Our expression was “to wrap,” from Richard Serra’s Verb List, and our primary material was a string.
Richard Serra: Equal | ARTIST STORIES, 2015.
Our reading of the way in which Serra refers to his verb list suggested a methodology of making that privileges the poetic over the utilitarian and body movement over static contemplation. This provided inspiration for us to work towards designing a certain choreography for the installation and attempting to invoke sensations and emotions in our audience.
We followed an iterative approach to research, ideation, design, and development, outlined in the documentation that follows.
1. Related Works Research
This project’s concept was initially inspired by artist Karla Carballar’s video installation Red Yarn (2017). Carballar is a Mexican-born, NYC-based video and photography artist. By utilizing silence and repetition, a sense of contemplation often runs throughout her work. In Red Yarn, the image is split into two — one side shows her wrapping her hair in a ponytail; the other side shows her wrapping her entire face in red string. The repeating nature of this piece has quiet yet captivating energy. It affords the viewer time and space to contemplate the process, specifically the process of wrapping around a surface, which builds upon itself to create a second surface.
Red Yarn by Karla Carballar via karlacarballar
We were inspired by this process and chose to focus on the material of the string. By utilizing the Arduino microcontroller, servo motors, and light sensors, we keep the human-to-material interaction intact, but with an added layer of machine communication.
As we expanded beyond the initial conception and into the production process stage, we found inspiration from artist Anton Alverez’s The Thread Wrapping Machine. Alvarez’s practice hones in on technical innovation, designing tools that can exist as their own entities but can also lead to sculptural pieces. The Thread Wrapping Machine utilizes glue-coated threads to wrap different objects with each other. A decorative, colorful pattern appears due to the different threads that bond the various materials together.
We found that Alverez’s project helped us to consider the relationship between the string and the object. Speed and distance can drastically alter how effectively the wrapping action can occur, while the parameters of the object (height, weight, and depth) also play important factors. This prompted us to brainstorm a system that could distribute the string in a functional and visually striking manner.
The Thread Wrapping Machine by Anton Alvarez via vimeo
As we began to play with our initial prototype wrapping machines, watching the hypnotic winding and unwinding process, we also considered the long history of artist wrapping projects and the even longer (and still active) public reactions to monuments.
Our intention was not to suggest a larger scale experience but to design a 1:1 scale installation, keeping within the given constraints of a 30 cm x 30 cm space.
We decided to work with the idea of miniatures, smaller objects that represented l scenes observable in public spaces. This choice was both practical given the constraints of the project, but also interesting territory for us to explore – the works we had all come across previously were larger scale. Working with a miniature statue also allowed us to place the participant in a position of looking down at the object and thus in a position of power over the object when it came time for them to wrap or unwrap it or both.
We were interested in the relationship between the body and our emotive object. We wanted our experience to engender a series of pre-emotions or sub-surface feelings at each stage of the participant’s interaction with our installation.
Of course, our choice of the object was central to this piece. We wanted to touch on ideas of power and historical memory and so we chose to work with statues. Our eventual choice was a statue that was recognizable as a human form that conveyed power and worship but was not a specific person that some participants might recognize and attach specific histories to while others wouldn’t recognize at all. A shiny fake gold statue worked well from a representational standpoint, aesthetically, and as a good wrapping surface for the string.
The movement was key to our user experience and so we designed the physical relationships and installation space to encourage walking around the statue in a certain direction to wrap the string around the object and the other way to unwrap or expose the statue. Our goal was that the action of walking (versus static) contemplation might establish a stronger physical/emotional connection to the object.
Considerable thought was also put into the imagery created by our design. We wanted a clean but striking scene to greet the participant when they first caught sight of the installation. Colors, lighting, scale, and the relationship between objects and participants were important. See below for images of our prototype presentation.
Technologies and Materials Used
We worked with the Arduino Nano 33 IoT microcontroller and used two continuous servo motors to wind and unwind the string. The code was written in the Arduino IDE.
Our main material was a string, specifically an elastic string, a spool, and a statue. See further information and images in the following section.
3. Presentation & Documentation
Location: Room 510 at 205 Richmond St. West (OCAD U)
Installation dimensions: 30cm x 30cm (object) and space to walk around it
Number of participants: Multiple users
Hardware: 1 x Laptop, 1 x Arduino nano 33IOT, 2 x Light sensors, 1 x Bread board, 2 x Continuous servos, 3 x Micro USB cables, 2 x 3 Pin plugs, 2 x 2 Pin plugs, 9 x Jumper plugs, 12 x Low profile jumper wires, 2 x Micro USB breakout, 1 x Potentiometer, 2 x Spotlights, 2 x Power bricks, 1 x Golden Statue, 1 x Spool, 1 x Long elastic string
Software: Arduino IDE, C++ coding language
Installation Design: During our initial research and ideation process, we were driven toward the idea of wrapping thread around a balloon. While testing our initial work-in-progress prototype using a balloon as the primary object, we realized that, due to the physical properties of the object and other physical constraints pertaining to the relationship between the thread and the balloon, it wasn’t going to work.
Flow Chart 01 work-in-progress:
Keeping that in mind, we decided to reconsider the object that we wrap. As we mentioned before, it is an integral part of our installation.
Apart from paying attention to the conceptual aspect of the object, we needed to make sure it had the right physical properties such as lightweight, size in relation to the installation, circumference, and solidity as it would need to handle the friction from the wrapping thread. The type of thread that we used was also important. We first started working with yarn, and then realized that the material was sloughing easily. As a result, we decided to use an elastic thread that helped build the necessary tension between the sculpture and the spool. It was also more forgiving when too much tension built up in the system.
We designed a simple box to hide all of our electronics, sensors, and actuators:
Job type: laser cut
Box size: 12”x 12”
Material: Baltic Birch
Material Thickness: 6mm
We used a polyurethane foam sheet in which we carved out a space to hold the servos in place. We intentionally made it slightly larger than the size of our box to be able to hold it inside the box with pressure — this was key to ensuring a smooth wrapping and unwrapping action.
Design of the installation space needed to afford both movements of the participant around our object and close examination from above (for the reasons mentioned earlier). From a practical standpoint, the close proximity of the participant was necessary for our sensors to register their presence. Lighting was the result of a trial and error process during which we realized the importance of our light source as light sensors dictated the way users interact with the installation.
Testing with one light projector we realized that the light wasn’t reaching both sensors equally, leaving one in shadow and resulting in the participant establishing a relationship between their body and the light and not between their body and our object which was our intention.
After adding another light source on the opposite side of the space, both light sensors were capturing enough light to make the user interact naturally with our object.
Flow Chart and User Experience
The following section outlines the user experience of our prototype that we demonstrated during the November 10th critique.
Richard Serra: Equal | ARTIST STORIES, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ML1BkhqKo1Q.
Red Yarn. (2017). Karla Carballar. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://karlacarballar.com/red-yarn/.
The Thread Wrapping Machine. (2012). Anton Alvarez. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://vimeo.com/44191867.
Anton Alvarez Biography & Art Works – Huxley-Parlour Gallery. Huxley. (2021, September 24). Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://huxleyparlour.com/artists/anton-alvarez/