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Liquid Material Display

CMSC 33220, A Practice in Art & Technology  

How can material properties be used to convey information? How can we make intangible information physical? Our world has moved from objects (things) to data (non-things) and we’ve become obsessed with analyzing it in all of its forms. This exhibit presents a meaningful alternative way to represent digital data: through a controlled-yet spontaneous robotic performance which incorporates narrative and human subjectivity.

Date: May 2023

Time: 2 weeks

Collaborators: Charlie Donnely

Main Tools Used: Processing IDE, Rust, Sony toio robots, Servo Motors, Lego

Exhibited at:

- Practice in Art & Technology Showcase, May 2023

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“Information is additive not narrative. It can be counted but not recounted. (...) As discontinuous units that are relevant only fleetingly, information does not add
up to a story. (...) History and memory are characterized by a narrative continuity that stretches across long periods of time. (...) The digital, that is, numerical, order is free of history and memory. Thus, it fragments life.” - None-things, Upheaval in the Lifeword, Byung-Chul Han

Position in Landscape 

Liquid Material Display rests at the intersection of Material Science x Art and Robot x Performance Art. In making this work I was very interested in material science and the physical properties of water, specifically Programmable Droplets, Venous Materials, and the beautiful work form Akiko Nakayama. This inspired the canvas design, which uses hot glue and water to create boundaries and channels for ink blots to travel. This work also encapsulates performance art, because the ultimate goal is to create a narrative out of the data represented, which varies every time. Each piece of artwork produced by this installation is meant to be enjoyed as though the viewer is perceiving a story, even though the actions of the ink drops are robotically programmed and systematic.
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The Data

This exhibit is based on world-wide refugee data from 2021, which was used for non-traditional data representation. Displaced people's stories cannot be understood as simple data points or numbers, but they are often reduced to this. By creating unique pieces of art based on these recorded numbers, this work brings light to the subjectivity of such experience and the weight of the lives that are lost through these journeys. The scope was narrowed
 down to two sets of countries for the purpose of the exhibit: origin countries (where refugees come from) and asylum countries (where they go). In each category, the countries with the top five amount of refugees are represented by one drop of red liquid per million people displaced, rounded to the nearest million. The (x,y) coordinates of the countries are plotted on a world map and liquid is dropped  using toio robots at those locations. 

Refugee Data, 2021 
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Technical Details

The exhibit uses a mini structure with a laptop that has Processing code (Laptop-Toio) which communicates instructions for the (x,y) positions to toio robot via Bluetooth. When the toio robot moves, the laptop sends a serial communication to a wired Arduino, programmed to push two servo motors, creating droplets. The toio robot is magnetically attached to ceiling mat using small, add-on magnets. Each canvas was prepared by laying channels of hot glue to illustrate the directional movement of refugees. Water was used to create areas of spread, in an effort to illustrate the organic movements of people across borders. Red ink was used for the exhibit, in an effort to capture the danger and solemnity of refugee situations around the world.
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The work was presented at A Practice in Art & Technology Showcase in May 2023. Overall the exhibition was a success! The dropper mechanism worked to emit drops the whole time and ran until there was no more liquid in the bottle, for around two hours. The red dye added another dimension to the piece that made people curious to inquire more.Many found it striking and awe-provoking; people also commented about the anticipation of the drop.
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