FeaturesQueer Creatives

Flying High with Digital Art

Artists Alex Ramos and Billy Baccam’s immersive airport installation pushes the boundaries.

Artists Billy Baccam (l) and Alex Ramos with their installation in Houston’s Seismique digital-art museum (Photo by Alex Rosa)

If you are one of the thousands of people who have traveled through Bush Intercontinental Airport recently, you’ve likely come across a transformative digital light experience in the Terminal B Skyway station entitled Data Stream. Its creators are Alex Ramos, a queer and nonbinary local artist, and ally and artist Billy Baccam of Input Output, a creative media lab that researches, designs, and develops interactive and immersive experiences that blur the lines between the digital and physical worlds.

Data Stream, an installation that uses 66 LED strips, offers a constantly changing light show spanning three spaces within the Skyway. The lights mimic air waves as they travel over the wings of an airplane, visually guiding travelers through the space. It is Input Output’s most visible art installation in Houston, but it certainly isn’t the only one created by this artistic duo.

“Each project is unique and possesses its own challenges to navigate,” says Baccam. “Over the last five years, we have made a name for ourselves as a company that innovates and pushes the boundaries of what is possible with technology. Most of our clients are surprised by what we are capable of and willing to take on.”

Connecting with the audience is a primary focus for these artists. “The technology, for us, is secondary to the user experience,” Ramos adds. “No amount of fancy tech or high-end gizmos will make up for a lack of connection from the audience. We always design from the perspective of the user, and work from there. We consider the flow of traffic and the amount of time we have to capture their attention. Once this is all accounted for, we can start with the fun stuff. Our designs range from passive to fully interactive and immersive, with each type posing its own unique engineering design challenges.”

Input Output has other artistic irons in the fire. They are one of the founding members of Seismique, an immersive digital art museum located in West Houston. Seismique describes itself as a technology-fueled experiential art museum spanning 40,000 square feet.

Ramos and Baccam’s art installation Data Stream floats above travelers at Bush Intercontinental Airport (Photo by Billy Baccam)

During June Pride Month, Input Output created an amazing and immersive light experience at the Denver Max Pride event at Post HTX that enhanced the look of the vast downtown space and the feel of the event.

“One of our recent clients was the James Beard Foundation, and we were tasked with the entire concept of their event. And one of our long-term clients, Rock the Bells, puts on some incredible projects and has taken us on some wild rides. They recently commissioned us to activate the second story of a four-story yacht for one of Art Basel Miami Beach’s star-studded events,” says Baccam.

“The implementation phase of our process is where the rubber meets the road,” Ramos explains. “Here, we are constantly butting up against what might seem impossible. Our ability to iterate and learn during each part of our process has made us a great team and a valuable asset to our clients.”

Both Ramos and Baccam completed some undergraduate courses that have informed their work, but the majority of their knowledge is acquired through their research and development for each project.

The journey that led each of them to Houston also informs their artistic perspectives. Baccam came here from Dallas to study electrical engineering, while Ramos was born in Mexico City and immigrated at a young age with their parents, who were in search of work and a more stable situation. Being a gender-nonconforming person is not just an identity for Ramos, but an approach to life. “We are born into this reality with the game already in play. This game has its own norms and customs; we either choose to get in line, or we question everything. These norms and customs are at times rooted in structures of control and dominance, and when we challenge the narratives, we have the ability to rewrite our story. This mindset opens us up to new experiences and ways of living where anything is possible.”

With installations in major spaces—and giant event sponsors inviting them to participate—Input Output is picking up momentum as they uplift the Houston arts and entertainment scene. 

“Houston is slowly but surely becoming a hub of innovation and art,” Baccam says. “The underground art scene in Houston is exploding with events, musical performances, art happenings, and everything art-related.”

“We have always been thankful to our clients [who have given us] gigs that really validate this thing we are doing,” he concludes. Having [our Data Stream] public art piece at an airport is a wonderful addition to our portfolio of work.”

Follow the work of Input Output at inputoutput.space and on Instagram @1nput0utput.

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.
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