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.

Artistic Attempt To Send Digital Signals Via Fungus

Art projects can fundamentally be anything you like, as long as you say they’re art at the end of it all. They don’t always work, or work well, but they often explore new ideas. Often, artists working on installations fall back on similar tools and techniques used by the maker community. [Julian] is no exception, and his Biotic Explorers work has many touchstones that will be familiar to the Hackaday set.

The device attempted to send signals via Mycellium fungus.

The Biotic Explorers Research Group is a broad art project, involving the creation of a fictitious scientific association. [Julian] created imaginary scientists, reports, and research to flesh out this world. The project culminates in the development of a prototype communications system, which uses pH sensors at either end of a fungal network in soil to send messages.

Liquids are applied to change the pH of the system, which can be picked up at the other end of the soil bed. The pH levels are read as digital signals, with pH levels either side of neutral reading as high and low bits. pH sensors can be expensive, so [Julian] chose the cheapest available, and tapped into their LCD display lines to read their output into an microcontroller. The system displays data using commonly available OLED displays, and hobby servo motors are used to control the dispensing of liquid.

Due to time constraints, [Julian] was unable to get the system fully functional. Sending data as pH levels through fungus proved unreliable and slow, but we suspect with further development, the system could be improved. Regardless, the project serves as an excellent example of the work that goes into a functional art installation. The thesis sheds further detail on the development of the project.

We’re no strangers to an art installation here – whether it’s Markov chains or glowing balloons.

Mayak Turns WiFi Traffic Into Sound

Dial-up modems were well known for their screeching soundtrack during the connection process. Modern networking eschews audio based communication methods, so we no longer have to deal with such things. However, all is not lost. [::vtol::]’s Mayak installation brings us a new sound, all its own.

The installation consists of four WiFi routers, connected to four LTE modems. These are configured as open hotspots that anyone can connect to. [::vtol::] was careful to select routers that had highly responsive activity LEDs. The activity LEDs are wired to an Arduino, which processes the inputs, using them to trigger various sounds from an attached synthesizer.

As users connect to the routers and go about their business on the Internet, the activity LEDs flash and the synthesizer translates this into an otherworldly soundtrack. The hardware is all hung on a beautiful metal and acrylic frame, which stands as a striking form in the sparse gallery.

The piece creates a very electronic soundscape, but you may prefer your installations to have a more mechanical racket. Video after the break.

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What Happens When You Cross A Brick With A Pixel?

There are a great many technologies we use to display information every day. We’re all familiar with plasma displays and LCDs, and then there’s more esoteric hardware like the split flap displays on municipal buses and around train stations.  However, Breakfast have been working on something that turns architectural features into a display at the same time. Enter Brixels.

The name is a portmanteau of brick and pixel, indicating that each individual brick can be independently addressed as a visual element. A Brixel installation consists of a series of columns, stacked with Brixel elements. Each individual brick on the column contains a stepper motor which can set the rotational position of the brick. The outer appearance of the individual bricks is highly customizable, as the motor hardware is integrated into the column itself. A Linux machine is used as a primary controller, which passes commands to each column’s controller over RS485, and the column controllers then pass instructions to each individual Brixel.

The Brixels are capable of continuous 360 degree rotation and also contain LEDs for various illumination based effects. The largest current installation is the Brixel Mirror, standing at 18 feet wide, 6 feet high, and containing 540 individually addressable Brixels. These are built with one half covered in a mirror finish, and combined with a depth-sensing camera for all kinds of fun interactive effects.

Brixels show that architectural features don’t have to be static – they can become kinetic, living things that can be aesthetically beautiful and also useful. Breakfast are known for their installations which use modern electronics to push the limits in their artistic installations. Their work on high-speed flip dot displays is particularly impressive. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Sheldon for the tip!]

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‘Bit’ Installation Combines Art, Markov Chains

A Markov chain is a mathematical concept of a sequence of events, in which each future event depends only on the state of the previous events. Like most mathematical concepts, it has wide-ranging applications from gambling to the stock market, but in this case, [Jonghong Park] has applied it to art.

The installation, known simply as ‘bit’, consists of four machines. Each machine has two microswitches, which are moved around two wooden discs by a stepper motor. The microswitches read bumps on the surface of the disc as either a 0 or 1, and the two bits from the microswitches represent the machine’s “state”.

When a machine is called, the stepper motor rotates 1/240th of a revolution, and then the microswitches read the machine’s current state. Based on this state and the Markov Chain algorithm coded into the machines, a machine with the corresponding state is then called, which in turn moves, continuing the chain.

The piece is intended to reflect the idea of a deterministic universe, one in which the current state can be used to predict all future states. As an art piece, it combines its message with a visually attractive presentation of understated black metal and neatly finished wood.

We love a good art installation here at Hackaday – like this amazing snowflake install from a couple years back. Video after the break.

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The Battle Between Robot Harmonica And Machine Finger Rages On

When asking the question “Do humans dream of machines?”, it’s natural to think of the feverish excitement ahead of an iPhone or Playstation launch, followed by lines around the block of enthusiastic campers, eager to get their hands on the latest hardware as soon as is humanly possible. However, it’s also the title of an art piece by [Jonghong Park], and is deserving of further contemplation. (Video after the break.)

The art piece consists of a series of eight tiny harmonicas, which are in turn, played by eight fans, which appear to have been cribbed from a low-power graphics card design. Each harmonica in turn has a microphone fitted, which, when it picks up a loud enough signal, causes an Arduino Nano to actuate a mechanical finger which slows the fan down until the noise stops. It’s the mechanical equivalent of a stern look from a parent to a noisy child. Then, the cycle begins again.

The build is very much of the type we see in the art world – put together as simply as possible, with eight Arduinos running the eight harmonicas, whereas an engineering approach may focus more on efficiency and cost. Between the squeaks from the toy harmonicas and the noise from the servos entrusted to quiet them, the machine makes quite the mechanical racket. [Jonghong] indicates that the piece speaks to the interaction of machine (robot harmonica) and humanity (the finger which quells the noise).

It’s a tidily executed build which would be at home in any modern art gallery. It recalls memories of another such installation, which combines fans and lasers into a musical machine. Continue reading “The Battle Between Robot Harmonica And Machine Finger Rages On”

Long-Range RFID Leaflets

Pick a card, any card. [Andrew Quitmeyer] and [Madeline Schwartzman] make sure that any card you pick will match their NYC art installation. “Replantment” is an interactive art installation which invites guests to view full-size leaf molds casts from around the world.

A receipt file with leaf images is kept out of range in this art installation. When a viewer selects one, and carries it to the viewing area, an RFID reader tells an Arduino which tag has been detected. Solid-state relays control two recycled clothing conveyors draped with clear curtains. The simple units used to be back-and-forth control but through dead-reckoning, they can present any leaf mold cast front-and-center.

Clothing conveyors from the last century weren’t this smart before, and it begs the question about inventory automation in small businesses or businesses with limited space.

We haven’t seen much long-range RFID, probably because of cost. Ordinary tags have been read at a distance with this portable reader though, and NFC has been transmitted across a room, sort of.

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