Physical Expressions

Research and Initial Ideas


I missed the launch for physical expressions as I was at NEoN in Dundee. I will have to piece together the information from the workshops over the past day.

Looking at the Arduino code files, I can see that we used servo motors. After learning how to use them in Arduino, it looks like we moved on to controlling them through processing. I will need to get my hands on an Arduino and motor to test these sketches out.

Stepper Motors

Stepper motors are very precise motors that can be stopped at specific angles.

Step Count

The number of steps there are in the motor- how precise the motor can be. These range from 40- 400. The higher the step count, the slower it spins.

Shaft Style

The shaft is the part of the motor to which objects are attached. A shaft may have a flat side to add more grip. A geared shaft will spin other gears. A lead screw shaft will create a linear motion.

Stepper Controller

These control the motor

Driver Types


These can only be switched on or off


Current can be reversed

Advanced CNC Controllers

Industrial level controller

I’m not sure which one we use. It looks relatively simple from the diagrams.

Matching Driver to Stepper

It is important to make sure the driver and motor match to avoid poor performance or damage to the components.

Driver Specifications

Maximum voltage and maximum current

Motor Specifications

Amps per phase- max current before overheating.

Resistance per phase

Drivers and Motors

operate according to Ohm’s Law

Other Types of Motors


Brushed DC Motors

  • Most common type of motor
  • They use copper coils and magnets to produce torque
  • Cheap and light
  • Create a lot of electrical noise

Brushless DC Motors

  • Quiet
  • Efficient

Creative Works


An array of light heads perform a synchronised dance.

The light shutter is opened with parsimony as the focus is on the movements and the sounds of the motors – the moving heads themselves rather than the light that can produced.”

It is interesting to bring the focus to an object that is designed to be hidden. The silence of the room against the squeaks and whirrs of the light heads states their presence.



510 wooden sticks attached to individual DC motors. The sticks are rotated by the motor.

There is something very uncomfortable about this piece. The artist has intentionally placed the wooden sticks at such a height where they drag on the floor and produce an inconsistent motion. The motor also moves slow enough for the sticks to never fully leave the floor.

I find it easy to anthropomorphise these sticks although I’m not sure why. It may be their organic movement. They play slave to the motor above, unseen and controlling from a distance.

The sheer number is thought-provoking. I’m not sure why the artist chose to use so many sticks. It does, however, produce a constant interesting noise.


The discs move in the same way a disc spins before coming to a stop. In this piece, the discs are in this state perpetually, never coming to rest. Again, these images produce anxiety. A constant climax with no resolution.



Perhaps the work is a commentary on mass production? These pieces use a high number and a large scale. Individual elements perform repetitive tasks indefinitely. The reoccurring image of the box suggests the shipment of product.

Zimoun is extremely interesting. There are many works within it so it would take a while to examine each individually but I am really intrigued by this stuff.


Data is transferred from an accelerometer attached to trees in the Highland. This data would drive motors with long metal wires attached to replicate the swaying of the trees.

I like the use of space most of all in this piece. They are arranged in a circle and placed up high.

It is interesting how the wire scraped a curve into the wall. The data is converted once again into a 2D trace on a wall.

Furniture Music


Using mechanical/ electrical components to manipulate the audio output of household objects.

Simone Giertz

Simone Giertz builds impractical devices that complicate simple tasks for comedic effects.

There is room for commentary in these pieces, as over-complication could act as an effective image.


It would be interesting to use the experience of pain as a method of data expression.

I would need to consider the method of pain infliction (electric shock, blunt force, etc.) and the data it expresses.

For example, the audience may receive an electric shock whenever the value of the pound decreases.

There is an interesting area to investigate of how data can drive a mechanism that inflicts pain.


Systems Esthetics- Jack Burnham

Unobjects resist critical analysis.

Major paradigms exist in science. These are accepted as absolute truths and evidence against them is assumed to be incorrect until another paradigm can take its place.

This shift in paradigm is occurring in art.

Transition from an object-oriented to a systems-oriented culture.

The specific function of modern didactic art has
been to show that art does not reside in material
entities, but in relations between people and
between people and the components of their

Mass art “signals the end of concrete objects embodying visual metaphor”.

It is impossible to physically rebuild an object from a list of its properties and functions.

“What I am after here is physical
reaction, not visual concern.” 

 “They do not
deny art, they deny scarcity as a legitimate
correlative of art.”

“A “sculpture” that physically reacts to its
environment is no longer to be regarded as
an object. The range of outside factors
affecting it, as well as its own radius of action,
reach beyond the space it materially occupies.
It thus merges with the environment in a
relationship that is better understood as a
“system” of interdependent processes. These
processes evolve without the viewer’s
empathy. He becomes a witness. A system is
not imagined, it is real.”



Electrocution Idea

Physical pain can be a powerful sense. It is our bodies’ way of telling us that damage is being done, and to move away or seek attention. It is deeply unpleasant yet has always existed and will always exist as long as we live.

Data is often communicated via visuals and sounds, but rarely touch and pain. The unpleasant quality of pain can make data all the more visceral.

The Problem with Electrocution…

It goes without saying that I can’t make a device that actually shocks its users. Aside from damaging the user, I may also damage the equipment. I’m also not that great with electronics, so the level of shock would be trial and error.

I can, however, design the piece as if it were electrified, and instead use a vibration motor to create a similar touch sensation.

The Data

I need to consider what kind of data would drive the piece. Would it be live data? Or would it be a sort of morse-code communication?

Would the data be negative?- Creation of some kind of empathy-device?

Or would the data be positive?- Like some kind of penitence for mindless pleasure.

Will it react to the users’ movements?

Or will it accompany visual/ audible information?

How will it Look?

I must also consider the aesthetic properties of such a device.

Perhaps its a vibrating pad within an interface. Or maybe it is wearable, like a wrist strap or glove. Maybe it is a headband.

Electrocution Application


Most developed countries dropped execution decades ago and the electric chair prior to that. As always, the US is the exception and still regularly uses the electric chair if prisoners choose it over the lethal injection.

It would be eery to have a sort of wrist-wear that gave you a slight shock when a prisoner is electrocuted in the US. The low frequency of executions by electric chair would make each experience a surprise. The user would feel a connection to the inmate who had just died.

This is all a bit grim for this project but it is an interesting area to look into.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy has extremely negative connotations. It was often an ineffective procedure used for mental disorders like Schizophrenia. It was also used as a type of reeducation for homosexuality.

However, modern applications prove to be effective in reducing the severity of depressive disorders.


Often used by police to incapacitate people.


Used by US military during WW2.

Aversive Punishment

Unpleasant experience to negatively reinforce behaviour.



The pain involved in electrocution makes it an interesting forfeit. It has been occasionally used in games. It is usually vibration and not electricity.


“Painstation” is an art object created by two students from the Academy of Media Arts Cologne.

Games rely on the concept of positive reinforcement (rewards), Painstation is a game relying on negative reinforcement (punishment).


Pain, whether physical or in other forms can be a method to repentance.


Wearable Tech

Wearable tech can mean anything from a standard mechanical watch to a VR headset. I am going to look into the design of smartwatches.

The design for smartwatches tends to be minimalist. Below are images of 5 different models from 3 different companies yet they are extremely similar in design.

I plan to design a watch that keeps track of your spiritual health instead of your physical health.

Vibration Motors


I ordered five of these little 3V vibration motors from Amazon. The cables are extremely thin and I’m worried I’ll break them if I try to strip them. However, I should be able to just burn the rubber insulation off them with a lighter.


I then set out on soldering the smaller wires into longer single wires that I have leftover from control. I don’t have any red and black wires left so I will have to use blue and brown.


After this, I wrapped the exposed wiring up in some thermal tape.

I also soldered in a live and ground cable into a breadboard but I won’t need this until the final project. I may not need it at all.


Plugging it into the Arduino will make it vibrate. It is actually quite powerful. These motors are rated at 3V but the Arduino outputs 3.3V. I’m not sure if this is enough to make it heat up or anything and the resistance of the wires may bring it down closer to 3V. I may have to add resistors later on.


I built a quick processing sketch that allowed me to vibrate the motor whenever I clicked the mouse.

I then cut a strip out of a pizza box then wrapped it around into a circle and taped it together. I could then stick the motors to this and have a makeshift wrist strap.

Seeing as I have 5 motors, I might as well amp the power up a notch. So far it doesn’t feel much like electricity- it feels more like you have a piece of cardboard vibrating on your arm.

Seeing as all of the motors should vibrate at once, I only need one wire to transmit the signal. I soldered all the tiny motor wires into the thicker ground and signal wire.

I also spotted some velcro in Tesco and I have attached it to either side of the wrist strap so it can sit tighter on the arm.



The vibration feels more even, but the power has decreased across each motor. I have been controlling them by supplying the voltage through the signal output of the Arduino. If I remember correctly, the voltage in a parallel circuit (which this might be?) splits. Seeing as I have 3V from the Arduino, I think each motor is getting 1V.

It might be worth buying a 9V battery to power the motors and use a driver to control the signal. This would hopefully supply 3V to each motor. I will need to get some help with this during studio support on Thursday. Until then I can polish up the concept and create the processing sketch that controls the wrist strap.

Twitter API

I have registered for the Twitter API and will hopefully have access by the end of today, otherwise, I will have to fake it.

I plan to have certain keywords from tweets trigger the ‘electric shock’.

It appears as though the twitter API won’t allow developers to access live tweet data which may make it difficult for me to have tweets trigger the motors.


Twitter 4J is an unofficial Java library for Twitter. I may just import this into Processing and hopefully I can work it out.

It turns out this relies on the official Twitter API and so I still need my authentication keys. At least I now have the code to make requests to the API.

A handy thread…

Product Design



I designed a smart-watch that entirely made of stainless steel. The inside of the watch (that makes contact with the skin) is a conductive material like copper allowing the user. The front of the watch is flattened to allow space for the solar panel that charges the battery for another shock. I’m not sure if in reality, a solar panel could generate enough electricity to repeatedly shock a user, I just wanted the user to have no escape from the watch. I suppose they could just cover the solar panel if they wished for it to turn off.

The watch cannot be taken off.


I made what was supposed to be a quick render in Maya. The product is supposed to look strong. I ran into many issues while UV mapping the watch. I think I broke mesh when I split it in two and merged it together to make it symmetrical. I, therefore, had to make the UV seams on the edge loops I added as they seemed to work. This made them very visible.


I am yet to be granted access to the Twitter API so I have quickly made a sketch that triggers a method every 2-10 seconds that emulates Twitter posts.


This effect is created by two variables that constantly count down and set the other one once it reaches 0.


I just got an email granting me access to the API.

I entered my keys into the application example I found earlier. Each time a user writes a tweet with the words hangover, it writes the user and the tweet to the console.


I didn’t realise that this is what the sketch did, but it’s exactly what I am after.

All I need to do is change the keyword.


Here is a function that is called each time a new tweet appears. I will use this to trigger my motor. So each time a new status appears, trigger vibration for seconds.



I took a random tweet…


Then edited out all the text


This can then be brought into Processing, and the Tweet can be shown on-screen.


Although I had not considered how this product would exist in a gallery setting, the presentation went well. The class managed to interpret most of the intended meaning behind the piece which I found surprising as it was just a Fitbit with motors glued to it.

Most tended to direct focus towards the screen with the tweets appearing. This is not the main piece however, I suppose it is the easiest part to consume. Perhaps this would work better if it appeared on a smaller screen so the Fitbit could take centre stage.


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