Ultimate Light Bending

Made by Tian Zhao and Runmiao Shi

A material installation based on water and food coloring, presenting the abstraction of the nature and the universe. This project uses water as a carrier of digital media, and demonstrates how water transforms the media.

Created: November 28th, 2016



We used water and food coloring to create color flows on the screen, and presented these flows as abstractions of the blue oceans, the reddish volcanoes,  the dark universe and so on. We projected remixed black-and-white videos onto the walls through cups of water, and dripped different colors to the water. The gradual diffusion of the color drips in the water resembles the spreading and remixing of information in the digital world. This project intends to demonstrate how water, a simple everyday material, can serve as a carrier of digital art, by incorporating the process of diffusion and dissolution in the performance.

IDeATe - Final Project (Rework)
Tian Zhao - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xX6o_Te_qUo&feature=youtu.be
Basic Setup
Img 2925.jpg.thumb


Our final product is in the form of performance. We first projected a black-and-white abstract art video (which is a remix of online sources) through three glasses of water. Water acts as lens that refracts the lights, and therefore extends the original projection to a larger scale, which is twice the original scale.

Then the performer added drips of three basic colors, blue, red and yellow to each of the glass, respectively. As is shown in the video, the color drips slowly diffused in the water, and flowed with the dynamic black and white stripes in the video. When red and yellow were dripped into the middle glass of water, they dissolved into each other, and generated a beautiful warm "lava"flow on the screen. In the same way, the mysterious purple (red + blue) was produced. Also, layering of colors were produced when new drips of blue color is added into blue water.

The two videos, one focused on black and white art and another focused on the universe were remixed from online sources (see attribution section) using iMovie and Premiere. So were the sound tracks of the videos. The choice of coloring material was based on the material tests, specified below in the process section.



Water is a simple material we see everyday, and we cannot leave without it. But few of us have considered it as a media that contains and spreads information. We intended to present water as a significant media and explore how water can convey, and even transform the digital media in our final project.

We can view a color as a message, and view the projection of the videos on the screens as a digital environment. By dripping a color into the water, the drip is slowly diffused and spread into the surrounding environment, and it manipulates and transforms the video by adding its own color. The same video can become very different with various colors. When blue is dripped into the water, the dynamic stripes are like flowing rivers or rough oceans; when red and yellow are added into the water, the projection become a volcanic eruption, with lava flowing downwards along the contour.

Also, if different colors are dripped into the water, they can add new information to the video. They either go well with each other as the water flows and create a new color message (for example, red and yellow produced orange flows on the originally black-and-white video), or they can go against each other (like red and green).

The process of diffusion resembles how messages are spread in our digital world and how new information alters the environment, though information spreads much faster in the real world.



There are many installations, topics from class and other forms of work which informed us technically and conceptually. 

1. Dyeing pure water


 In the image, the dark ink dissolved in pure water swiftly and freeLY. This inspired us to display the process of food color's dissolution in water  to demonstrate the spreading and remixing of information in today's digital world.


2. Mason Jar Shadow Drawing Prompt


Many installations which play with water and light often choose to let water be the screen to present light. However this Shadow drawing installation helped us decide that the shadow of light after bending is what we want to capture and present, and what medium is most suitable to do the presentation. Water is only used for the bending and reflection, not as a screen. The outcome of light after bending by water will be projected on a smooth yet unreflective surface which can display the texture and color of the bended light in detail.


3. Water & Light Part 2

This particular installation, “Pool on a background of Field of Barley,” was a brilliant display of blue water illuminated from below–a “pool” of light, if you will, created by using recycled plastic containers, water, a bit of blue food coloring and a lot of light. 

After seeing this installation, we observed that except for presenting the bended light, the installation its self, can also be improved aesthetically. Therefore while projecting video through the installation, we placed two more flash lights to make the main body of the installation, which was the part consisted of containers glowing.


4. Remixing Culture and Electronic Media (Module 2)

Except for material installation and performance, we also incorporate the idea of remixing in our work. Firstly, the video clip we used for projection is a remix of multiple videos from different sources. The dyeing and abstraction mixed effect on the black-white video projected gave the video clip new appearance and meaning which leaves audiences more room of interpretation and imagination. Most importantly The project its self is a remix of two forms of art, which are the previous "Liquid LightBending" installation and the new performance element. 


5. Abstraction

From our perspective, abstraction and distortion is a powerful tool in the process of artistic creation, for they create more possibilities for interpretation. Compared with hand made abstraction, for instance abstract expressionism paintings, using water for abstraction is uncontrollable and unpredictable, therefore more experiments are required and the outcome are sometimes astonishing or maybe frustrating. 

Our performance includes the abstraction of the universe (at the end of our video), which resembles Vincent Van Gogh's "The Starry night". The idea behind this part of performance comes from my favorite science fiction, "The Three Body Problem", in which our galaxy is reduced to two-dimension through the attack from extraterrestrial civilizations. The author depicted the process of the attack as "Drawing a piece of "The Starry Night"". 


Early Research

(1) Water v.s. Shape


This is not an artwork, but more like a casual snapshot. I think the image is very attractive and it beautifully illustrate the flexibility of water. What is interesting about it is how a random splash of water can be interpreted as a dancing girl.

(2) Underwater (water as an environment)


These artworks are in a monumental underwater contemporary museum of art called MUSA founded in 2009. This project emphasizes the interaction between art and environmental science and form part of a complex reef structure for marine life to colonize and inhabit whilst increasing biomass on a grand scale.

It provides a good example of using water to create a unique spatial artwork. We would consider simulate an underwater environment by using certain flash lights.

(3) Water v.s. Ice


These are artworks from 2006 World Ice Art Championships. These ice sculptures have beautiful colors from the flashlights, and the cross sections of these sculptures affect the directions and paths of the lights and therefore give the audience a feeling different from liquid water.

(4)Water v.s. Vapor


Meridian (Gold) is exhibited this summer in LongIsland city. It was an illuminated plume of water vapor whose color shifts between magenta and pale cyan. The color of the vapor corresponded in real-time to the global sentiment for gold, reflected in the price fluctuation of the commodity. Gold is a peculiar material that derives its value from the social perception of its qualities and collective "moods" toward geopolitical and economic events. The framing structure for Meridian (Gold) was a seating zone that references communal rejuvenation spas and here becomes a site to reflect on the fleeting materiality of contemporary life.

We can use humidifier to produce water vapor we need though the installation may not look aesthetically appealing. This is also an example of an installation which combines water and light.



Initially we wanted to use colorful LED lights as digital media, and installed these lights under glasses of water to make them glow and reflect. However, the idea was preliminary since it did not contain any explicit digital media, and it did not involve our major material, water, very much. We still kept the idea of incorporating colors to water, but decided to remix videos on our own as a more complicated digital media.

In order to emphasize water as a media, we decided to use black-and-white videos so the colors in the water could stand out on the suggestion of Kevin. After testing both realistic videos (old black-and-white movies) and abstract videos (kaleidoscope-like mashups), we felt that abstract videos were more tolerant with different colors. In other words, since an abstract movie did not have a certain theme like real-person movies did, it was like a blank paper and allowed the colorful solutions to add their own color "messages" to it. Therefore, we decided to go with the current one with dynamic abstracted black and white shapes.

Besides the decision of the video theme, we also debated about how we give color to water. Soft drinks with different flavors (that is, different colors) were very accessible, but their density were pre-determined and therefore it was difficult to create the color we wanted. Milk was a seemingly interesting choice, but it only made the water opaque and full of suspending particles, which we did not want. Though both choices did not work out, they reminded us of using food coloring to solve the problem. After testing the three basic colors of food coloring dye, we felt that food coloring was the best choice to color the water since we could easily produce new colors and adjust the density simply by giving more or less drips.

It also took a long time testing the installation. We experimented with the positions of the several glasses, and found that if we arranged them three in a row, each glass of water would have its own projection on the wall and create a beautiful large-scale spatial experience; and if we arranged them in triangular positions, the scale would be smaller but more interval colors could be presented on the screen (as shown below). We decided to perform both arrangements in the showcase.

Material Test: Orange Flavor Soda (too dilute)
Material Test : Milk
Color Test: Yellow + Green -> Light green
Color Test: Yellow + Red -> Light Orange (Need denser red solution)
First Run (red blue green color scheme, gaps between colors)
Refinement (blue red yellow color scheme, adjusted the scale of the projection)
Trying to create spatial experience (use orange water as prism)
Showcase Initial Setup
Tools and Materials


Both of us were dedicated into this project, and we enjoyed working with each other.

Maple: prepare various types of containers, test food coloring

Tian: remix the videos, present the project

Together: brainstorm the idea of our project, test different liquids (including soda of three flavors, milk, coffee and water), test spherical and regular glass containers, test arrangements of the containers(3-4ways), refine the project



We were satisfied with how great progress our rework project made from the original one. Our final project, "Ultimate Bending" was built on the material installation "Liquid Lightbending" from Module 3. We refined and add more elements to the "Liquid Lightbending." For instance, instead of producing a new version of installation, we made a combination of material installation and performance. Last time we also took advantage of  the texture of the glassware. This time we ruled out potential interference of containers and truly let water do the work. 

From the process of refinement, we realized that we could learn new approaches to present digital media using the same material, water, from the old work. When we looked back at our original project from module 3, and compared it with our polished final project, we found that the recreation made it more expressive and inspiring. We went deeper into the idea of treating water as not only a material but also a media, and remixed it with digital media by presenting their similarities (the colors resemble the information).

However, we realized that our project still need to be improved and refined. During research we've explored different forms of water and more possibilities we can create by manipulating water under different forms, such as using ice and vapor. But because of limitations in transportation and preservation of material, we can't implement these ideas at this time, but it would we interesting to try it out in the future.

Also, we can make the performance more audience-friendly. During the showcase, audience were sometimes afraid to move the glasses of water around to experiment with the colors since these glasses were too heavy and filled with water, and thus might damage the projector. One way to reduce the risk is to give the glasses lids, and we can also add a layer of glass between the projector and the glasses of water to protect the projector. This is a very practical issue that we should have considered.



(1) The idea of using black and white video from Kevin.

(2) The universe video remixed from:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un5SEJ8MyPc

(3) Source of the black and white mashup video from:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWa5rzEOumQ


Proposal Updated

We have changed our minds and decided to rework on another project.

Our final project will extend the previous project Liquid Light Bending, and explore the beauty of the three states of water: ice, liquid and vapor. We intend to show that the simplest material we see everyday can be amazingly versatile and flexible.

We will use colorful flash lights together with water to present our idea. We will project lights to the walls of a dark room through the different three forms of water, applying what we know about light bending and refraction. We will also use containers of different shapes to hold water in liquid state to create various light effects.



My project will be an interactive software-based recreation of the physical installation project, the wire tree. I want to focus on the idea of “choice” and “goal” in our daily life, and emphasize the significance of collaboration to achieve your goals (an idea which I intended to incorporate in my physical installation project but did not successfully carry it out due to the limited materials and time). In this final project, I intend to present a more comprehensive simulation of the process of “striving for your goal”. I would like to present various situations including regretting a decision, seeking for help to achieve a goal and probably striving for multiple goals at a same time. I intend to encourage people to think over their goals and how they can keep making progress and finally achieving them through this project.

This time I decided to create the fractal tree using software and projectors. When I was doing the art installation project, I realized that using real wires and buttons to create a physical fractal tree takes great amount of work, whereas using software to produce a virtual fractal tree allows easier implementation and a more beautiful outcome.

I am also considering a broader interpretation of the tree. I intend to add videos or at least texts to each node of the tree to describe certain situations people may encounter in their lives. For example, losing one’s family member, getting a promotion and so on.

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62-150 Intro to Media Synthesis and Analysis

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New creative industries are empowering new modes of collaborative consumption, creation and reuse of media. This often relies on successful collaborations between cross-trained artists, designers a...more


A material installation based on water and food coloring, presenting the abstraction of the nature and the universe. This project uses water as a carrier of digital media, and demonstrates how water transforms the media.