In the summer of 1999, the Science Museum of Minnesota
was preparing to move from its long-standing home in St. Paul's downtown,
to a new, much larger building built on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi
River, a few blocks away. As part of this project, the Museum was seeking
proposals for artworks that could be installed in the enormous public
lobby space, where visitors first enter the building. Although there
were only a few limitations imposed, they included the desire for kinetic
and interactive work, and the stipulation that minimal floor space could
be used -- either wall mounted or hanging structures only.
I set to work feverishly trying to come up with an idea,
hoping to in some way make Sisyphus (the sand plotter) work... dead
end. While sharing my frustration with my wife, she suggested "why
not try water?" I shot back that the idea of trying an entirely
new medium, given so little time, did not strike me as a viable option.
Then she said "what about bubbles?" As soon as I heard the
word, I recalled an idea from years earlier (2/18/94,
according to my lab notebook) that boils down to the basic idea
of using rising bubbles in parallel tubes as a kind of raster display.
I quickly put together a small,
8-tube maquette, videotaped patterns and crude alphanumeric characters
composed of bubbles, and handed in my proposal-- which was accepted.
As this was my first large-scale commission with a large institution
I learned a great deal throughout the ensuing months, leading up to
the Museum's opening on December 12, 1999.
Perhaps the hardest lesson, involved the interactive component
of the sculpture. Using my CNC plasma cutting rig, I cut a giant piano
of aluminum and copper plate, and created what I thought would be
an ideal input device. Unfortunately, I also created the world's best
incentive for getting kids to jump up and down! The noise and vibration
interfered with both the sanity of people in offices one floor down,
as well as the operation of the Omni theater, housed behind the vertical
wall. After about a month, I removed the keyboard.
Since then, it has been bubbling steadily, requiring only
some early maintenance tweaks. Bubble patterns include simple geometric
shapes (e.g.. diamonds) and a smiley face. I also have had the opportunity
to do a custom pattern and text display for a wedding!
Some shots of Pipedream I's development:
Hanging and stretching the tubes.
Virtual and real keyboard.
Sans ill-fated keyboard.