For my project, I created a viewing box which helps contain and control the flow of smoke such that it can be visualized using lasers. The original design intended for the containment box to have viewing windows on all sides to maximize the number of ways you can see the smoke forms. This was cut down to one side in the final design in the interest of preventing reflected light from bouncing back into the viewer’s eyes. The inclusion of reflective panels on the back walls was also a new development from the original plan. They effectively work to increase the illuminated area where the laser hits the smoke.
The system relies on incense to provide a constant smoke. The final container also features a removable side wall to allow for easy access to adjust the incense and a saran wrap window pane for viewing the captured forms. A series of holes were put in the top and bottom of the unit in order to encourage air flow which both propagates the burning of the incense and agitates the smoke forms to make them more interesting to look at. The entire structure rests atop a styrofoam pedestal as it is lightweight and sturdy while being pliable enough to hold the incense sticks.
Below you can see the dimmed light of 2 incense sticks slowly burning down. They’re glow before they put out smoke is oddly calming to watch.
After the smoke begins to accumulate, you can use a barcode scanner to create a plane (or “slice”) of light which when interacting with the smoke displays spiralling, mesmerizing patterns. A few of these forms can be seen below.
Additionally, as the smoke escapes through the top holes, a secondary laser can be used to see them as they dissipate through the open air. This effect is arguably better looking than that in the box. Again, this was not an intended piece of the original project, but works well with it. Some forms that appear from waving the green laser through the smoke can be seen below. I think they appear better than the scanner because the green is more striking of a color than the red and because the handheld laser pointer is more powerful than the one in the barcode scanner.
All in all, what I liked best about this project was the way it used static objects to create movement. A stationary burning stick, stuck in a styrofoam based, sitting inside a sealed box with a mounted barcode scanner on the side somehow produces rapid and chaotic movement in a way that demands the attention of all. It implies that this movement is always hidden within the smoke and can only be seen when brought to the foreground in such a way as this. Often, the movements remind me of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas style animations. And while the frame rate on a camera creates a chopping capture of this effect in video, I have included below a few short samples of what it can look like.
I look forward to further exploring the every shifting natural forms of smoke in the years to come