mixed media, microcontroller, sensors, motors, projections
approximately 15’ wide x 12’ high x 12’ deep
as installed in the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, May 2 – 17, 2014
Astral Flora is a merging between waking reality and lucid dream state, an attempt to coax thought-forms existing on the etheric realm of the astral plane into our physical world.
The forms were initially inspired by lichen colonies such as Cladonia chlororphaea. These particular lichens appear to me as miniature horn instruments, each with their own personalities. While the images of lichen were in my mind as I worked on the piece, the constructed forms increased in scale and surreality, morphing from mycelium into a type of floral hybrid. In a semi-dream, I saw the horns growing out of a wall, covered with white fluff. They seemed to convey an alien sentience to me, and this is what I have attempted to recreate through sound, material, and shape.
Extending from six of the white flora forms are photo resistors – the ‘pistils’ of plant morphology – that sense light levels. These sensors then trigger corresponding vibration motors to spin and rattle inside glass vials. Illumination comes from the projected moving images of bumblebees crawling over the soft, furry leaves of lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). Perhaps these projections are the dreams of the astral flora colony? In response to the projected pollination, the white forms buzz and chirp, imitating their imagined insect counterparts.
Special thanks (in alphabetical order): Abby Aresty, Bob Bingham, Daniel Campos, Margaret Cox, Connie Dai, Claire Freeman, Tesar Freeman, Robb Godshaw, Michael Importico, Bob Kollar, Ali Momeni, Eric Singer, Jenny Soracco, and The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.The work was supported in part by funding from the Carnegie Mellon University Frank-Ratchye Fund For Art @ the Frontier. The next home for Astral Flora will be one room in the full-house installation of An Experimental Space for Reconnection with the Natural World.
additional background and observations:
I originally intended to make prerecorded sounds that would be triggered when the colony detected a human presence. After more thought, I determined the sound should come directly from the physical structure of the forms themselves. I experimented with integrated circuit feedback loops, and found that small, vibration motors inside glass test tubes produced a subtle vibrational sound, suitable to the physical characteristics of the colony.
This first iteration, Pistil Tickle, was presented at CMU’s Ellis Gallery in February 2014. Flashlights were provided to visitors to ‘tickle’ the extended ‘pistil’ photo resistors with light, but the feedback loop circuits were not adequately responsive to light levels. This resulted in the motors being either on or off, without variation in speeds/sounds.
I explored additional materials to produce different timbres, but was limited by the narrow spaces within the forms.
For Astral Flora, I opted for a microcontroller to trigger the motors. This approach proved more responsive to subtle changes in light – this time via projections – and the variations in motor speed allowed for individual voices within the colony to emerge.