How the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s latest piece of interactive art hypnotizes kids with moving light

How the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s latest piece of interactive art hypnotizes kids with moving light

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Kayla Rocca) Click to see a larger version. (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

Every March, the TIFF Bell Lightbox hosts digiPlaySpace, an exhibition of kid-friendly interactive art. This year’s marquee installation is Forest, a co-creation of new-media artist Micah Elizabeth Scott and 26 students from Ryerson University’s new-media program. It’s a massive digital canvas made up of over 7,500 LEDs and controlled by software Scott developed herself. Young visitors interact with the piece by turning wooden spinners with their hands. “I designed something that wasn’t a screen,” Scott explains, “something that has a lot of real, tactile sense to it, and isn’t just fingers sliding against glass.” Here’s an annotated look at how it works.

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The sculpture is 16 feet wide and eight feet tall, and it weighs over 600 pounds. It took about six weeks to build and two days to install.
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The body of the installation, including the spinners, is made of medium density fibreboard. “It’s literally from the Home Depot,” says Steve Daniels, a Ryerson professor who helped coordinate the project. He used a CNC router at Ryerson’s Maker Space to cut it into shape.

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Coloured lights seem to move along swirling paths towards the top of the wall. The lights appear to flow around obstacles. “It’s a familiar physical interaction, but put into a completely unfamiliar context, where something behaves like fluid but looks like light,” Scott says.
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To manipulate the light, people can turn the dial-like spinners, which “push” the colours along set paths, mixing them together and changing the direction of the flow. “So, while one person might be spinning dials and having very specific local impact on the colour and the flow on the wall, that impact’s also rippling out and affecting the way their neighbours are experiencing the piece,” Daniels says.
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The sculpture senses movement using rainbow-hued stickers that are affixed to the back of each spinner. When someone spins a spinner, the rainbow sticker spins as well. A colour sensor reads the sticker’s movement and relays that information to the computer that controls the lights.
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The spinners are mostly low enough to the ground that kids can grab them with ease.