Emflowered is a play on the words electromagnetism (EM), flower, and empowered.
This project explores the blend of traditional paper and paint mediums with hand-made circuitry as a means to explore the blend between digital and analog, natural and artificial, physical and virtual, personal and social.
There are two parts: interactive paintings and a hands-on creative learning activity that becomes a virtual garden planted and proliferated through social media.
Interactive Dandelion Paintings
Blending paper with sensing and interactivity, these paintings come to life when viewers blow on the flowers. Breath triggers the dandelions to disperse its white seed puffs and generate new blooms. These flowers begin again as yellow dandelions, but after a few moments become into responsive white seed puffs once more, completing loop.
At each dandelion, a microphone listens for wind. Yellow and white LED lights, which can be coded to brighten or dim, act as dynamic programmable paint strokes which make up the petals and seeds.
This painting is inspired by Jessie Thompson and Zachory Berta’s:
When is a Flower Not a Weed?
Created during an introductory workshop on electronic sensing for non-engineers, Thompson and Berta’s project shows the promise of introducing hardware as a creative medium to broader audiences. By introducing their new perspectives, the technologies that these innovators make are likewise new and more diverse, addressing problems and making into reality products beyond the scope electrical engineering practitioners.
Creative Learning by Making
The participatory activity invites viewers to create their own electric gardens after interacting with the dandelions. They are given “seed packets” which contain basic paper circuit materials, and are guided to draw their own plant circuits using conductive silver pens. Finally, they are encouraged to embellish their circuits with craft and drawing materials to personalize their plants. Empowered by the experience of creating their own expressive circuits, participants can share and follow the spread of these flowers in virtual spaces with the tag #Emflowered
Through this collective creative experience, we engage a diverse audience in creating their own technologies and see how electronics as an expressive medium can take on new, personalized forms and meaning. In doing so, we aim to subvert traditionally masculine, hard, cold and manufactured perceptions and connotations often with circuitry.
On Wonder and Technology
In The Enchantment of Modern Life, Jane Bennett describes wonder as
Being struck by the extraordinary that lives amid the familiar and everyday. [It feels like] a ‘moment of pure presence’ where thoughts and limbs are brought to rest, even as the senses continue to operate, indeed, in high gear. You notice new colors, discern details previously ignored and hear extraordinary sounds, as familiar landscapes of sense sharpen and intensify .
The experience imbues the ordinary world around us with a sense of magical possibility that was not there before. It is why when technology is seamlessly integrated into the commonplace, it can evoke a sense of wonder. For example when familiar inanimate materials come to life with electronic interactivity—such as a painting of the a dandelion that actually responds to our breath. It is the feeling of wonder that fuels our curiosity, enticing us to explore new worlds, engage in learning and invent new experiences.
However, wonder is more than just surprise. If the new and unexpected are perceived to be threatening, we experience fear. Instead of heightening our senses, fear shuts down our perception as we try to push back the perceived threat and run away to safety. Wonder is a state of interactive fascination, not fearful awe. Once the novel is confirmed to be non-threatening, our curiosity gets unlocked leading us to welcome and try to understand these new encounters. If we manage to explore and successfully explain the new phenomenon, we feel the pleasure of re-normalizing the extraordinary and in the process, we grow our understanding of the ordinary world into something more .
Likewise, technology is often a foreign entity that is boxed away from the user, due to their fragility and potential hazard. However, by presenting technology through familiar means or unexpected media, like craft materials, we can nurture a sense of wonder and dispel the fear often associated with using, making or even understanding computational devices.
Through encouraging individuals to not just interact with but also create technology, we empower them to use their understanding to create new experiences for themselves and others, new experiences that were not possible before.
1. Bennett, J. The Enchantment of Modern Life (Princeton University Press, 2001) 68.
2. Fisher, P. Wonder, the Rainbow and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences (Harvard University Press, 1998), 102.