Tag Archives: art installation

Sisyphus: the kinetic art table

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Surely if he had been given the opportunity, Sisyphus would have engineered a way out of his eternal punishment of rolling a boulder up a hill. It’s just too bad for him that Raspberry Pi wasn’t around to help. While it’s a far cry from his arduous task, the Pi has been used to power Bruce Shapiro’s Sisyphus, a continuous and ever-changing kinetic art piece that creates unique design patterns in sand using a small metal ball.


Sisyphus is truly mesmerising. We learned this first-hand: at Maker Faire New York earlier this month, it captured the attention of not only the Raspberry Pi crew, but also thousands of attendees throughout the weekend. Sisyphus momentarily drowned out the noise and action of the Faire.

You can think of Sisyphus as a cross between an Etch A Sketch and Spirograph, except this is no toy.

Under the table is a two-motor robot (the “Sisbot”) that moves a magnet which draws a steel ball through the sand. The motors are controlled by a small Raspberry Pi computer which plays a set of path files, much like a music player plays an MP3 file.


Bruce is using Kickstarter in the hope of transitioning Sisyphus from what’s currently a large art installation exhibited around the world into a beautiful piece to be enjoyed in the home, as both furniture and art.

annmarie thomas on Twitter

Sisyphus- Stunning art/furniture kickstarter (fully funded in <a day) by friend Bruce Shapiro. https://t.co/ijxHQ0fYb5

Bruce says:

Of all works I made, Sisyphus stood out – it was my first CNC machine to break out of the studio/shop. No longer tasked with cutting materials to be used in making sculptures, it was the sculpture itself. It was also unique in another way – I wanted to live with it in my home. I’ve spent the last three years perfecting a home version that’s beautiful, user-friendly, near-silent, and that will run for years.

Like most great Maker Faire projects, it’s centred around a wonderful community. The collaboration and access to tools in Shapiro’s local makerspace helped develop the final design seen today. While Shapiro’s original makerspace has since closed its doors, Shapiro and his fellow members opened up what is now Nordeast Makers. It’s where the production for Sisyphus will take place.


The Kickstarter products come in three styles: an end table, and two different coffee tables. You might want to find another place to display your coffee table books, though, so as to keep Sisyphus’s designs visible…


This Kickstarter won’t be running forever, so be sure to pledge if you love the sound of the Sisyphus.

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Autocomplete poetry

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Raspberry Pi integrated into the world of art. I hadn’t come across much of this before, and I like it a lot. As a self-proclaimed ‘artist of stuff’, it’s always exciting to see something arty that calls to the maker inside. With Glaciers, NYC-based Zach Gage has achieved exactly that.

Glaciers was an art instillation that, like the landforms from which it takes its name, slowly developed over time. I say ‘was’, but with each of its constituent pieces still running and a majority already sold, Glaciers continues indefinitely. Using forty Raspberry Pis attached to forty plainly presented Adafruit e-ink screens, Gage used Google Search’s auto-complete function to create poetry.


We’ve all noticed occasional funny or poignant results of the way Google tries to complete your search query for you based on the vast amount of data that passes through its search engine daily. Gage has programmed the Raspberry Pis to select the top three suggestions that follow various chosen phrases and display them on the screens. The results are striking, often moving, and usually something that most people would acknowledge as poetry, or at least poetic.

The screens refresh daily as the Pis check Google for changes and update accordingly. For some search phrases, the autocompletions can change daily; for others, it could take years. A poem you’ve had upon your wall for months on end could suddenly change unexpectedly, updating to reflect the evolving trends of user queries on the internet.

“The best paintings you can look at a thousand times and you keep seeing new things.” – Zach Gage

Glaciers is certainly an intriguing installation, with pithy observations of the vulnerability of anonymous internet users in pieces such as:


and the (somewhat) more light-hearted:


Zach Gage is an indie video game creator, responsible for titles such as SpellTower and the somewhat fear-inducing Lose/Lose (Space Invaders meets permanent file deletion with some 17000 files already lost to the game since launch). He’s previously used Raspberry Pis in other projects, such as his Twitter-fuelled best day ever and Fortune. I bet this isn’t the last time he does something fabulous with a Pi.

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Lichen Beacons

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We see Raspberry Pi changing the way people teach, the way people make things, and the way they run their businesses. We’ve been particularly charmed to see how many artists use the Pi in their work too. Sometimes in places just on our doorstep.

Photograph courtesy of Krisztian Hofstadter

Photograph courtesy of Krisztian Hofstadter

On Friday, I learned about a new installation at Corpus Christi college chapel here in Cambridge. Pre-Pi, if you were creating an art installation you’d likely be using Mac Minis or a laptop (or three) to perform any computational heavy lifting. The Raspberry Pi has changed the landscape for artists who want to incorporate computation or connectivity into their works: it means the tools available to them are much cheaper, and much smaller.

The makers, Ludion (Tom Hall, Drew Milne and Barry Byford), describe Lichen Beacons as a “site-responsive installation involving spoken word texts, music, and photographs conveyed through a dialogue between Bluetooth beacons and Raspberry Pis with screens and headphones”. Corpus chapel is a place of calm and contemplation (unless you’re Laura, our copy editor, who got married to Pete in there a few years ago to the explosive strains of the Skyrim soundtrack, played on the organ); I can think of few places better for slowing down and taking time to breathe – aided by some thoughtful technology.

Lichen Ohms Seriatim (Trailer)

Short documentary on the installation ‘Lichen Ohms Seriatim’, by Tom Hall, Drew Milne and Barry Byford. Corpus Christi College, Chapel, Cambridge, UK. Part of the Festival of Ideas, 2015-10-24. More information at http://www.ludions.com/projects/lichens/

After I saw this video, I pestered Barry to put some words online about the build process, and the way the poetry, music, ambient sounds and images came together. He’s really outdone himself: there’s an extraordinarily detailed background to the work (including the technical framework) available on Ludion’s website which you should really take some time to read.

This installation is multi-layered, intensely thoughtful and designed to slow down the experience of the person encountering it. I’ll be dropping by to play with and listen to my own Pi inna box later in the week. We could all use a spot of contemplation once in a while.


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SeeMore for World Maker Faire 2015

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We’re gearing up to go to World Maker Faire in at the New York Hall of Science on September 26 and 27 – if you’re going to be there, please come and say hi at the Raspberry Pi booth. We’ll have demos, activities, some little bits and bobs to give away, and much more. Eben’s going to giving a presentation too over the weekend, so come along if you’ve any questions you’d like to ask him.


World Maker Faire is always a blast. If last year’s anything to go by, we’re hoping to see more than 200,000 of you; and every year, there seem to be more and more Raspberry Pis there driving makers’ projects.

This year we’re particularly excited about seeing this exhibit from Sam Blanchard, an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at Virginia Tech.

SeeMore is part kinetic sculpture, part giant parallel computer, built with 256 Raspberry Pis. Each Pi is mounted on a servo arm, which moves depending on how much individual computation the Pi in question is doing. It’s a brilliant visual representation of how a parallel computer carries out many calculations simultaneously, breaking down a large problem into many small ones which can be worked on at the same time; this is the architecture modern supercomputers use, and SeeMore makes that architecture very easy to understand.

There’s a touchscreen interface that visitors can use to set SeeMore tasks. Sam is engineering those tasks to be specific to the venue, so you’ll see SeeMore calculating things which have something to do with World Maker Faire itself.

Thanks Sam – we’ll come and say hi when we’re not on stand duty!

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Quaver, the analogue looping piano

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Music hacks are my favourite hacks of all, and this one had me bounding around the office with the video below playing on my laptop so I could share it with people yesterday. Meet Quaver, the multiplayer piano.

With a Raspberry Pi, some magnetic pickups, and the open-source Sooper Looper (which I am downloading as soon as I have finished writing this post), Mike and Sean from MajorMega hacked an old upright piano into an instrument that can loop up to four separate tracks, and then upload your results to the internet to be listened to when you get home.


I learned something new today: you can buy what are basically super-long guitar pickups (as seen in the picture above), which will work in pianos. I am full of ideas (for other people’s pianos – mine’s staying un-hacked).


Here are the electronic guts of the finished instrument: the Pi is driving buttons, LEDs, a display, those speakers on either side, the pickups and a fair old whack of software. Mike says:

  • Jack takes care of all audio routing from the sound card to SooperLooper and back
  • node-OSC sends commands to SooperLooper.
  • onoff to control LEDs and listen for button presses.
  • node-serialport was initially used to control the display, however when compiling a custom kernel (more on that later) I could not get it to compile correctly. I ended up just using echo to issue commands directly to /dev/ttyUSB0
  • lame for encoding the SooperLooper’s wav output to mp3
  • ffmpeg to concatenate copies of the mp3 loop into a longer “song”.
  • Parse to handle file uploading and make it easy for us to produce a front-end on the web.

This is all part of Lancaster’s Keys for the City project, where pianos are decorated and left around the city for the public to play; Quaver is the project’s stand-out this year. (And not just because of the artwork on the outside.)


If you’re in Lancaster, you’ll find Quaver in the food court at the Park City shopping mall.

You can find a long and fantastically informative post about the build at Sean and Mike’s website; there’s also a less wordy, more picture-y Imgur page on the project. Mike, Sean – please drop us a line if you’re doing anything else with the Raspberry Pi. We love hearing about this stuff.


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After Dark

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Galleries are forbidden places once the lights are turned out at night. After Dark was a prize-winning installation from The Workers, a studio in East London, which wandered the empty Tate Modern and Tate Britain at night in London last year. With Raspberry Pi for brains.

You can learn more about the project at AfterDark.io. We wish we’d known about it when it was happening, but happily, there’s a chance that the robots will reappear in another gallery in the future; we’ll be keeping an eye on their website in case that happens.

(Space geeks should watch this one to the end; the first operator of the system once it went live was a certain Commander Hadfield.)


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