Phototactic Blinds: Finalised idea, Mechanics & Modular prototype

Image result for moth at light

password: phototactic

Finalised Idea

This work explores the phototactic reaction of a human, the sensations changing lighting climates could invoke, their cathartic properties and what it means to us in terms of experiences and/or memories. Previously, I had sought a more generic concept of manipulating natural light through the movement of blinds, only to meet with accusations of me ripping off another artist’s work – that was never the case. Nonetheless, it was enough cause for concern to me, which led to this more scientific/research-based piece.

We know of a few general phototactic species by general experience, particularly insects hovering around the lights of our living spaces. The moth for example is phototactic to such a large extent that it is almost uncommon to see a light at night uninhabited by a moth.

For those who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, visit this link. In an abstract, positive phototaxis is the phenomenon where natural instinct draws one towards light and negative phototaxis, away from the light. For many living things, this instinct is involuntary and uncontrollable.

I was driven the image of every start and end of the day, lights shining through my blinds every morning and the golden casting of a cars headlights at night. Others, a crowd at a concert, waving their light sticks and a myriad of phones capturing videos. Faces illuminated by their phones at a dark bus stop. The flashy lights at a Y2G storefront, a barber shop or in a club. How strobing lights made my heart pump and warm faded lights cathartic. How the scene in a film is indicated by the kind of lighting (interior/exterior, day/night). The casting of shadows whether diffused or stark could evoke a mood or a sense of physical distance.

It made me question: Are we phototactic beings? Are we drawn to light, as the saying goes, ‘like a moth to a flame’. Have we evolved to experience and rely on phototaxis? Why is lighting such an indicative and dictative force that can control both our physical and psychological movements?

My personal thoughts: We live in a digital age that worships light as it worships technology. Our ability to manipulate light puts us in a higher position that allows us to create our own environments and moods. Light is a powerful asset and stimuli. I want to create a simple contraption that can induce sorts of phototactic sensations in a human, exploratively, conceptually, interactively and immersively.

Module Prototype

I want to create a lapsing performance of lights and blinds that react to the audience’s proximity – like a moth to a flame. The blinds will tilt open, creating a shadow casted pattern. The lights will strobe in a higher and more chaotic frequency. There are two orange lights and one white light wedged in between, creating a fleeting and convoluted feeling of day and night, or beginnings and endings in a more relatable context. The shadows casted form strobing images of memory, the routine morning sun (every 15s white light strikes) and orange headlights zooming past the window as you doze off (random strobing rhythms). It is meant to create a contrasting limbo of catharsis and chaos.

Blinds are operated by a 360 degree continuous rotation servo motor, while the light bulbs operate on an algorithmic output from the arduino to relays. Both mechanisms work with ultrasonic distance sensors.

Expansion for final

There will be an arrangement of 3 blinds consecutively, the middle blind will be larger than the second. I am also thinking of arranging them in an angled manner. My intention is to create a sort of unearthly god-like/worship effect. The participant should feel like a moth drawn to a light in a human context, and also experience a certain level of sensory tension as the lighting conditions change in reaction to their proximity to each individual blind and the light. The blinds will preferably be suspended by nylon strings. The following a flowchart of the logistics of this project.

Peer Experience Feedback

General good reception of the phototactic sensations and theme. Some phrases used to describe the experience was ‘sculptural Mise en Scene’, ‘entrancing’ and ‘drawing’. On the other side, there is some worry about the  loud mechanical sound of the relay and the servo motor. The clothes rack that I used to suspend the blinds temporarily was also not too desirable. Lights were too harsh/light bulbs too visible.


The blinds will be suspended to the ceiling along a narrow corridor to give a larger sense of dynamic and salience of the motion. There will also be sounds attached to the response of the blinds to conceal the sound of the motor and emphasise on the kinetics. Light bulbs will be diffused and more spaced out for more elongated shadows.

Sample sound effect: