Growing up, I used to have really oily skin — a common problem in hot and humid Singapore. People with oily skin will be familiar with facial oil blotting papers to remove excess oil and sebum. Simply pull one out and gently wipe your face. The blotting paper would turn darker when it comes into contact with facial oil.
These convenient and travel-sized sheets are one of the great pleasures after a long day at work or school. Not only does your face feel refreshed, much of its appeal lies in the satisfaction of seeing the oil that was removed from your face.
I frequently used oil blotters and would be amazed on days when I filled up an entire blotting sheet! I often joked with friends that my face alone could put an end to global warming and solve the then energy crisis.
This thought serves as the inspiration for my project — I want to make a speculative device that harvests facial oil from oil blotters to convert into biofuel. This pseudoscientific machine will present a renewable, manmade source of energy which could potentially solve future energy crises.
This speculative scientific instrument is in line with my FYP and will be part of the kunstkammer. As part of my FYP, I’ve been tossing around ideas to make a ‘conversion / transformation’ machine (e.g. changing water into wine). I think this is a nice balance and also actualizes an old idea. It also subverts and combines the fleeting and frivolous beauty industry with the more serious and consequential research and development industry.
Design + Harvesting Process
The device will provide blotting papers for users and invite them to contribute their sebum oil. They will insert the used blotters into the machine and watch the ‘harvesting process’. This will result in the machine dispensing a drop of ‘biofuel’ at the end of the chain (varies depending on the amount of facial oil).
Although ludicrous and likely a poor use of resources in real life, the concept of converting human oil to biodiesel is not that far off. With the proper setup, biodiesel can be made at home with many different base oils.
The machine is completely artificial and does not actually pass oil through the pipeline. Instead it shows snippets of the reaction process and relies on the user’s imagination to bridge the gaps. This is similar to how horror movies are more effective when a gruesome action is suggested off-screen, and heightened by the user’s imagination.
Instead of constructing a useful realistic device, the appeal of this speculative machine will lie in the ludicrous concept, tedious yet low-yield process, as well as the chain effect and motion it generates.
I plan to control the machine using max, phidgets, iCube sensors and Arduino.
Let’s solve global warming one wipe at a time.Not really.
References for making biodiesel:
This week, I’m having some doubts about the feasibility of a Rube Goldberg machine as the focal point of the work, but more on that below. I also thought of some possible objects and devices to include in the installation. I’m starting to see some common strands but overall the installation will present an eclectic mix of curios within a surreal space. Perhaps it’s becoming a compilation of things I like and am fascinated by. However, I guess there’s nothing wrong with that either.
List of (possible) items to display
1. Interactive devices
This will be the most varied part of the project. These devices may be digital, analog, inventions, re-imagining of existing products etc.
Some possible rules, themes and constraints I could start from (evolving list):
– Reimagine common household items e.g. cups, saucers, clock
– A device that is made within a time limit e.g. 6 (wo)man-hours
– A device that solves a common problem
– A device that hurts
– A device that heals
2. Private slide show cameras
Sometimes referred to as ‘view-masters’, these toy cameras usually come with a rotation of several pictures illustrating a children’s story. There are many types; full-size, tiny, single view, stereoscopic etc.
I like how we use these simple toys in open spaces (in a shop, among others) but we alone watch the story unfold. Instead of the typical ‘3 little pigs’ or ‘elephant goes to the market’ images, these unassuming toy cameras will present alternative images and narratives which may be somewhat private or unsightly. They may show images of war, current affairs, childhood scenes, nudes, my ongoing semi-serious photo series of people who take insta photos in museums etc.
Perhaps I could use these as a form of documentation as well, showing my FYP process of conception and construction.
As part of process and idea documentation, as well as decoration to build up the workshop atmosphere. These paper works and images will be high curated and mounted onto the walls or scrapbooked.
4. Secret stereograms
I could create stereograms and mount them on the Emporium wall at eye-level without explicit instructions. At first glance they will appear to be just print patterns or postcards. The 2 guiding dots on top of the image will help visitors ‘see’ and also serve to hint that they are stereograms.
5. Tiny boxes / environments that we peep into…
6. Something with living creatures…
Concerns regarding the Rube Goldberg Machine & other options?
Repeatability and automation
The strength of a Rube Goldberg Machines (RGM) arguably lies in how innovative the triggers and connections are. Creators often employ materials such as weights, liquids, fire that need to be repositioned and replaced after each run. This reset process usually takes a long time and is done by teams of people during competitions. As the installation will be up for an extended duration, the RGM must be able to reset simply, and preferably, automatically after each step of the sequence.
An alternative would be to record it beforehand and present the video with the stationary setup, as part of the installation. This isn’t a great option as screening a video will interrupt the illusion of the shop space.
The mechanics may not always work smoothly during the final show, with new hiccups occurring each run. A lot of time (at least 6 weeks) needs to be reserved for fine-tuning and banging out the hiccups.
Rube Goldberg Machines are usually built by a team of people, whether by engineers for competitions or by creative agencies for special projects. Automated resetting and fine-tuning aside, building a large RGM will be very difficult and time-consuming for a beginner to accomplish single-handedly. Creating precise motions is way more difficult than it seems. It requires an excellent understanding of physics and science, which can be acquired with time.
However, I’m weighing whether the steep difficulties of building an RGM will detract from the purpose of a final year project? While I’d love to build a RGM, it’s important to remember that becoming great at mechanical design shouldn’t be the goal, but rather a stepping stone and tool used to create a great interactive experience. It’s not about backing away from a challenge but rather picking suitable challenges to invest in.
One option is to remove the Rube-Goldberg machine entirely. This is a bit sad, and I will need to find something to replace it to create focus in the installation. As of now, I don’t think that having many small and distinct devices is enough to create a rich experience. The project needs a central unifying focus to tie the disparate elements together.
Another option: Instead of having the RGM as the main installation, an option is to build a mini-RGM / kinetic sculpture as one of the smaller curios.
What fascinates me most about RGMs is the unexpected and whimsical motion. Perhaps I could further explore the topic of motion in another direction?
Some notes to self
RGMs are often humorous, satirical, reliable and made out of spare materials. Other than the challenges above, should more interaction should be included into the RGM? If so, how so? Also, some thoughts after watching many different RGMs:
Aesthetics, visuals, rhythm choreography! Although its important to get from A to B or create a specific action, these motions can be more than that, not unlike a dance or narrative with suspense, climax, build up etc.
Being slow is not a bad thing
Show the audience everything; design visual sequences
As the installation is very much a product of process, good documentation is necessary. This will be done using various methods such as:
OSS progress updates (every 1 – 2 weeks)
A process log of what is done / accomplished each working day This will be useful in tracking progress and creating accountability.
Success and failure log
This will log how many iterations it took for a prototype to work.
Not unlike the Dada performances at the Cabaret Voltaire during the early 20th century which revolutionised the roles of artist and institution, the open source system is our highly-connected and technologically-fuelled era’s retelling of this art historical narrative of intervention and opposition. Open source shifts the dynamics of art-making from vertical to lateral; anyone can be an artist, curator, participant and critic. It is an inclusive platform, not limited by space or traditional tastemakers.
Open source extends the social aspect of art-making further. Creators, netizens and our peers can provide constructive feedback and contribute to the creative process and product. The open source system can also be a channel of inspiration and learning as it heightens our awareness of contemporary issues and concerns, and allows us to witness ongoing projects by our contemporaries as they develop. This grants us insights into their creative process and methods which are equally, if not more valuable than the finished product.
Our school’s Open Source Studio (OSS) has helped cultivate this practice of sharing, collaboration and openness which are crucial today. Furthermore, OSS offers a comprehensive view of our practice. It does not separate or privilege finished works over ideation, work-in-progress, inspirations or potential projects. Instead, the OSS platform is an integrated reflection of our practice that serves as a portfolio, process log and archive simultaneously, all while remaining accessible to employers, our peers and practitioners all over the world.