Liquid Lightbending

Made by Seth Geiser, MinSun Park and Runmiao Shi · UNLISTED (SHOWN IN POOLS)

The intention is to create a physical installation that involves a light source that can be refracted and manipulated using some water.

Created: October 19th, 2016



The intention is to create an installation that uses static electricity to create a bend in a water flow. Some find the sound of running water to be relaxing, which can provide a good contrast with the rampant stress culture of CMU.

As it stands right now, there's still some work to be done on the method of execution for this idea. Ideally, there would be a hydro-pump circulating the water during a demonstration, and balloons for people to generate some static electricity with via friction. This makes for an interactive element to the experience. If a pump cannot be sourced, then this would require a little more audience intervention, where either demonstrators or members of the audience must add water to a reservoir of sorts and then apply the static electricity.

As we figure out the logistics of creating the water flow and where to set up this installation, then we can get a better idea of how the finished product will be set up.



Having discarded the idea of using static electricity to bend a flow of water due to its potential complexity and difficulty to set up, the intention became to use water to manipulate a source of light (i.e. a projector). By playing a colorful video through the projector and stationing a small body of water in front of the projector lamp, the image can be manipulated both by the container and the water. This creates a distortion in the projected image that can look quite pleasing to the eye if the right source material is used. It can look something like the image below.



What spawned the idea of using water to manipulate light was actually memories of the pool in my backyard. In particular, it was seeing the water refract the light from the pool lights and the result shining on the outer walls of my house late at night. I figured the same could be done with light from a projector. In other words, the recognition of the effects a body of water has on a source of light are what initially inspired the approach. Content that informed the outcome included the module's readings Katja Kwastek--Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art, Paul Dourish--Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction, and the module's screening, Olafur Eliasson: Space is Process. 



We started by acquiring a projector, some cups (which would hold the water), and source material to play through the projector. The first challenge was getting the image to distort in a meaningful way. This was both solved by using cups that were molded with a pattern and disturbing the water with some scrap wood adapted into stirring rods. To make sure that the presence of water actually had an effect on the projected image, we tested both an empty pattern cup and a full one. The full one seemed to focus the light, as well as distort it further, proving that the presence of water indeed had an effect on the projected image. Our final approach also had an added effect on the area of the table immediately past the glass of water, where any small disturbance would cause a rapid movement and distortion of light. In some cases this looked a bit violent, so we decided to try to get rid of it, but failed. Another challenge was achieving proper positioning of all of the equipment so that no part of the projected image would bypass the "distortion filter" that was the glass of water. This was overcome with time and fine adjustments to the layout. We also had the idea of using transducers to generate low frequency sounds that would disrupt the surface of the water, but that approach never materialized, as none of us had worked with transducers or a programming language known as SuperCollider. Lastly, the original idea of using static electricity to bend a flow of water was rejected due to potential complexity.



In the end, we created an installation that aims to capture the beauty of light and water combined (particularly the effects that water has on light). The final projected image was composed using a YouTube video, found below, as well as a couple of glasses of water that could be disturbed using provided stirring rods. The glasses were situated such that the entire field of projection would be distorted by the glasses and the water inside them. A small, portable projector was used to project the image, and a Macbook was used to provide the video feed for the projector. Other than that, there wasn't much need for anything else--the final intention of this project was to capture the simple, yet beautiful nature of water, especially when light interacts with it. 



As per usual, we are our own worst critics--this could have turned out a bit better. Overall, though, the result was not bad. We did match the majority of our intent in the end. However, we did not entirely capture the effect of disturbing the water in the way that we intended to. Originally, that was intended to be the main focal point of the project. However, because of how we stationed the projector and small bodies of water, we did not fully capture that effect. It was there on the table, but I found it a bit disconcerting (and I was worried that it could induce a seizure for anyone with a history of epilepsy). Overall, though, it turned out quite good. The resulting image that was projected to the wall was quite pleasant (at least to my eyes), and it captured the simple beauty of water and light rather well for me.



From this project, we learned that, when working with media installations, it's best to keep it simple. Overthinking the idea tends to make execution far more complicated than it needs to be, so it's best to take a step back and think of a way to capture the simple beauty of the given material. We learned this as we came up with the idea of bending light using water, since our original idea was to bend a stream of water using static electricity. This would have required a way of generating a continuous flow of water AND a source of static electricity. The best solutions for these two problems would have both added more points of complexity (and potential points of failure) and required at least some user intervention to work correctly. In the end, that idea was ditched in favor of the final idea and result. As for what to do differently, I would experiment with different layouts of the materials. For example, we could've found a way to mount the projector above or under the small bodies of water and generated disturbances on the surface of the water to create a slightly different effect. I would also try to find a different space to perform the installation, since the space we used was rather small and could not fit the audience. Furthermore, while the room was relatively low-light, the projected image could have been more vivid if the room was slightly darker--even with the lights off, light from the hall lit the room well enough to detract from the installation as I saw it.

Electric Sheep in HD (Psy Dark Trance) 3 hour Fractal Animation (Full Ver.2.0)
Meditation HD -

This is the video that was played on the projector.

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62-150 Intro to Media Synthesis and Analysis

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The intention is to create a physical installation that involves a light source that can be refracted and manipulated using some water.