Silk Ocean is a large-scale kinetic fabric installation meant to transform a viewer’s experience of the hallway it inhabits. Large pieces of silk billow gently around the viewer emulating the sea’s embrace as they walk through the hallway, instilling a sense of calmness. At the beginning of the hallway, the walls are dark. As you walk down the hallway, the colors become brighter, signaling a transformation of states. The walls of the hallway ripple in the wind created by fans once a person enters. They are blue like the ocean and extend above the viewer’s head for a feeling of immersion. The fabric piece on the ceiling is a slow gradient from purple to orange to mimic the changing colors of a sunset transforming the harsh hallway light into a softer enveloping experience. When a viewer pulls a handle at the front of the hallway, the ceiling begins to move in a gentle wave.

The piece is made up of 3 sheets of Bombyx Mori silk (~30 ft long) hanging from the ceiling with safety pins, shower curtain rings, and twine. It uses an ultrasonic sensor with Arduino to detect visitors and two 12v fans with one on a hinge to ripple the wall fabric.

The right wall’s affordance to adjust motion of the wall’s fabric triggered by an ultrasonic sensor
The pulley affordance to actuate the ceiling fabric

In the development of this project, we had some issues with figuring out how to create the motion we wanted on the walls. We started by considering creating a standing wave with appendages on motors connecting to the fabric to create a ripple. This was way too complicated, so we decided to go with fans. We wanted the fans to be interactive by putting them on rails that could slide up and down, but we found this motion did not create the desired effect. We decided on fans that turn on hinges to produce varying ripples upon interaction using the pocket between the walls to billow the fabric. It was also a journey to figure out what material would work best for the ceiling pulley system. We started with a satin cord because it seemed low friction enough, but it was sticking to the shower curtain rings too much. We ended up using fishing wire because it ran more smoothly, but it started cutting through our plastic rings. Finally, we decided to replace the shower curtain rings with counter-weighted metal eye bolts, and our problems were solved.

Pulley system attached to ceiling affordance

Our goal for this project was to inhabit the space to transform a cold, sterile hallway into a soft, gentle, and beautiful space of transition. We think the movement we achieved was successful in creating this effect, as well as the dye job. A future iteration of this project could be one without mechanical interaction. Although it was interesting to get the mechanical interactions to work, a Silk Ocean without these components might allow a viewer to engage with the textile more. We actually discovered this movement during installation and captured footage of viewers interacting more personally with the piece with paddle-type gloves:

viewers interacting more personally with Silk Ocean using previously made affordances