Original Idea and inspiration:
This term began my experience working with light art, and as I delved into researching other artists I developed a sense of what I would like my project to be like. From my research of Barry Underwood, and his installation pieces within nature to create his photographs, I wanted to create a piece that enveloped the spirit of nature to some degree. I have always been intrigued by the peace yet hidden fury of volcanoes and decided that an image of a volcano would be a central idea of my project. Then I came up with the idea that the volcano would change color based on heat, to relate to its real world behavior would be extremely interesting. Also, I wanted my piece to be dynamic to its environment, and so I decided that by cutting the volcano image into a mirror, I could have a design that will also encapsulate the surroundings of the piece.
I started out setting up the IoT device and was able to solder a Wi-Fi Arduino to an Adafruit NeoPXL8 board to enable the control of individually addressable LEDs over the internet. I was able to get the Wi-Fi board to connect to the internet, however it would quickly disconnect, most likely to the extreme noise of Wi-Fi signals on campus. I had wired up a strip of Neopixels and was going to test basic output but blew the lights by accidentally using a 20 volt power supply. Due to the cost of the strip, and my lack of reliable internet, I decided to hold off on implementing the full IoT aspect and focusing on creating an appealing main piece which I could swap out the lighting for in the future if I had time.
Throughout the weeks, I assembled the materials, faced setbacks and failures, but also learned a great deal of skills. I started with developing the design for the volcano, I decided I would like it to be very geometric, with lots of angles and cracks, which I figured would look best laser cut and illuminated. I decided to base it off the following image
This image could not directly be laser cut, so I had to carefully redraw this image in Photoshop, and convert it to a black and white PDF, followed by transforming it into a vector in adobe Illustrator. Laser cutting was another learning experience. At first we were setting my mirrors on fire and melting them because the laser was too strong. Originally I had envisioned that the pieces would all be cut out and I would Use the adhesive back of the mirror to put them all back in place. However in reality, the number of pieces was so large, and their individual size so small, that it became impossible to create a quality image this way. Eventually I was able to tone it back so it just etched the back of the mirror so light could pass through, but the pieces stayed together. I used the settings of a width of 0.01, at construction paper media, with -50 cutting strength, and did two passes. Once I was confident in my method, I cut the final large scale mirror.
Once I had my Final cut mirror, I created a frame to hold the entire project together. I did this by using a table and hand saw to cut a wooden frame. At first I was planning on having the mirror sit on top of the frame, however too much light leaked. I disassembled my original frame, re-cut larger width pieces, and also added a support bar on the insides of the frame, where the mirror could lay flat. Next i noticed the flimsy thin mirror dipped down too much in the center of the frame where it was unsupported. To fix this I found a piece of clear plastic to act as a rigid backboard for the mirror. With the mirror and plastic snugly in the frame, I moved onto the lighting.
I painted the frame with 3 coats of semi-gloss black paint. I used a staple gun to secure two chain linked LED strips to a piece of wood, ensuring to leave the connection point hanging off the edge to be able to connect to power outside of the frame. I then cut down this wood panel so it would also fit nicely into the back of the frame.
With everything assembled I tested the lights to see how they illuminated the volcano. I noticed that the LEDs were so bright that you could see the bulbs through the mirror, which I did not want to happen, as well as light leaked from the edges. I used wax paper to act as a diffuser and ended up having to use two sheets of it to achieve the lighting that I wanted. Then, to fix the light leaking from the sides, I used layers of electrical tape to first hold down the plastic, and then hold down the mirror. Finally, all light was contained, and my piece was complete.
Overall, I am very happy with the outcome of my project. While it does not dynamically reflect heat data and have that essence of life in it, I can still control the colors to be warm reds or cool blues, and feel it is professionally packaged and visually appealing in varying environments. You can observe it in the dark, or in broad daylight, or stage a scene with Christmas lights in the reflection. I am proud of my changes and hurdles I overcame, and plan to continue to better this project. I decided to title my piece Cracked Obsidian, as the black mimics the obsidian rock from volcanoes, and the mirror and light appears as a crack.
As a computer science major, I had expected to be able to set up the IoT and addressable lights without much difficulty, however i was proven wrong. It was my first time working with physical wiring, soldering, and Arduino environments, and the learning curve of setting up electrical circuits was a little out of my scope for this project. However I was able to learn how to solder, how to set up and program Arduino boards, and
While in the end I went with using basic pre-programmed LEDs in my project, I had made noticeable progress in my IoT idea, which I will continue to work on in my spare time.
The Arduino code to connect to a weather API, parse through the list and pull the next 3 days high temperature and store it as a variable, which then can be evaluated and set the LED color and number of LEDs lit accordingly. I now have a ethernet capable Arduino board, which I plan to implement for reliable connections in the future.
Weather API : OpenWeatherMap
LED Pattern: SuperNight LEDs
Volcano Design: Boris Bianchi
Planning and Assembly