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Camille Utterback & Michelle Higa

 "Active Ecosystem (SMF)" 


Active Ecosystem, Utterback & Higa. Concept designs, banner.

Camille Utterback artwork concept


Active Ecosystem (SMF) is an interactive art installation inspired by the cycles of growth, movement, and decay in the natural and agricultural environment of Sacramento. Located in the Sacramento International Airport's new Terminal B ticketing hall, the piece involves a series of 14 LCD screens mounted across the glass surface of a three-story elevator shaft. Animations controlled by the rise and fall of the elevator depict changes in different ecosystems, linking the human movement within the airport to the environment outside.

Each of the different scenes in Active Ecosystem (SMF) contains multiple responses to the elevator. For example, in the "river" scene, passengers’ pushing a call button on any of the landings starts a series of ripples in the river. When the elevator moves to a new floor, a school of fish follow it. A large, curious fish investigates the elevator wherever it stops. If no one rides the elevator for an extended period of time, an abstract drawing of the river starts to flow. Similarly, in the "tree" scene, falling leaves are blown in different directions as the elevator rises and falls.

In each scene, the elements also change based on time of day and the seasons. The color palette changes from dawn to noon to dusk, mimicking the outside environment. Different local fish, such as King Salmon or Rainbow Trout, swim in the river during the months when they are spawning. Falling autumn leaves are replaced by drifting pollen in the spring.

Similar to Lawrence Argent and Christian Moeller’s commissions for the terminal, Active Ecosystem (SMF) reinterprets natural elements by depicting them with contemporary digital tools. However, unlike those commissions, Active Ecosystem (SMF) is totally dynamic, changing with the season, time of day, and specific human movement in the terminal. 

This piece marks the first collaborative artwork between longtime friends Camille Utterback and Michelle Higa. The pairing draws on Utterback’s expertise in interactive and public art, and Higa’s renowned skills as an animator.

The project team also includes the following key people, without whose talents and hard work the piece would not have been possible:

  • Technical Consultant - Barry Threw

  • Concept Artist - Meghan Jean Kinder

  • Character Animator - Masako Miyazaki

  • 3D Artist - Andre Salyer


Active Ecosystem, Utterback & Higa. Work in progress.
Camille Utterback created a to-scale model –comprised of monitors and a computer—in her San Francisco studio. Working with her collaborator, Michelle Higa, she used the model to determine and finalize the images that they programmed to interact with the elevator in the airport ticket hall.


Active Ecosystem, Utterback & Higa. Completed artwork.


Camille Utterback is an internationally acclaimed artist whose interactive installations and reactive sculptures have been exhibited at galleries, festivals, and museums internationally, including The New Museum of Contemporary Art, The American Museum of the Moving Image, New York; The NTT InterCommunication Center, Tokyo; The Seoul Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Netherlands Institute for Media Art; The Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art; and the Ars Electronica Center, Austria. Utterback’s work is in private and public collections including Hewlett Packard, Itaú Cultural Institute in São Paolo, Brazil, and La Caixa Foundation in Barcelona, Spain. Awards and honors include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2009), a Transmediale International Media Art Festival Award (2005), a Rockefeller Foundation New Media Fellowship (2002) and a commission from the Whitney Museum for the CODeDOC project on their ArtPort website (2002). Utterback holds a US patent for a video tracking system she developed while working as a research fellow at New York University (2004). In addition to her work for the Sacremento Airport, recent public commissions include works for The City of San Jose, California, The City of Fontana, California, and the City of St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Utterback holds a BA in Art from Williams College, and a Masters degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives and works in San Francisco. 

Michelle Higa is a founding member of the animation trio Mixtape Club. During Michelle’s tenure with the company, Mixtape Club directed videos for Yeasayer, My Morning Jacket, and TV On The Radio, and produced commercials for clients including Google and Showtime. This work won the team an ADC Young Guns award, a Best Music Video award at SXSW, and appearances on "Best of the Year" lists for MTV2, Spin Magazine, and Pitchfork Media. Since leaving Mixtape Club in 2011, Michelle has focused on her public art collaboration with Camille Utterback for the Sacramento airport, and also works as an editor at the industry-leading website Motionographer. Michelle lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. 


Camille Utterback:

Michelle Higa:

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