Topics: College of Fine Arts, College of Applied Sciences and Technology, Emerging Media, Online Education

November 6, 2012

Ball State University electronic artists have created a "forest" of light and sound that will be on exhibit in Beijing, China through November, yet also accessible to visitors from Indiana or anywhere else in the world.

That's possible because "Displaced Resonance," as the interactive art exhibit is known, has both real-life and virtual components.

The physical portion has been installed in a gallery of the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing. There, in-person visitors can negotiate a thicket of 16 interactive sculptures spaced 1.5 meters apart that will change colors and emit music as they approach.

A digital replica of the layout, meanwhile, resides on the Internet, accessible through the museum's website. Online visitors can wander the virtual exhibit using an avatar, and the digital pillars will change colors and produce sounds, just like their physical counterparts.

But that's not all — the two pieces interact with each other, says John Fillwalk, director of Ball State's Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts (IDIA), who created the work in collaboration with IDIA staff, students and music professor Michael Pounds.

When an online avatar approaches a virtual pillar, the corresponding real-life column also will change colors, and vice versa. In-person and virtual visitors will produce different colors, however, allowing them to track each other through the exhibit. 

"It's what we call hybrid art," says Fillwalk. "It's negotiating between the physical world and the virtual. So it's both sets of realities, and there's a connection between the two."

The physical pillars are two meters (or more than 6 feet, 6 inches) tall. They consist of a wooden base containing a sound system; a translucent pillar made of white corrugated plastic; and a cap that contains computer-controlled lighting.

A thermal camera mounted on the museum's ceiling keeps track of visitors and feeds data to a computer program that directs the columns to change color and broadcast sounds when someone draws near.

"It's a sensory forest that you can navigate," says Fillwalk, who also serves as Senior Director of Hybrid Design Technologies, a new initiative at Ball State involving the design of virtual environments for a variety of artistic and educational purposes.

Two final touches: a video screen mounted on a museum wall overlooking the exhibit allows in-person visitors to watch avatars move around the virtual version, while Internet patrons can keeps tabs on the real-life display through a window on their computer screens.

"Displaced Resonance" is the centerpiece of Ball State's contributions to the Beijing museum's 3rd Art and Science International Exhibition and Symposium, a month-long celebration of technology and the arts. Ball State was invited to participate because museum curators discovered some of IDIA's work and liked what they saw, Fillwalk said.

In addition to "Displaced Resonance," IDIA contributed four other pieces of digital art that museum visitors can view at a kiosk.

Those pieces are:

  • "Proxy", in which visitors create, color and sculpt with floating 3D pixels.
  • "Flickr Gettr," in which visitors can surround themselves with photos from the Flickr web service that correspond to search terms they submit.
  • "Confluence," in which users create virtual sculptures by moving around the screen and leaving a path in their wake. 
  • "Survey for Beijing," in which real time weather data from Beijing is dynamically visualized in a virtual environment.

To visit the online version of "Displaced Resonance" and the other works, go to the following websites:

By Vic Caleca, Senior Media Relations Manager