Engaging body-space relationship: making of an interactive interior skin

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A prototype of To Feel the Space. Photo courtesy of Kyle Overton

Citation: Wu, J. (2016). Engaging body-spacer relationship: Making of an interactive interior skin, IDEC Exchange: A Forum for Interior Design Education, Fall 2016

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There is an increasing interest in interior design theory that focuses on understanding interior spaces as both the specifics of objects and environments within the interior and the subjects who experience them through their bodily presence. If a theory of interiority cannot simply be characterized by reference to qualities such as walls, ceilings and floors in a Cartesian space and by the objects and finishing contained in it, and we wish to engage physical and psychological body-space relationships as well, then what are some new spatial expressions that can affect our perception of space? What is our perception of a space? What does it mean to feel a space? According to Gestalt psychology, when we enter an interior space, what is first and immediately perceived is neither the subjective sensation nor shapes, colors, or objects, but rather, atmosphere. German philosopher, Gernot Böhme, in his seminal work, Atmosphere as The Fundamental Concept of a New Aesthetics, articulated the interrelationship between the subjects and objects in atmospheric space. According to Böhme, atmospheres are neither something object nor something subject. Instead, atmospheres are both object-like, articulating their presence through qualities, and at the same time subject-like, presenting a bodily state of being of subjects in space.

Human skin is the interface between the body and world: it is our outermost organ that protects our physical bodies, it is sensuous to touch and constantly gives us information about our surroundings. In design history the concept of ‘skin’ has been used as a site for rich metaphors referring to the clothing that wraps around the body or the building walls that enclose and protect our body. In fact, ‘second skin’ is often used as a metaphor for clothing or fashion while ‘third skin’ is often used as a metaphor for architectural cladding and surface interiority. An architectural skin, referred to generically as the boundary between indoor and outdoor, has to negotiate with both exterior and interior presences. In contrast, interior skin, mediated by architectural skin, can be understood as a series of layers demarcating various interior enclosures: inside and outside demarcation is erased and dichotomy becomes relevant only to the presence of the body.

Directly borrowing from the metaphor of human skin, this art installation To Feel the Space, is a full scale interactive interior skin that is produced by using folded plastic corrugation boards and digital technologies. It attempts to explore the potential object-like and subject-like expression of interior atmosphere by focusing on the ephemeral status between subject and object and capturing the fleeting moments of body-space experience. Situated within a large public space, for example, an exhibition hall, the form of the interior skin, digitally fabricated from folded plates is not the result of the design generated from a specific program, but the result of parameterizing the dome-like structure to the bodily dimensions and movement. The interior skin, as the object in space, actively engages with the subjects as they walk into the exhibition space. Digital cameras capture the colors palettes from the clothing people wear in space and add the live color information to a database to be live project-mapped onto the interior skin. As the people move closer to and within the interior skin, the additional digital cameras will capture people’s movements in space and allow for the interactive plays between the bodies and the space. When people move outside of the interior skin and the exhibition hall, they will leave their color information behind in the space and therefore the space is present with the traces of bodies even if the bodies are absent in space. As a result, the atmosphere is neither objective nor subjective, but infused with the fleeting interplay between the object and the subject that is felt through the body and met with the eyes.

Acknowledgement: This project is supported by New Frontier of Creativity and Scholarship and Center of Arts and Humanities Institute Fellowship, Indiana University. The author would like to thank Kyle Overton for working on aspects of the interactive technology.

Upcoming Exhibition: Light Harvest

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A photograph of one of the three chains of Light Harvesting Complex. Photo courtesy of Kyle Overton

Light Harvest will be part of a group exhibit, (Re)imagining Science at Grunwald Gallery at Indiana University. It is also part of Themester 2016 exhibitions that is centered on the theme of Beauty. The show opens on Oct 14th 2016.

This project is inspired by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s work on form and growth and the structural biology. In 1917, Thompson first published his magnum opus “On Growth and Form,” with a second edition appeared in 1942. Thompson studied the system of forms and structures found in all species of nature. He was the first bio-mathematician who used mathematical and geometric analysis to study the myriad living forms as a product of dynamics at work at cellular and tissue level within all organisms. For Thompson, the beautiful world we live in can be understood as an ethereal palpitation of waves of energy making up all things. Thompson’s book has inspired generations of artists and designs in search of beauty found in natural structures that reach into vastness and smallness beyond our human sensory range.

Proteins are essential to all forms of life on earth. Without proteins there would be no life as we know it. Proteins are small molecular machines with unique folding structures. Their various functions rely on their proper structural architecture; this is called the structure-functional relationship. Protein structures cannot be seen with the naked eye, therefore structural biologists use X-ray Crystallography to determine the structure of proteins, which can be visualized in 3D. This allows not just analyzing the folding structure to understand a protein’s function; it also reveals the beauty of nature’s design on the atomic level.

The particular protein that is presented in Light Harvest is called Light Harvesting Complex, which is the solar sail of the photosynthesis components in plants and some micro-organisms that uses bundled sunlight and together with water to create sugar and oxygen, thus providing the basis for life on this planet. It is made of three amino acid chains with 207 amino acids in each of the chains. Computer algorithm-based program Grasshopper was used to create the scaffolding of the three-dimensional protein chain. 642 pieces of roll out patterns, of which 207 were unique, were laser-cut and etched at Noblitt Fabricating in Columbus Indiana and were hand-folded and assembled at my studio at Smith Research Center. The material is high-tec kozo, a type of Japanese-made paper that comes from renewable mulberry trees.

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Layout of three canopies of Light Harvest at Smith Research Center

Video projection mapping technologies will be used to bring the light, colors, and the interactivity to live. For the artistic meanings and the science behind Light Harvest, please come to the show on Oct 14th and make sure to check out www.foldedlightart.com for more information.

Acknowledgement: This project is supported by New Frontier of Creativity and Scholarship and the Grunwald Gallery of Art at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Project Credits: 

  • Science: Susanne Ressl (Assistant Professor, Structural Biology, Indiana University)
  • Technology: Kyle Overton (Ph.D. student, HCID, Indiana University)
  • Fabrication: Steve Dixon (Noblitt Fabricating, Columbus, Indiana)
  • Production: Siqiao Gao (Undergraduate student, Interior Design, Indiana University)