final project: prototype and reflection / revisions


It takes a village. I owe shout outs to many people who helped me get the project up and running.

When I decided to use a microcontroller instead of the initial Pistil Tickle inverter feedback loop to control the motors, Ali Momeni provided guidance. At this point, I was using my old Arduino and all seemed to be going well until I went from controlling one mini light bulb (standing in for a motor) to controlling six. This is when Ali had me do a continuity test, and we found out something was not good with the Arduino board. In retrospect, this is where I should have just used a Teensy 2.0 (5V). However, I opted for the Teensy 3.1 (which is 3.3V with 5V tolerance). My tech issues post addresses this, so I will not elaborate further. 😉

During my attempts to trouble shoot, Eric Singer patiently volleyed a series of emails. I sent lovely photos of my circuits wired onto the breadboard, but he kept asking for a schematic. Eh. Clearly, something I need to master this summer. Long story short, I ended up taking the Opto board out of the equation and used TIP122 transitors, 1K resistors, and 1n4001 diodes. (And Eric kindly provided the parts.)

Massive thanks to Abby Aresty for taking the time to sit with me to make sure the circuits were in fact functioning and also to rework the code. Since the actual motors and photocell sensors were already installed in the gallery (see the in-progress photos below), we used other motors and photocells to test the code. This of course meant that the code would need to be adjusted in the gallery for three things 1) each individual photocell, as they all have different minimum/maximum levels at which they respond to light, 2) the light level in the gallery and the projections moving over the photocells to trigger them, 3) the miniature vibration motors, as they respond differently to the same voltage used for the test motors.


In terms of installing the work in the gallery, the timeline as follows:

Monday (4/28): Unloaded materials. (Also, continued to work on the circuits and code in ArtFab.)

Tuesday (4/29): Began building the site-specific installation. While the tubes of cotton batting had all been sewn in advance prior to the gallery installation dates, the majority of the build needed to be done on-site, as I wanted the forms to seem as if they were growing out of and across the walls. This consisted of using screws as anchor points for thick gauge lengths of wire to support the cotton tubes.

(I had experimented with spraying a cornstarch solution onto the cotton tubes and letting them dry atop miniature parking cones. This did not succeed in providing structure to the cotton tubes, but certainly created a mess in my kitchen, akin to an early NIN performance.)

I attempted to hang one of the three pocket projectors with zip ties, but realized I needed to come up with another solution. See Thursday night…

Wednesday (4/30): Continued to build the installation in the gallery, all day. Many thanks to Tesar Freeman, Daniel Campos, and Connie Dai for installing the metal rods from which I would hang the projectors. This was quite labor intensive, and involved using the electronic lift to reach the height of the ceiling. In the evening, worked on code with Abby.

Thursday (5/1): The first order of business was to get wire from ArtFab, measure and cut lengths in the gallery, and then back to ArtFab to solder the wire leads to a protoboard. Again, my thanks to Ali, this time for suggesting the protoboard instead of soldering individual leads (which would have taken much longer). This step could not have been completed in advance, as I could not determine the individual lengths of wire until the flora forms were installed.

Unfortunately, I could not find enough male-to-female jumper wires to go from the protoboard to the breadboard, so I ended up with a situation where the jumper wires needed to be soldered in the gallery. Yikes. This is where Michael Importico came to my rescue with his wicked-fast soldering skills. Thank you Michael!!!

When Jenny Soracco finished installing her beautiful work across the gallery (next to Michael’s wonderful piece), she selflessly became my assistant, helping with anything that needed to be done. This mostly consisted of stuffing the numerous tubes with polyfill (not my favorite material, definitely a compromise) to give them a more defined shape. And even though she is not fond of heights, Jenny braved climbing ladders for me. She is awesome.

That night, I built custom boxes to hold the projectors, which could then be zip tied to the holes in the metal flanges at the end of the metal rods mounted to the ceiling. I also made custom collars out of iridescent plastic discs to eliminate the hard edge of the projection throw.

Friday (5/2): Hung the projectors, adjusted the projector collars, and finished the last bit of physical install. At this point, I was basically brain dead and still needed to adjust the code. Robb Godshaw magically appeared asking if he could help. Yes please! As Robb reconfigured and simplified the code, he also explained what he was doing at every step so I could understand how to alter the numbers if necessary. The end result was intermittent chirping buzzes, responding to the projections of bees crawling over the fuzzy leaves of lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina).

While the Miller Gallery installation is my final piece, it is also a prototype, in that Astral Flora will next be installed in my house as part of An Experimental Space for Reconnection with the Natural World.






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