MESS.NET

Mess.net

by Tyson Moll, Joshua McKenna, Nicholas Alexander

Audio by Astrolope

mockup-cc4

dscf7783

 

GitHub

Overview:
Mess.net is a participatory online installation inviting users to join in on a collaborative work of art, from anywhere in the world. Visitors to the web site are assigned a paint colour and treated to a view of their canvas: a rapidly spinning disc. With the click of a mouse the user will see their colour of paint dropped on the disc and be treated to the mess it makes as it splatters off the surface. As projects are completed users can log in to the gallery and enjoy their handiwork.

 

How It Works:

Mess.net receives painting commands from wireless controllers and transmits the information to a device that creates spin art.

The mechanical aspect drops paint on a spinning wheel using gravity and solenoid valves. The valves are controlled by the Arduino microcontroller, held above the spinning wheel using a custom-built shelving unit. Paint is fed into the solenoid valves via plastic tubing and water sealant tape. The spinning wheel is attached to an industrial motor from a salvaged Sears fan head, which can be operated with three different speed settings. Several cameras are also fixed to the shelving unit to provide video footage of the action.

The digital aspect of the project is split across four nodes: the Arduino code, the Controller code, the Client code, and Twitch streaming. The Arduino code receives commands from the Controller and operates the solenoids as instructed. The Controller code (written with p5.js) receives instructions via PubNub from any number of Clients and forwards the information via USB serial communication to the Arduino. Programmed with the jQuery library, the Client code provides participants the ability to send “Paint” commands to the Controller through PubNub, with selection options for different colours as well as a live stream of the spinning wheel. In order to livestream the process, we used a program called OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) and three webcams to share a videostream of the process online on Twitch.

20181117_103054

 

Process Journal:
This project began with a desire to explore the possibilities afforded by the connective technology required by the project (Pubnub and Javascript Libraries). We brainstormed a series of concepts and tools we would be excited to work with and looked for overlap, in order to land on a solid project idea we could all be excited about.

From there we knew that we wanted to explore creating an activity that would be fun to join in with others on, from anywhere in the world, that might be improved by not being in proximity. We examined similarly-themed projects including Studio Puckey’s donottouch.org and Studio Moniker’s Puff Up Club, taking elements we liked and spinning them into something new. What was fun about these projects? What made them unique to their medium?

capture

We were inspired by the sense of collaboration on a tangibly satisfying act and the sense of play from the two projects above in particular. We seriously considered several projects (a remote bubble-wrap-popping machine, a model that users would slowly flood drip-by-drip, and a power-sander that users would guide click-by-click through common household objects) while continuing to rapidly-generate other design ideas that fit our constraints.

Early design ideations: a device that would slowly scrape away layers from a scratch-board  surface, a remote-controlled saw, and a power-sander slowly destroying a shoe, and a cut-your-own-tree holiday diorama

We settled on something with a fun, positive message, but kept the sense of mess and chaos. The basis for what would become Mess.net was in place.

We adjourned to do research and begin to gather materials. We conceived of the project as having three core pillars: the physical build of the apparatus, the coding, and the web-side interface.

We began the build of the apparatus by considering its requirements: it would have to be sturdy enough to hold up a considerable amount of liquid and hold the Arduino components steady and dry.

We considered and discarded several designs before landing on the final version with some help from the incomparable Reza Safaei.


Late design ideations. Here you can see the designs that would inform the final apparatus, as well as some explorations of how to realize the spinning plate.

We built the skeleton of the apparatus by assembling a tall box frame, spaced widely enough to allow us to reach inside and access whatever parts we placed there fairly easily. Knowing that we would want at least two levels of shelving for paint and valve control we drilled multiple guide holes along each pillar – this way we could make adjustments quickly and easily.We had been debating how best to realize the spinning-wheel portion of the apparatus (we considered a pottery wheel, a belt-and gear, and a drill-and-friction-driven system among others) when we found a discarded and functional Sears fan from the 1970s. We removed its cage and its fan blades, then made and affixed a wooden plate to its central bit.

The fans of the era appear to have been built with impressive torque; we had hoped that the fan’s adjustable speeds might afford us interesting opportunities in adjusting the speed of the paint, but it was so powerful that we settled on keeping it at the first setting. We spent some time exploring the possibility of adding a dimmer to the fan, but eventually shelved it as being out of scope.

The Arduino component of the project presented new challenges for us, as this was the first project most of us had encountered that required careful power management.

We chose solenoid valves as the best machinery for our purposes, having judged that the code required to control them (a simple HIGH/LOW binary command to open/close the valves) would be simple to send over Pubnub. The solenoids required 12 volts to function, far more than the Arduino Micro could supply, so we looked into managing multiple power sources. This led to the inclusion of diodes to protect the circuitry and transistors to function as the switches for the solenoids. Ultimately the Arduino component proved to be among the simplest aspects of the build: once we had the circuitry working for one valve it needed only be repeated exactly for the other two, and we were correct in judging that a simple HIGH/LOW command would effectively manage the valve. Our first iteration of the circuitry became our final iteration, and when troubleshooting we only ever needed to check connections.

paintdrop-fritz_bb

We selected plastic tubing of the same diameter as our solenoid valves. The tubing kept its shape strongly – we used a heat gun to straighten it out, at which time it screwed in tightly to the valves. It required only a small amount of waterproof sealing tape to make the connection from valve to tubing watertight. We had a tougher time connecting the tubing to the 2L pop bottles we chose as the paint receptacles due to their ease and simplicity. The mouth of the bottles was slightly too wide to connect easily to the tubing as the valves had. We managed to get the connection between tube and bottle sealed by using a combination of duct tape to hold the tubing tight and sealing tape to keep it watertight.

The process of coding the communication protocol for the device was relatively straightforward; we used example code provided to the class as a backbone for the PubNub communication interface and Serial communication between a computer and Arduino. The only message that we needed to send across the devices was a means of denoting the colour of paint to drop. In order to ensure that paint was dispensed from the solenoid, we implemented a short delay in the duration of the dispense signal. The only other features coded independent of the web interface were two arduino buttons that could debug the solenoids and live display of incoming messages from PubNub, two time-saving features for troubleshooting the devices.

img_0281

For the minimum viable product, we wanted the interface to allow the user to select between paint colours and to be able to paint with either red, blue or yellow. Collectively, as a group we felt that some sort of visual feedback was needed in the interface to demonstrate to the user that they painted with their selected paint colour. Originally we proposed an animation that would float above the paint button for each time the user clicked. We suggested either a paint drop specific to the colour selected, or a “+1” as an indicator that the user clicked the paint button. Because of time-restraints we opted for a counter in the top right corner that would demonstrate the total amount of paint drops from all users combined.

untitled-4

With another revision on this project we would include a user-specific counter or visual interface element so that the person interacting with the paint button knows exactly how much they are contributing to the artwork, themselves. Additionally we would have an HTML element in the bottom left corner replacing the “Project 4” with text that would update with each plate that was painted.

We developed graphical assets in illustrator based off a primary colour theme of Red, Yellow and Blue. Viewers would be able to click to adjust their colour type and press a magic paint button to deliver a command to our machine. Central to the web interface was a live stream of the wheel in motion. We intended to have an instantaneous video feed of the project, but we encountered an approximately 8 second delay in the streaming process that we believe is a result of the data transmission speed from computer to computer. These assets were all programmed in jQuery.

We were interested during the development of the web interface to include a particle system to visually display the colours being submitted live during the process. We discovered that jQuery and p5.js’ canvases seem to conflict with one another in terms of interactability; although there were solutions available to us to remedy the error (e.g. adjust layering or convert the jQuery elements to p5.js) we were short for time and decided to textually render the live feed of paint drops committed by participants.

 

img_20181122_165452
The solenoids available to us were only rated for use with water, so we were concerned about damaging them if we used paint at higher consistency. After consulting with local art professional Jordana Heney we were told that the best options for our purposes would be watercolour or watered-down tempera paint. The expense of watercolour paint precluded its use, so we went with tempera. Later the option of vegetable-based inks and dyes was brought to our attention, which we hadn’t had the chance to experiment with, but would like to in future.

We experimented with paint thicknesses to get a sense of what moved well through the solenoid, left a good colourful impression, and could be consistently reproduced. We settled on a ratio of approximately 1 part paint to 1 part water, give-or-take depending on brand, as being the best for our purposes. Just slightly thicker than water but not so thick as to cause disfunction to the valves, this was the ratio we stuck with through the rest of the project.

Apart from some minor rewrites to the code and UI tweaks, once every pillar was connected the apparatus worked perfectly. We tested several varieties of paper before settling on paper plates as our paint surface, as their porous surface and shape were a good fit for our consistency of paint and size of our spinner.dscf7549

After our crit we returned to the apparatus to create multiple variations on the painted plates, in order to better capture the different results our apparatus generated.

img_20181124_162935

 

 

Project Context:

Spin Art was the driving concept behind the machine’s functionality. Although interaction between the device and the wheel is presently minimal, we took great inspiration from the techniques employed in the process of developing such artworks. Callen Shaub is an excellent example of the practice, who works out of Toronto creating gallery-standard works.

Mess.net aligns with fun, exploratory, tongue-in-cheek internet installation art like donottouch.org and Puff Up Club. The intended experience is to share an out-of-the ordinary action with people, see what others did, and consider your own action in that light.

It also exists within the same sphere as participatory art installations such as The Obliteration Room by Yayoi Kusama where guests are given circular stickers to place anywhere in a room, and Bliss by Urs Fischer and Katy Perry where participants can slowly destroy the artwork to reveal new colours while adding colours of their own. The creators have laid out a framework, but it is the participants who define what they actual final visual state of the artwork is. The act of participating is the experience of the art – the final outcome is, perhaps, irrelevant.

 

Next Steps:

Based on feedback and testing we would expand this project by experimenting with different inks and receptacle media. Paper plates were something of a stopgap, as was tempera paint; they were choices we made out of necessity keeping time and budget in mind. Given the time we would experiment with multiple media and generate a large volume of work.

Once work is generated we would like to explore arranging it. Seeing many instances of the works juxtaposed might reveal interesting patterns, and playing with the arrangement would be as involved a project as their creation.

We would also like to improve the speed of interactions, add more valves and colours, automate paint reloads, and industrialize the entire process so it can be left unsupervised for long periods of time while still generating artwork.

Gallery:

5

3

2

1

 

Resources: 

Bliss (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ursfischer.com/images/439609

Controlling A Solenoid Valve With Arduino. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bc-robotics.com/tutorials/controlling-a-solenoid-valve-with-arduino/

Shaub, Callen. (n.d.) Callen Shaub. Retrieved from https://callenschaub.com/

Studio Puckley. (n.d.). Do Not Touch. Retrieved from https://puckey.studio/projects/do-not-touch

Studio Moniker. (n.d.). Puff Up Club. Retrieved from https://studiomoniker.com/projects/puff-up-club

THE OBLITERATION ROOM. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://play.qagoma.qld.gov.au/looknowseeforever/works/obliteration_room/