Final Project Proposal - Ferrofluid Sculpting Gloves

Ferrofluid Sculpting Gloves

   When confronted with the parameters of the assignment, I began looking around for input devices immediately for Arduino.  I grew rather bored with the idea of creating something based on the potential of a switch, although, not out of the question since using Arduino is the main motivator of the project.  So, I decided to implement my main artistic source of wonder and inspiration - materials and their properties. This is a rather common approach for a sculpture student, so, expounding on that notion I want to take the viewpoint of a sculptor when approaching my final.

  I began with my first usual step - pacing through my house staring at everything and wondering what each object in my environment is made of.  Wood, stone, cement, leather, plastic - not reactive enough!  Then I came across my discarded and nearly forgotten spoils from last year's Digital Multimedia class - magnets.  Well, magnets are pretty cool, but what can a magnet do other than be magnetic? It turns out, that's it. But I began doing some research on magnetic things.  Then I came upon: ferrofluid.

 I've seen it used in movies and television shows, even some artwork by some skull-fanatic sculptor - and had always assumed it was CG.  Countless DIY experiments for the stuff.  Apparently it was invented by NASA in 1963 for manipulating a vessel's fuel in zero gravity.  Visually compelling, alien, animated - even foreboding. The next piece of the puzzle had revealed itself.
 The next goal after sifting through the homemade hubbub that permeates YouTube is finding if this material has been used artistically. I came across people crushing it with hydraulic presses and trapping it in a vacuum, painters dripping the stuff on their canvases and moving it around using a magnet on the backside of them.  ; a Russian guy that giggled like a child as he manipulated it around a bottle with two magnets on either side. This seemed to be the general first step of experimentation with ferrofluid.

And then I came across Sachiko Kodama's work:

   Kodama approached the material in a variety of ways: letting it sit in globes, unagitated, meditative; attaching it to audio sensors and allowing the audience to make it dance with clapping and whooping, and, largely, having it set on a group of hidden magnets on a programmed loop of elegant movements over other sculpture she has made. It's this sort of tinkerer mindset that seems to pervade Japanese maker innovations meets high art sculpture that could easily be seen in the classiest lobbies in the world.

   Considering all of these elements, I want to expound on Kodama's approach to ferrofluid as sculptural new media. My plan is to create a set of gloves that manipulate the ferrofluid in the tank without touching it directly into compelling, ideally, abstracted configurations.

(movement of magnetic fields)

   While I do have some ideas about what I want to do, I don't want to be too rigid in my goals because I'm aware they are prone to change due to new information and stimulus.  Currently, the plan is to find a cylindrical vat to contain the ferrofluid - either glass or plastic. I want it to be at least 1.5 ft tall with about an 8-10 in diameter. I'll have it up on the stand so it'll be facing the manipulator/sculptor (me) who'll be interacting with it at the general gallery height.

  The gloves themselves will have a centralized magnet in the palm, leading up to weaker magnets on the fingertips (thumb and two-middle fingers is the current cyber-punk design I want to go for.) The stand itself will house motion sensor-activated magnets that excite the ferrofluid and begin a sort of rhythm - the usual conical-vortex. The gloves will allow me to disrupt this flow and essentially make an interactive sculpture installation.


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