Public Art Installation

Expressing community through interactivity

The Task

Create public art that is easy to understand, view, and interact with that plays with light and expectations. 

The Goals

Photo Credit: Jennifer Torloni

Mimicking nature through mechanics

Encouraged and sustainable interactivity

Complementing space's aesthetics

Photo Credit: Jennifer Torloni

Researching The Space

Environmental

Research

Color Study

Overall, we found the space to have a lot of different but surprisingly cohesive aesthetics within it. The overall layout had a clear directional flow looping from one bridge to another. Additionally, it was clear that the space was heavily inspired by nature and surrounding colors, without primary colors and its blues (nature's least common color) coming from the sky and man made structures. 

Because of this, it felt right to create an artifact that complemented and took inspiration from the overall flow of the area and presented nature within man-made structures.

Finding a Vision

Finding Inspiration

Through research, I learned that interactive art can be classified into multiple separate sections of interactivity. While some pieces are interactive through adaptable messages, others become interactive through modes of communication, changes in point of view, and teaching the audience. It became clear that auditory interactivity was unnecessary and would restrict unique experiences and that reflecting a user's actions would be too complex. While the direction wasn't well defined yet, it was clear that a mechanism would be used to promote interactivity that would represent community and water in some way.

Ideation/Sketching

The initial goal/concept was to create a piece that promoted interaction, by taking a cubic structure, or an object worth photographing and sharing online. As time went on, we chose to go with an interactive piece rather; partially for practical reasons such as easier upkeep, and standard sizing and the welcomed challenge of using moving parts within a sustainable structure.

Chosen Artifact Study

The new and final goal was to create a cube with flowers that would rise and fall in a way that mimicked a wave. At the same time, these flowers would 'bloom' or open up as they rose and then close when falling back to their starting position. The main challenge required a multitude of moving parts that had to hold up against use over the ten days of the Canal Convergence event.

Rapid Mechanic Prototyping

Prototype 1

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The first prototype was to simply create a ramp causing columns to rise and fall in reaction to the ramp. We found that the angle of the bottom spikes for each column was too sharp and could not successfully or easily rise and fall. This led to the use of wheels and/or rounded ends for the bottom of the columns.

Prototype 2

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The second prototype was used as a study of conveyor belt mechanics and application of rounded bottoms for the columns. Although simple, it was successful and gave us the appropriate angles to use for the ramps on the conveyor belt.

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Prototype 3

Prototype 3 was a simple quick mechanic study to create a ring around the flower petals to push them up when they were lowered to the base. This would allow the flowers to mimic 'blooming' as they rose away from the base.

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Prototype 4

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Prototype 4 was a diverging study into toys with a similar design where a piece is rotated to allow for other objects to rise and fall. We found this worked best with single rows of columns/rods instead of multiple rows. This prototype also showed that over time pieces could warp and become misaligned, creating a non-functioning device.

Getting Down to Business

Discovering Dimensions

From the beginning, size was consistently a conflict point, because of having to balance its size, upkeep, and transportation. In the end, we chose a 36x36x36 inch cube with four wheels on the bottom and a 8x8 grid on top for a total of 64 rising and falling flowers.

Conveyor Belt

The Conveyor belt never came to fruition, despite great efforts. The plan was to connect the belt to a crank and have ramps on said belt to push the flowers up and down (essentially a 1:1 translation of horizontal movement to vertical). Given the difficulty in getting the ramp to fully loop without damaging itself the design had to be scrapped for a new one.

Lots and Lots of Tiny Pieces

One of the other most difficult factors in this design was the sheer quantity and repetitive processes for creating certain pieces in the artifact. With a total of 320 petals, 64 hand soldered LEDs, 64 hand taped PVC with 64 rounded bottoms for each pipe, 64 rings for each petal to attach to the PVC, and 64 rings to push the petals up, many hours were dedicated to tiny details.

Major Redesign

Given the failure of the conveyor belt system we quickly redesigned the lifting mechanism. It became a team effort to lift and tilt both sides, so users could create their own waves. This plan was a great improvement since there was much less risk of the device breaking and a decrease in the overall amount of moving parts.

The Final Product

While the final product did not perfectly capture our vision it became clear that the end result still brought joy to those who interacted with it, as well as adding to the space. The most important lesson I learned was the challenge in designing, constructing, and sustaining multiple moving parts and the tolerances of each system needing to be accounted for and repaired consistently.

Thanks to my partner, Jennifer Torloni (site found here) who helped in this project and took many photos

Footage Credit: Magnus Fiel