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MPM605 – Project Development

SYMBIOSIS

SYMBIOSIS is an interactive sculpture that showcases the important co-dependent relationship between nature and the human race.

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Natural existence is progressively becoming endangered by mankind’s endless desire for industrial and infrastructural expansion. It is important to remember we are the ones with all the power that ultimately determines the fate of this world. We are the ones that can make a difference. A balance of natural and man-made creations is what makes our world beautiful. Inspired by Park Seung Mo’s Human series, the flowers were made entirely with aluminum wires. They ‘come alive’ when human touch is detected.

  

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Constructed with silver and copper aluminum wires, the flowers are interactive sculptural installation. The LEDs of each flower light up whenever the flower bud or the roots at the bottom of the vase is touched. Each piece is approximately 30 inches tall, and powered by an Arduino Uno and external power source.

 

Special thanks to Steve Daniels, David Bouchard, Joseph Lammirato, Barry Weatherhead, Diane Agapito, Kelly Truong, and Karen Wan for all the support.

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A lot has changed since my last update. The title is now SYMBIOSIS; the wires now go through the hole at the bottom of the vases; the ‘soil’ filling is now paper shreds of a dictionary; a metal circular stand is added onto the bottom; and lastly, pieces of paper are glued on the outside.

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The critique went fairly well. There was a lot of positive feedback with the exception of the graduate which suggested I play more on making it more ‘industrial’ to enhance my concept. He said the circular glass and paper makes it very polished, which is not conveying what I want. I decided to not change this because I feel like making it more industrial will make it very messy (like the scraps of circuitry I tried before). Another criticism was the blanket I used for the table cloth. I obviously didn’t want that but I couldn’t purchase a proper table cloth the night before so I just did what I could with what I had at hand.

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The last flower did not make it to the critique because the last vase actually shattered.

 

One word to describe this year’s 4th year META show was UNDERWHELMING. We get this stigma how META is the biggest and most important show for our program, but some of the pieces I saw was just disappointing and insulting in a way. I feel like you were given a year to show the best work you have ever created, you better show something with amazing construction, originality and functions flawlessly. Let’s be honest, the opening is the most important day of any show because that’s when most people show up. So if your piece doesn’t work, people are most likely not going to re-visit the exhibition again thus forever remember your piece as the one that didn’t work. Not only is that shameful for the artist, but also insulting to the profs that has drilled the importance of ‘make sure it works!’ into our heads the 4 years we studied there.

It’s really shocking to me that some of these pieces were jury approved. The loop video with the girl’s face projected onto a wall was so mundane, done before and easy to make. The rain piece beside it with the Kinect and projection is basically a direct copy of Camile Utterback’s Text Rain (the artist even listed it as one of the inspirations). The male and female imprints that filled up when people pressed buttons stops working when it fills up, so it should’ve been reset itself when it reaches maximum capacity. The white paper projection sculpture that hovered above was beautiful and probably the best piece of the show, it should’ve been placed at the front. But instead, we got carts that didn’t work to welcome us at the entrance. I had no idea that this piece had anything to do with sound because you couldn’t hear any of the sounds the piece was suppose to make. The artists should’ve anticipated the noise level of the opening to make sure that their piece stood out. It was basically the opening piece that people saw first when they walked in, so it was embarrassing to see all the confused faces staring down at the frozen cars not doing anything. The WTF piece was really WTF. The automated drawing machine was one of the better pieces but was hidden at the little corner at the back. The sound-making buttons beside the WTF piece didn’t work. The medical hearing devices piece at the back was interesting, but does not accommodate people of all heights (should have had a wooden step or something). The game beside it was basically a personality test, and the graphics was alright but not spectacular. The piece beside that was not working. Moving onto the next room, the moving dress was beautiful and actually worked. It stood out and people understood the interaction. The wooden pier was poorly designed because many people stepped on it when you’re suppose to touch it with your hands. The computer orchestra at the very left was cool but it wasn’t loud enough to hear the significant changes according to the hand motions. Only other thing I remember from this room was the guestbook which should’ve been at the entrance/exit area. The womb room was really black cloths covering the entire space and a soundtrack of a womb. The artist who did the clubbing photos that was hung on the wall of the staircase heading up to the roof should be pissed because it was basically shunned from the rest of the show, like there was no space for it so you can sit outside. If I forgot any pieces, that’s because they weren’t very memorable.

Everything felt cramped. I didn’t understand why there was 2 sofas that took up a lot of space when it could’ve been used to spread the pieces out, giving it more room to breathe.

Nothing against the artists, but it was really an underwhelming show with a lot of pieces that lacked the conceptual and execution quality to be there. People who went to last year’s META said this year was a lot better so I’m glad I didn’t go to last years. I just hope and pray that next year when we have our META that it would not turn out to be such a mess. But if I was an artist or on the curator team, I sure as hell won’t let that happen if I’m putting my name on it in the list.

 

So after the feedback from the first user test, I decided to change the interaction between the flowers and the users. I didn’t really like how lighting the soil doesn’t really convey the concept I was striving for. Plus, since there was only one photoresistor, sometimes it didn’t work when people were flashing at different areas of the pot. What bothered me the most was the brightness of the flashlight and how it kind of overconsumed the LEDs in the flower.
So I thought of another interaction that involved IR proximity sensors where when someone places their hands near the pot and flower, the LEDS lit up. I liked this idea because it’s like the user is directly transferring their energy to the flower to light it up. Because of my cheapness, I got IR emitters and receivers (seperately) from Active Surplus because it was way cheaper than Creatron’s premade (combined) versions, and it turns out that it is a pain the ass to work with. When David explained how I had to do this and that to get it to work effectively, I knew it wasn’t going to end well especially with all the other work I still had to do. My cheapness actually costed me $10 in the end.
Luckily, as we continued to search for alternatives, David reminded me of the exercise we did last year with the aluminum foil and how I can maybe emulate the effect of IR proximity sensors just by using capacitative sensory. Which then made me wonder if the wires are actually conductive in itself, to react to the human touch. Lo and behold it actually works! So I came up with the idea that roots (made with the wires) will sparse from underneath the pot and the user interaction will be the physical touch on the roots. Here we go!

The day of the user test! I got everything up and running and here is the my flower for the user test:
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I added this metal frame thingy to the bottom with a label to give people hints in what to do. I also put a flashlight beside the piece in case their phones didn’t have a flash function.

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I really wished that the pieces were smaller so it looked like actual soil. Some people pointed out it looked messy and conflicts with the cleanness of the flower which I 100% agree. I think I will try and use a blender for the next step!

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I was pretty pleased with how the flower looked when it’s lit up (especially in that room where it was dim).
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Lastly, here’s a video of the interaction:

This is where things started to go downhill. The original plan was to get the flower to move (along with the LEDs lighting up) whenever someone shines a light to the soil (where the photoresistor was). I initially wanted to use a servo and have the top petals rotate, but it didn’t work out because it would cause all the LED wiring to tangle along the middle. Furthermore, I couldn’t get the coding to slow down the servo speeds. So instead of spinning the petals, I thought having a motor that moves the petals moves in an up and down motion. Steve suggested that I use a stepper accelerator but seeing the prices at Creatron made me cringe. But the bigger problem is not knowing if it will actually do what I want. Plus, the actual mechanism was so big it hard to make it work with the LED wiring and extremely difficult to hide it. I wasn’t willing to take that risk because I’m sure I won’t be able to figure out the coding by the user test, so I decided to just stick with LEDs. I was actually quite disappointed in myself because I had to downgrade my original concept.

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For the LEDs, I wanted it to do a fade effect whenever the photo resistor receives light, and fade off when the light is removed. The coding was a lot more complicated than I imagined. I wrote a bunch of different code but none seemed to have work. I had really no choice but seek for Steve’s help (which at that time was not for another 3 hours?). So I took the time to start creating the decor in which the flower will be placed in.

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I began smashing scrapes of electronics I found and it was HARD. They were invincible and impossible to break effectively. I wanted really refined, small pieces of circuitry as the soil and I was very disappointed I couldn’t achieve that. Since it was the day before the user test, I decided to let it be because the coding was far more important at this point. 

Long story short, I was the second last person to leave Hack Night. Steve helped a lot with the code and we finally got it to work the way I want it to. All that was left to do was assemble the piece and present it the morning after.

Over the reading week I started making my lily flower in preparations for the user test. It was definitely a lot harder than I expected. I knew that it was going to be time consuming but physically building each petal was a pain in the bud. However, I pulled through even after stabbing myself nonstop with the wires. Here is what it looked like when I connected the petals together in a triangle shape (3 for the top and 3 for the bottom).

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Next was trying to figure out what in the world I am going to use for the stem. It took so long to wrap little petals so there was no way in hell I was going to wrap a long thick tube. Plus, I needed it to bend easily, allow me to stick something through, and maneuver without disconnecting any wiring. So I made a stop to Home Depot and luckily found this long silver tube that worked perfectly with my flower top. It’s is some sort of toilet tube connector (yay toilets)! I also created wrapped two wires together with bronze wire to create the stamens of the flower. This is where I will attach the LEDS at the ends. This is how the flower started looking when I put everything together.

IMG-20140224-WA0003The next step was finishing up the wiring for the LEDs and writing the actual program code. Things are turning out very nicely at this point in time so hopefully everything will continue running smoothly.