Pensieve is a mesmerizing and introspective kinetic art installation. It is a well of fabric delicately suspended in midair which holds fluid-like light. Upon peering into the Pensieve, one can observe how different colors imbue the fabric with unique life; Some hues are vibrant, evoking strong and visceral emotions and memories, while others are soft, casting a calming and contemplative aura. As the Pensieve contracts sharply, colors become bolder and fleeting ripples emerge across the fabric. When the Pensieve expands slowly, colors become more diffuse and envelop the observer’s field of vision. Overall, there are many unique ways for each observer to experience Penseive as a canvas for emotions and memories, drawn simply with vivid hues of light and a single mode of motion.

Physical Description:

The fabric is a 4’x4′ square of jersey suspended from an 8’x8′ ceiling area. We used an Arduino to program a neopixel ring light to change color in a gradient fashion over time. The wire used to suspend the fabric is reaction tackle. The string system used to move the fabric in a net-like fashion uses 4 constraint wires, 4 wires to pull each constraint one way (contract) (these wires are attached to a handle), and 4 wires to pull each constraint the other way (expand) (these wires are attached to a counterweight to help the fabric reset to its expanded position). The following is more media showing the piece from afar and the string mechanics:

Successes and Failures:

We were very pleased with the lighting effect we achieved. At first, we were intending to install two ring lights with different colors to achieve a blending effect with the light, but we failed by breaking one of the lights accidentally. The single light source ended up being very beautiful and evocative though, which was a success.

Our mechanical system could have been refined more — in the final product the motion was constricted due to an error we made in the rigging, and there was generally still high friction. Many people were worried about pulling our piece too hard; unfortunately pulling with a lot of force was required because of the friction, which also reduced the durability of our piece. In the next iteration, we could experiment with using pulleys for smoother control.

We also struggled a bit with integrating into the space that we occupied. We preferred a dark environment to make the lighting stronger but unfortunately were situated near a fire exit. However, we argue that we succeeded in one of our original goals of creating a meditative environment amidst a busy work area. Occupying a space somewhat separated from the main lobby of the basement provides us with an inherently “sheltered” area where students can catch a break from studying and do some introspection instead.

Overall, from this project we learned about the ups and downs of the design and debugging process and how surprises in iterations over time can change our project direction. We also gained experience balancing feedback from viewers with our original visions for the piece.

Related Work:

Some artists/works that inspired this piece include:

James Turrell — Space that Sees

Mark Rothko — Untitled (Red)