Internet of Needy Things - A foray into responsive sculptureFollow article
I'm an artist/maker with a keen interest in new technologies. A few months ago I wrote an article here on my art piece “Augenblick”. This is a kind of 3D drawing which uses conductive paint and flashing LEDs.
Move For Me Baby, 2015. Cement, LEDs and Arduino microcontroller
From my initial sketch you can see that I initially envisaged having the light rods pointing upwards and the wiring dangling below. I changed this during construction partly because I realised the LEDs I was using were much brighter when viewed head on.
I really enjoyed the way my light-tipped rods ‘drew’ lines in space, and I also rather liked the hidden wiring on the back of the panel. So I decided to develop the idea and make a free-standing sculpture. I could have the rods on one side and the wiring fully visible on the other so that it became an integral part of the piece. I think wiring can be beautiful. I'm sure many of you think so too.
I've been thinking a lot about the Internet of Things recently: all those previously dumb objects that surround us starting to observe and share information about us. They'll soon be adopting the clever psychological tricks that our phone apps and websites already use to get our attention and manipulate us. So as an art project I've been working with the idea of an Internet of Needy Things. Art objects needing that most precious resource - your attention.
So I decided to make a sculpture that only lit up fully when someone was nearby.
I created a plaster mould for the base and then cast it in cement. I wanted it to have an industrial ‘street furniture’ feel. I cast holes in it to put the rods through and another one to fit a little HC - SR04 sensor into. I used conductive paint on the rods to connect up the LEDs. And this time I used heat shrinking sleeves on the tips to hold the LEDs in place. They also introduced some nice extra colour.
At the same time, I had to get a working circuit set up and tested. I found an Arduino sketch that I could adapt so that multiple LEDs came on when the sensor detected motion. I also decided to move my circuit from the breadboard and attach it to a DIY Arduino shield. I've never done that before and it tested my rudimentary soldering and circuit design skills to the fullest!
Image credit: Geoff Titley
Assembling the whole piece was challenging, not least because there were just so many potential points of failure within the circuit. The hardest part was connecting the end of the rods with the painted circuits to wires. I ended up using the sleeves again to hold the wires in place, but with mixed success.
I finally got it built and at least partially working. However a bit of belated research showed me that I was trying to drive more LEDs from my Arduino than it could reasonably handle. People seemed to be recommending no more than 12 and my sculpture has 16. So I'm going to need to integrate another power source in some way.
This piece will be exhibited in my next show in London in mid-March. If you want to know more about my work please check out my website www.nyethompson.co.uk, or you can follow me on Twitter @nyethompson.