Lessons Learned From An Art Installation Build

Art installations are an interesting business, which more and more often tend to include electronic or mechanical aspects to their creation. Compared to more mainstream engineering, things in this space are often done quite a bit differently. [Jan Enning-Kleinejan] worked on an installation called Prendre la parole, and shared the lessons learned from the experience.

The installation consisted of a series of individual statues, each with an LED light fitted. Additionally, each statue was fitted with a module that was to play a sound when it detected visitors in proximity. Initial designs used mains power, however for this particular install battery power would be required.

Arduinos, USB power banks and ultrasonic rangefinders were all thrown into the mix to get the job done. DFplayer modules were used to run sound, and Grove System parts were used to enable everything to be hooked up quickly and easily. While this would be a strange choice for a production design, it is common for art projects to lean heavily on rapid prototyping tools. They enable inexperienced users to quickly and effectively whip up a project that works well and at low cost.

[Jan] does a great job of explaining some of the pitfalls faced in the project, as well as reporting that the installation functioned near-flawlessly for 6 months, running 8 hours a day. We love to see a good art piece around these parts, and we’ve likely got something to your tastes – whether you’re into harmonicas, fungus, or Markov chains.

7 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From An Art Installation Build

  1. Hmm, I went to this exhibit here in Osaka a few months back. Personally, I wasn’t impressed by any of it. Based on the reputation of the artist, I expected far more than what I saw. In this specific installation, most of the sensors were inoperable as they were displayed. You had to reach into the jacket and wave your hand around to activate the sounds. However they had signs posted prohibiting touching. It was frustrating understanding how it was built and being prohibited from making it work as it was intended to work. I understand they don’t want a bunch of people touching art. That’s very reasonable. Having interactive art that can’t be interacted with is poorly thought out.

    1. Hi John, indeed other productions use different suppliers for the installation. They use, in my opinion, inferior hardware with poor response. The current expo in Tokyo is using our version. That works pretty nice. Previously they used a PIR sensor with some shielding to ‘direct’ the sensitivity. With a PIR sensor that never works as expected. It’s a pity they did not ask us to build it. Usually this installation is build every time from scratch, meaning the result may differ and a waist of money. If you have the time, visit THE NATIONAL ART CENTER, TOKYO. Here our version is working.

    2. Agreed! I was very frustrated to see an installation of an interactive artwork behind a rope where no one could interact with it.
      I understand that some artworks are fragile, so would only be interacted with at a private viewing, but it takes a lot of the experience out if you can’t see it functioning.

      I built an artwork earlier this year that interacted with visitors via Bluetooth, so no touching needed.

      1. Incredibly frustrating was to see an artwork which consisted of custom built musical instruments. Again, sat unplayed behind a rope, with a few photos of the artist playing them – not even a video 😭

  2. lol. i just did the tech behind a rather similar museum piece at the zurich fifa museum for the ladies football exposition.
    let’s just say these ultrasonic sensors don’t work in this kind of application. AT ALL.
    what i ended up using was VL53L0X lidar. that does the job well.

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