The Observer Part II



The Observer Part II by Sara Gazzaz


This project collects data over 8 hours of how many people approach art. It also collects the proximity between the observer and the art piece. The concept for this project was chosen because of my interest regarding how people interact with art pieces in different ways and in different environments. This art piece was placed at the entrance of 205 Richmond Street West. Collecting data of the way people at OCAD interacted with the piece was what I was exploring.


How It Started?

Several informative posters at OCAD are put up on walls of the hallways and in different rooms for the purpose of informing or reminding us about workshops, deadlines etc. I’ve noticed how people sometimes don’t give these posters much attention and from how many they are they often don’t even notice them because they are used to them being around in the environment. Rarely have I seen someone approach them and stand to read them.

From here, I wanted to move into another direction of how people dealt with art pieces.
As an artist, the sense of touch is an important element when viewing art. I prefer touching the piece and feeling the texture and the layers of paint.

Not all galleries permit people to touch artwork and also when I asked several people, not all cared about touching the pieces and some felt that they need permission first.

Realizing that this is not a preferred interaction for everyone and people have different ways of observing art I decided to proceed with collecting data over an 8 hour period of one day to see how close people got to my painting as well as the amount people who approached it and the time of day they did. It was even more interesting looking into the different preferred ways of viewing art.

I approached several ways in deciding what kind of art to use for this project.
Here are some images of the first attempts:

dsc_0653     This idea came out when I was observing if people read the informative posters around campus. I listed out ordinary phrases such as
“Come CLOSER-this is just another stoopid poster!” and thought of how people would approach words on an art piece on the wall similar to the poster. The double “o” in ‘stoopid’ was also an idea of play on words in have the ultra-sonic sensor built in the art piece.
I then chose the wording on the above image because I wanted a more subtle interesting phrase that I thought people could relate too and still used the “..” to add the ultrasonic sensor into.


dsc_0656     This was my piece when I wanted to play around with the idea of touching a painting. The dotted hand print was to invite the individual to play his hand in that area. For this my sensor would be a pressure pad.


final     This was the final chosen piece and what I believe was best suited for my concept of simply seeing how people interact differently with an art piece.


Watch “The Observer Part II” on Vimeo:

Music: Starover Blue – “A Flower In Space”



List of components and materials used:

Mixed Media Art Piece on Canvas
1 ESP8322 Huzzah Feather
Small Cardboard box
Portable USB Power Pack
Resistor (10k
Conductive Wires
Ultrasonic sensor
Shoe Print Signs (Way-Finding Signs)


How It Works?

LOCATION: I hung this art piece at the entrance of 205 Richmond Street West because I wanted a place with high traffic of all the people that access the building. It was placed on a wall perpendicular to a big mirror on the street level. The ground area surrounding the piece where a person would stand to observe was small therefore it was well-suited because it meant that there will be no passers in front of the sensors unless they intend to see the piece. This was a way to avoid mis-readings. This position and use of the mirror was to allow people to view the piece from a distance whether they were coming through the entrance doors, out the elevator or even up and down the stairs. It would then invite them over to view it directly if they wanted to.

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I also placed cut our of shoe prints on the floor as way finding signs that would also add to the way people were invited over to look at the art piece.



One ULTRASONIC sensor was attach to the top of the label cardboard box underneath the painting. Every time a person  approaches to observe the art a new value is registered and is sent to Adafruit IO.
Using IFTTT, the readings traveled from the Adafruit feed to a Google Drive spreadsheet on my account. 92 readings were registered as the people who approached the piece on the 23rd of November, between the hours of 14:27 to 22:30. The data collected was according to people’s proximity with the painting. I set the distance value to be registered when it was between 0-30 cm.

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The above cardboard box was covered with a label showing details of the painting. It was the housing for all the wiring and power. The power, microprocessor (Huzzah ESP-8322) and data wires for the  ultrasonic sensor were secured to the breadboard on the back this box.


screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-8-42-01-pmView of Project 



Circuit Diagram




Code available on GitHub


 Coding + Challenges

I began with the process of getting my mac address in order for Nick to give me access to OCAD’s wifi. After that I set up an AdaFruit account and used a reference code example to connect to my account and publish my readings on my Feed.

I started out working on my code for the ultrasonic sensor using a reference. I was trying to adjust the code in a way telling it when the distance between the observer and the art piece should be registered. I first experimented at home with using different thresholds. I started out with a threshold of 2 between movements in front of the sensor. Then realized I was getting so many readings per person. Therefore, I increased the threshold to 10.
I also used an “if” statement for reading movements between 0-30 cm as “close” and 30-100 cm as “far”.

whatsapp-image-2016-11-23-at-7-32-13-pm-1     whatsapp-image-2016-11-23-at-7-33-54-pm-1whatsapp-image-2016-11-23-at-7-32-13-pm    whatsapp-image-2016-11-23-at-7-33-54-pm


The Conclusion:

The data collected on the spreadsheet was visualized in Adobe Illustrator C6 in the form of a line graph. The X-axis of this graph represents the time period and the Y-axis represents the distance. The number of people that approached the piece in total were 92 and they are seen as the number of vertical lines.

I took that data and visualized it in the abstract painting below. The width of the canvas was divided into 1 hour intervals and had clusters of circles floating vertically. The circles represent the people who approached and  the size of the circle represents the distance between them and the piece. The bigger the circle the closer that person was to the artwork.




Future Iterations:

I would take this project further by testing out and looking more into eye tracking systems. It would definitely be more interesting to further develop it and see how people actually view the art piece when looking at it.

References + Case Studies:

How people observe art.

The Art of Looking: How Eleven Different Perspectives Illuminate the Multiple Realities of Our Everyday Wonderland