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Monday, January 24, 2005

BYOART - pennydrop

Every year some people get together for a party where they/we bring art that they/we made - BYOAORT. I've taken some pictures of my own bit from this year's party. There are a lot of other pictures of other people's bits, but they're on other people's cameras and I haven't been able to get my hands on 'em. I'm writing some background on my bit here because a patron/partygoer at BYOART asked me; "so, where'd you get this 'life is but a penny' idea?" in a vaguely condescending tone. I think she thought there wasn't anything behind it. That bugged me a little bit, but there just wasn't enough time or a blackboard available for me to give her the schooling she sorely needed.

My original idea was to make a zoetrope (see link for how to make a zoetrope. sure wish I'd followed this link before I tried (and failed) to make one). I was inspired by Bill Brand making a giant zoetrope out of an abandoned subway station; he calls it a masstransiscope. I found a CNN video clip/story on it somewhere but can't find it again. If you're curious, it's worth a search around for the file. It's an amazing video. And if you're in New York, get on the subway and go past Myrtle Station - I'd have to say it'd be worth it.

So, in my panic to figure out something to make (and while reading Stuart Kauffman's "At Home in the Universe") I stumbled on the Quincunx and decided to make one. A Quincunx in a bit like a Pachinko machine. The first problem I faced was the boringness of statistics - the basis of the Quincunx. I couldn't figure out a way to make it interesting (short of painting it up like a Pachinko machine - which would be difficult for me. I'm no painter). I wanted it to somehow imply a chaotic result, but allow the nature of the Quincunx to amaze as it created statistical order.

To imply chaos I considered painting some bifurcating pattern in the background. The bifurcation image (here) is a classic image of chaos. But as I said before, I'm not much of a painter. So, why not make something that will paint it for me. Surely if there's this classic image going around, there would be a way to get something to generate it. Well, maybe there is, but I think you'd have to be a mathematician. Along those lines, I figured that each disc dropped into a Quincunx would describe a path. If I could get the discs to draw their paths on the way down, it might make for an interesting pattern after a few hundred tries.

So, how to get the disc to draw? I have about 10kilos of pennies, so I used them as my discs (the price was right). And then I got some cheap paint - red, blue and black (using those colors could get something extra when seen through red-blue 3D glasses). Dab a touch of paint on a penny and let it drop. Get the forty-or-so people at the party to dab and drop pennies - and if it's fun enough, they'll do it again and again. The image will make itself.

The final product was not a Quincunx. I didn't have a long enough frame to get that pattern to work with pennies. So, even if the paint on the pennies did work as well as I'd imagined, there wouldn't be a pattern. That's ok. As it is, the image is a bit messy on top and sparse the rest of the way down. A few minor adjustments would probably fix that - and a lot more dabbing and dropping.

The good news is that somebody liked it so much that they get to keep it. I just have it home to put fresh paper in and get it ready for another performance. Then its off to a new home (for as long as they can stand it on their wall).

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