New York often makes you feel low. Riding the subway underground or standing in the shadows of tall buildings, the sky feels out of reach. A new Web project, however, offers New Yorkers a much-needed view of the sky. N SKY C, a grid-like Web page launched by digital designer Mike Bodge earlier this summer, shows the average color of the New York City sky at five-minute intervals. Bodge created a program that takes a picture outside his office window every five minutes. After automatically uploading the photo to a server, the program analyzes the pixels of the sky portion to determine the “average” color. A rectangle of that color is then added to the page, which displays more than twenty-four hours’ worth of panels at a time. Hover over a rectangle and the corresponding photo appears, along with its date, time, and an ID number. As the hues progress, one can envision the clouds shifting from one shade of gray to another, and then to off-white, or the long night progressing through myriad tints of blackness.
At first glance the site looks like rows of swatches: a compendium of grays, blues, and blacks, with hints of white and tan and purple thrown in. But it’s surprisingly fun to scroll through day after day. Colors appear that one would never think to associate with the sky, like dull, khaki green reminiscent of a pair of cargo shorts or eye-popping turquoise that looks pulled from a Disney animation. As the hues progress, one can envision the clouds shifting from one shade of gray to another, and then to off-white, or the long night progressing through myriad tints of blackness.
With its grid format, which aligns the rectangles in reverse chronology, N SKY C is also a visual record of the passage of time. In that sense, it calls to mind another New York art project: Spencer Finch’s The River That Flows Both Ways. Finch sailed on the Hudson River for eleven hours and forty minutes (seven hundred minutes total), photographing the water once every minute. He then created a colored pane based on a single pixel point in each photo and arranged all of them chronologically. The seven hundred stained-glass panels are displayed in a passage on the High Line.
Both Finch and Bodge have transformed nature into art, but while the former works in concert with his source, the latter seems to pull away from his. Unlike Finch’s project, where the colors change according to the time of day and amount of light in the High Line tunnel, Bodge’s program flattens the brilliance of the sky. Those who have spent a lot of time gazing at the glow of sunset or the haziness of twilight might be turned off by the idea of just one color standing in for many. N SKY C is a digitization of the environment, and it looks like it. Perhaps, rather than swatches, Bodge has made oversized pixels of the sky.
Yet this simplicity also gives the project its power. The grid activates the viewer’s imagination and evokes a sense of wonder with its emphasis on celestial color shifts (imagine the transition from incandescent blue to the massing of ominous gray before a storm). Bodge’s project reminds New Yorkers that even though we can only see a portion of the sky, there’s always something to look up to.