4 November 2009
This piece has a colourful history
The original, static fixture shown above was built for Cube Gallery‘s 2008 exhibtion, Homage, which asked participating artists to create an homage to an important influence on their art.
I chose to make a wall-mounted rendition of Dan Flavin‘s fluorescent installation, “untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim)”:
For the Conjunction Collective show this fall, I decided to animated the piece . . .
I had an older, unfinished light work on the bench that I’ve slowly been pecking at for parts, based around a PIC-controlled relay board — with a little reprogramming, I’d have a quick update for the Flavin homage without having to build any new hardware.
First order of business was to make sure the old control board was still working, so I set to work with the cursed alligator clip connections:
I say cursed because I find it all too easy to short circuit something while working with the clips, but the ease and speed with which you can get components talking with one other is too tempting to pass up.
This is a common sight on my bench while I’m experimenting, and I’m sure I’m not alone on this one.
Here’s a close up of the old control board, still in its original project enclosure:
The red light is on, a good sign! The board was working fine, so I set about programming it specifically for the Flavin piece. Since everything was (temporarily) connected I figured I may as well get it behaving satisfactorily before mounting it up permanently in its new home.
I’d built this particular board before discovering Arduino, so it was based around a PIC 16F628. I like these chips because they have an internal oscillator (no external parts needed) and have enough input/output ports for smaller projects. Plus, there’s a couple free compilers out there.
I wrote up a new program in Hi-Tech C with a bunch of new functions for actuating the lights, only to discover it wouldn’t compile due to the math library needed for random numbers exceeding the available memory space on the chip.
My ideal solution would’ve been to just stick an Arduino chip on the board, but there was neither room to mount a new socket for it nor a matching pin-out (compatibility) with the existing chip.
Wanting to stick with the original plan of reusing hardware rather than building something new, I turned back to a previous (free) compiler in my toolkit: XCSB BASIC. It didn’t take too long to rewrite my C functions into BASIC, and soon enough I had the Flavin piece up and running to my liking.
I mounted the reprogrammed control board on the back of the piece:
Not the cleanest cable management, but it did the trick:
The chip still has 12 unused input/output ports, so there’s lots of room for expansion by the way of input sensors and additional outputs if need be. The Flavin piece is only using four of the eight available (yellow) relays already on the board.
Here’s a video showing it’s behavior. It has three modes which are randomly chosen for a random duration: toggle / change the state of a colour; only one colour on at a time; and any combination of colours. In each case, the colour to modify is random, as is the interval between colour changes. I like a lot of randomness
The video includes sped up and time-lapsed footage, as the actual timing of the piece varies between the speeds shown below and substantially slower; in an attempt to not bore viewers, I took a “flashier” approach to the video documentation.
[ As an aside about the music in the vid., normally for my videos I like to use some loops or beats I've already recorded, but in this case, I was coming up empty handed in my search for the right vibe amongst my existing recordings. So on went the drum machine, I picked a few sounds I'd previously tweaked, and recorded the soundtrack live into the video as a "voice over." I was quite happy with the results and perhaps it'll be the start of a new track? ]
I decided to name the piece “Flaven” after my misspelled BASIC file for the program.
Something that really became pronounced to me after animating a Flavin-like piece is the contrast between Flavin’s use of direct and reflected light. Seems obvious in writing, but the effect this new piece has when throwing light around an exhibition space is quite dramatic!
This piece and several others can be seen at the Conjunction Collective show in Toronto until November 8, 2009.
Pics and vids from the exhibition coming soon; in the meantime, check it out in person if you can!