This summer I went travelling around the Iberian Peninsula, partly because I had some of my work accepted for the exhibition accompanying the 2011 Bridges Conference on connections between art and mathematics, in Portugal – specifically, a large print of my generative art still ‘Vortical‘ and my interactive installation based on waves, Kenneth (see the visualisations it works with here).
Since I planned to travel all over Spain and Portugal carrying this thing, I figured I’d better make something more portable than the beautiful fire-engine-red box that Tom Hardiment made me for Kenneth Mark I, which was originally a solid hardwood drawer. I took the opportunity to give it a completely different aesthetic.
I was always torn between two looks for controls for my animations – either they should be hyper-futuristic, like a starship control panel, or stained wood and brass like the machines and instruments of the Victorian era. I have always had a thing for antique scientific equipment, so I can understand why steampunk has become such a big thing. I decided to go with wood and brass.
I stripped out the plywood with the sliders and buttons attached, cut it down to size, sanded it, stained it and varnished it, and I picked up some brass knobs and edging. Then I travelled with it to the Basque Country, where I was teaching English and looking after kids on a summer camp for a couple of weeks. One of my colleagues there, Gareth Fox, helped me put it all together with some support struts; I replaced the plastic slider knobs with the sort you might otherwise use to open small doors. Then I went travelling again, right across to the southwest of Spain and then back up through Portugal.
Unfortunately somewhere on that largely unplanned journey (it’s a long story) I misplaced the Arduino board that provides the interface between the sliders and a computer’s USB port. It’s not always easy to find an Arduino in a small city in a foreign country, and with no local knowledge at my command I googled ‘Arduino Coimbra’ and reached out for advice to the one person I found listed on the Arduino site, Micael Couceiro of RoboCorp and ISEC. He suggested that if I didn’t have time to order online and wait for a delivery, I should try a shop on the outskirts of town, so I went there at lunch the next afternoon and sat around for about two hours waiting for them to open, only to find they were all out.
Eventually he very kindly agreed to lend me a board from his department, so I went over there the next day and in the end he didn’t just lend me a board but he and his colleagues offered an amazing amount of support and practical help mounting it properly and putting finishing touches to the box.
I finally got to exhibit Kenneth Mark II properly on the very last day of the conference – a little late, but not too late for a whole lot of people to play with it and give very positive feedback!
Kenneth & The Waves was created with the help of funding from the Institute of Physics: