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Between Time and Space plays with the human perception of space and uses an intricate mechanism of mechanical gears to create a complex effect. It is a machine built to stretch six elastic bands into a flat configuration that creates the illusion of a cube rotating in space when viewed frontally. Driven by a single motor, it uses a complex arrangement of gears and levers made out of acrylic glass. The piece references the first computer-generated renderings of space: simple rotating wireframe objects. But unlike computer generated images, where a set of matrices/calculations do their job hidden in the electronic circuitry, this machine does the trick in a purely mechanical way, well visible to the spectator. Its mechanical complexity has the mesmerizing power of clockwork. And because it basically consists of two rotating dials and four arms, the clock reference is obvious: two clocks, one rotating clockwise, the other counter clockwise, create the illusion of space, an ironic take on what Einstein’s “Space-Time Continuum” might look like.
Research context and references
The first thing that caught my attention upon starting my research on Gianni Colombo, the artist from Gruppo T I was assigned, was this idea to conceptualise his body of works as a collection of devices. And each device resembled a form of the experiments I created to engage the spectator. Having been creating interactive works for the last decade, I had already gone through a lot of it, because each of my projects is a twofold experiment: one designed for the spectator to engage with, and one for me to see if my proposed experiment actually achieves its goal. The second thing was his take on space. Even though I use different materials (computer, electronics and projection) from Colombo (elastics, wood, Plexiglas, aluminium), my most recent works were concerned with creating alternative perceptions of space. This work started with the development of a software program to project spatial illusions onto the façades of buildings (so called projection- mapping) and has enabled me to delve further into how computers generate the three dimensional illusions we take for granted nowadays, and use these technologies to project computer generated images onto real-world objects to create a holographic illusion of space (so called spatial-augmented-reality).
As my work involves creating sophisticated tools to generate the space-experiences I am after, I found Colombo’s analog approach refreshing and inspiring. In particular his piece Spazio elastico urged me to do something similar with the new tools at my disposal. But because of the open source spirit this project embraces, I was unable to follow up on this because for the time being my new tools are not open to all. I was also intrigued by his smaller wall pieces Spazio elastico impermutabile and Spazio elastico impermutabile – due doppi quadrati incompiuti and aspired to create something in this vein. In my previous works I explored the use of two-dimensional images to create spatial illusions: the magic of 3D computer animation is the ability to reduce three dimensional space into a two dimensional image in such a way that our eyes actually believe they are seeing a three dimensional space. So I wondered if it was possible to use Colombo’s favourite material, elastic bands, in a two dimensional way that would create the illusion of three-dimensional space. The wireframe cube was the first object that came to mind, because of its simplicity, and because it was the first (and only) object I was able to rotate in computer space at the beginning of my programming experiences: one of the first programs I wrote after learning the basics of trigonometry. The resulting work was an iterative process of finding a mechanical solution that achieved this goal.
Technology and media
The main tool used to design this piece was Blender (blender.org), an open source software for 3D modelling and animation. For the design of the cogs I used Gearotic (gearotic.com, an affordable commercial software program), because it is capable of creating elliptic cogs, which I needed to make the gear.
Bill of materials
Sheets of Plexiglas, 1, 4, 6 mm thick
White elastic thread (diameter about 4 mm), 2 m long
Brass rods (diameter 4 mm), 2 m long
50 radial ball-bearings (outer diameter 9 mm, inner diameter 4 mm, thickness 4 mm)
1 dc motor (circa 2000 rotation/min)
To make the hardware I used the laser cutter and the drilling machine at the ZuÌˆrcher Hochschule der KuÌˆnste.
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