The interactive swing installation X-Swings with motion & sound & light design

was especially created by Robin Weijers for Light Art Gouda 2017.

As the swinging experience was a commissioned work, foremost I have to thank the curator André Groeneveld and his team of Firma van Drie and all volunteers for the fine collaboration. It may be stated that this 6th edition of the yearly returning Light Art Gouda (‘Lichtkunst Gouda’) was particularly successful, also because of the fine visitor attendance of 4.257 people in a mere two weeks time. 10 Light art works were to be seen and experienced in three locations around the Jerusalem Chapel, all centred around the theme Xtreme.

Impression of what to expect, made while the installation was still an idea in my sketchbook

The curator and I deliberated on working within these conditions: it should be extreme, colourful, full of motion and take place on the attic of the venue. My idea was to make a set of interactive swings. The idea was that lights and projections could be influenced by the participants by obvious interaction. However, it should not be clear in the sense of a one on one relation between action and visual, because I wanted the viewers search what the interaction was about and get an intermingling of visuals and their actions and senses.

I wanted to use the fact that swinging is fun, for elderly often a pleasure of the past, for the young an attraction in itself. In form I thought about swings in X-shape, making use of the X-cross in led light as literal shape as well. My first idea was 3 swings, but this became 2 as I thought that the swing paths could have cross directions: in this way two participants that were swinging, had to be aware of each other, so that their feet would not collide. So collaboration is softly demanded by the way of crossing participants. And I got rid of the literal shape too.

So I had a play of two swings which would change the visual projections, but what should the imagery be?

I decided to work further with Processing and explore the visual possibilities of the programming. I found the work of Esfera of David Pena and as I liked the aesthetics, I started to elaborate on that. One hairy ball became two, thought about some strange kind of eyes that would look back at the viewer. Then I felt that two swings and two balls became kind of static and maybe to easy to deconstruct. Therefore three balls emerged.

Then the interaction had to be introduced. I did think about different sensors with which the swinging movement could be captured. As I found out that the Kinect v2 was just totally out of production, I thought of other available techniques. I took optical flow and tracking images on board. So a cheap external webcam would do the trick. Furthermore, I got the acceleration of the other swing by a small device called a Phidget, which could be plugged in directly in the USB-port of the laptop. This provided the actual data in 3 directions of the swing, which could be directly read out in Processing. Next to this, I added two moving lights which reacted also on the sound in the space.

Looking at the balls and translating and rotating their positions and chancing their radius, I discovered the moment of travelling through the ball was most fascinating. Going through the balls made one look from the inside to the outside. In this way one was not able to see at first glance that three balls were at play here. So I made the green and blue ball huge in radius and the red small. This was sort of the beginning stage when the swings were not swinging. Working with some uncertainty by using some randomness made the image more alive as well. Although the images were realtime generated, the shifting dynamics made the work more organically interesting.

Building the actual installation is about working site-responsive in the space given. As natural light should not be interfering with my lights I came upon using white and black foam-board to control the light situation. The actual setting of the swings sprouted from the available beams on the attic. The perpendicular direction of the swings and the maximum field of projection of my wide-angle beamer became test variables. I did several experiments with set-ups before deciding on the final layout.

The interactions of the swings were crossing and all had some of their control – or better influence – on the visual and mechanical sensors. This transferred into the visual effects on the space by the always moving lights as well as the projection of the Processing sketch. Soon I found that there were many more options to be discovered in the dynamic installation.

Simple adjusting frame rate resulted already in a totally different experience. This went from stop motion and photograph feeling till hyperactivity. Would it be good to have a bit more time to play with the potentials of the installation, i.e. the design of the dynamic behaviour should be further discovered.

As an interactive work of art the behaviour of the spectators is one of the most interesting phases. So I stayed to witness how the visitors reacted, played and talked about it. I had some interesting talks with peers, friends and unknowns and made notes. It was a happy playing field of public and the arts.

What was said by the visitors

  • Young photographer: from what angle should I look at it? There are too many.
  • Mother: it is magic for my kids, but I’ll be back when nobody is around, it is challenging me to find out what is happening.
  • An older couple, both on the swings: when watching the floor it dazzles me in one way, when watching the walls in a totally different way
  • Amazed boy: the light is moving paint
  • Somebody sitting still on the swing: tell me what should I see? and after that trying everything out by making the swing move in all directions
  • An artist who worked 20 years ago in this space, did not swing but wandered around and contemplated about the “light space combined as a busy city feeling with a relaxed village landscape”
  • Man, 77 years old, couldn’t stop playing by walking from one swings to the other and back, in making them swing as hard as possible and thereby acquire hefty visuals