Ultralight Beam

Made by RJ Villaflor

A light demonstration that allows the friends and family of Chicago gun violence homicide victims to remember their loved one.

Created: October 23rd, 2016


Assignment: Design a permanent installation that gives voice to an otherwise voiceless community. The installation must give community members the opportunity to interact with the public and communicate their concerns. The installation can be focused on a particular topic (gun violence, poverty, etc.) or open to any topic.


As of September 6th, 2016, there have been 6,888 American deaths in the two wars waged as a result of the September 11th attacks.

In comparison, there have been 7,916 deaths as a result of Chicago gun violence during the time of these two wars.

These deaths are largely concentrated on the south and west sides of Chicago in Black and Latino American communities.

These victims are often young teenagers and sometimes young children.

Though Chicago strictly prohibits the possession of firearms, Indiana does not. Chicago nearly borders Indiana. Through loopholes, guns from Indiana are funneled into Chicago's south side.


SAIC Artist Talk: Kanye West (HON 2015)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) - https://youtu.be/OnIL1kBGbFA?t=10m27s

Inspiration: Since 2001, I always viewed the two lights coming from ground zero in lower Manhattan as a guiding path for the 2,996 people that died in the September 11th attacks. I also felt it was the last connection we'd have to feel connected with those that were suddenly and unexpectedly lost. It was a meaningful and powerful demonstration.


Inspiration (continued): The Heidelberg Project by Tyree Guyton is a project that, in part, brought attention to a community that was suffering from blight and decay in Detroit's east side. The visuals were eccentric and, more importantly, disruptive. This disruptiveness brought attention to the community and the issues it faced.


Chicago Musical Inspirations:

"Ultralight Beam" by Kanye West feat. Chance the Rapper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4w08DXtXn8

"The Light" by Common: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjHX7jf-znA

"Angels" by Chance the Rapper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eedeXTWZUn8


My initial idea used searchlights to shoot beams of light from the various neighborhoods in Chicago where gun violence was happening into the sky. These lights:

  1. In their abundance, would bring attention to the abundance of gun violence in the city
  2. Make a connection between the lights in Manhattan for the September 11th attacks, the amount of American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the amount of deaths from gun violence in Chicago
  3. Disrupt the architecture and skyline that are highly valued in Chicago's "Loop" and bring attention to the neighborhoods of Chicago where serious issues are happening

It currently seems unrealistic to install powerful lights in each neighborhood in Chicago. The permanence of this project would be compromised. Additionally, these lights, though a massive media demonstration, do not provide a voice to anyone. It would have been as non-interactive as it was static.

As a starting project, I began to think about using one light and one neighborhood in the south side that 1. would be interested in bringing attention to the issue and 2. could be capable of sustaining such a project. That neighborhood is Hyde Park. Building this project in one location with one light to start could gain popularity and momentum to spread to other neighborhoods.


Hyde Park is a "bubble" neighborhood in Chicago's south side that enjoys significantly less violence than the surrounding neighborhoods. It is home to the prestigious University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry. This museum and this neighborhood are relatively centered in Chicago's south side neighborhoods. This could be the location of a single light that still brings attention to the violence and disrupts the Loop's skyline.


However, this light still wouldn't provide any voice or interactivity for the loved ones of gun violence in Chicago. As a result, I have created the following concepts:

With no interaction, the light would be a static white color.


A server would wait for Twitter mentions of Twitter handles for Chicago gun violence victims. These tweets would be messages from the victims' loved ones.


After the tweet is submitted, the light from Hyde Park would briefly change colors, representing the tweet to the loved one. After a few moments, the light would return back to white. The server would then wait for another tweet.

As the tweets and mentions become proportionate to the gun violence in Chicago, the color changes would become more frequent, more disruptive, and more attractive.


As a result, Chicago's community from Indiana to the greater Chicago area suburbs will see the light. It will humanize the victims and their loved ones as the changes in lights would demonstrate that the victims are still remembered. Though this light will not stop gun violence, it aims to inspire changes in policy and infrastructure to protect the people of Chicago.


If non-action continues and, consequently, Chicago gun violence continues, more lights can be installed in various neighborhoods as initially ideated. Each one can change colors like the single light in Hyde Park. Various lights across the city frequently changing lights will be proportionately representative of the severity of the issue. It is aimed to be disruptive enough that city, state, and federal governments will have to take action. However, the goal is to avoid necessitating more light installations.

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A light demonstration that allows the friends and family of Chicago gun violence homicide victims to remember their loved one.