect of the project on migratory birds. The considerations are as follows:
The project incorporates automatic, periodic, total “black-out” periods within the show to lessen the possibility that birds become “trapped”.
By design the lights are never stationed in one position, which diminishes situations where the birds might get stuck. On the other hand, the lights scan slowly so as to not startle the birds.
The beams are kept away from any and all tall buildings in an effort to avoid attracting birds toward actual physical structures that they could collide into.
The intensity of the beams is constantly modulated according to the live voice analysis. This means that the total average luminous output of the project is considerably less than all previous Lozano-Hemmer searchlight projects.
The searchlights have a severe UV cut filter glass, as birds can see ultraviolet light. As Dr. J. Alan Clark, professor at the Dept of Biological Sciences of Fordham University, conducted an independent scientific study of the project’s lights https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2529339
Previous exhibitions of similar Lozano-Hemmer projects with interactive searchlights have been successfully staged in many cities all over the world. In the small Japanese city of Yamaguchi his work “Amodal Suspension” co-existed with the bird sanctuary that was in the neighbouring hill and which was completely undisturbed. In the city of Toronto, for his work “Pulse Front”, the searchlights were 250 m away from city airport on one side and 100 m away from residential towers on the other. For “Vectorial Elevation” in the Vancouver Olympics, the project was successfully sited for six weeks in English Bay, an ecologically sensitive area home to bald eagles, woodpeckers, herons, jays, ospreys, tanagers, finches and other species.
Link to ways you can help birds during their fall migration: https://www.audubon.org/conservation/bird-friendly-communities
“As someone involved in amateur astronomy, who has worked with NASA on two projects, and most importantly, as someone humbled and inspired by the majesty of a starry sky, for me light pollution is a serious issue and I am aware of the inconvenience that the project will cause.
However, this project is designed to be an ephemeral installation in an urban setting: it is in El Paso only for 11 nights. We have been negotiating for the city to turn off sodium lighting in the streets to lessen our net impact. For the record, I only advocate using searchlights if the project is short-lived, if it takes place in an urban center where there is already substantial light pollution for example near a stadium, if ample consultation is undertaken with wildlife experts and if it is associated to a public, open special event.
It is my belief that the greatest contribution towards achieving dark skies will be lobbying for the change of permanent lighting fixtures, advertisements, “architainment” installations and urban screens, not short-term projects. For what it is worth, I like to think of my work as being within the long tradition of “Sky Art” (e.g. Otto Piene, Roger Malina, Rockne Krebs, etc), which seeks to direct attention to the sky and space to ask questions about our own place in the world. In that vein, my previous interactive searchlight project “Amodal Suspension” was opened by a live message coming from the International Space Station by Astronaut Pedro Duque and from Earth by Astronaut Mamoru Mohri.
During 11 nights my piece will indeed illuminate El Paso’s dark sky, —though a walk in the city at night will confirm that unfortunately this is already much reduced—, but hopefully the project will give millions of people something beautiful to look at, making community voices visible, activating neighbourhoods that need more pedestrians at night for fostering community, safety and participation.”