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Immortal Power

This is a project created by my own experience. I made a very grotesque device that amplifies and exaggerates the relationship between microbes and skin, to imply the confusion on the physical boundaries between humans and microbes. Find a delicate balance. 

produced by: Qianhui Fan


I found that the medicine in my pill box was moldy. I was shocked because it was sealed and the medicine was in capsule type. This made me realize the power of mold. As long as the temperature is right, the mold can grow and reproduce and decompose the nutrients in the food to meet the mold's own needs. Also, this year my skin started to suffer from allergies and eczema. The moldy medicine made me think of microorganisms on the skin. So I started to research in depth. Just as the earth is an ecosystem, the skin can also be seen as an ecosystem.


The Concept 

My concept is subdivided into two parts from a general direction.

The first part is what I have learned from personal experience. Is skin a biological organism or a cultural product? The skin itself has value, and its value is often measured in relation to other body values. The meaning of skin is not just a piece of skin being confined to beauty and ugliness. Our skin contains vitality that you can't imagine. If you observe it with a microscope, you will find that there are tens of thousands of microorganisms wriggling here. Between the flesh and the skin is a microscopic and precise life factory. We always regard ourselves as a complete living body under the skin and ignore the power of countless microbes inside. The development of life sciences, especially synthetic biology, not only gives people the ability to further design life, but also releases the unlimited potential of the organism as an artistic medium, and creates a new space for dialogue. I tried to use this project to let the audience interact with the installation to have a dialogue with the microorganisms to demonstrate the power of microorganisms.

The second part is that the grotesque (pathological) skin looks unpleasant and embarrassing to some people, but it affirms the physical existence and mortality of the body. And by violating the established boundaries of acceptable appearance, grotesque skin subverts and resists social practices that tend to suppress individual differences or restrict freedom of speech. The grotesque makes us focus on our own physical tangibility. It almost appears as a threat, proving our own instability and uncertainty, and paying attention to our own fragility and purity. I want to express the personal feelings and meaning of living in a body that is mortal, constantly deforming and fragile. So I made a very grotesque device, which exaggerated the relationship between microbes and skin, to imply the confusion on the physical boundaries between humans and microbes. Find a delicate balance.

The Background

After watching the BBC documentary After Life, I deepened my understanding of microbes. Most people's definition of life begins with birth and ends with death. However, life is not a jun, but a circle. There is no beginning, no end, only an eternal cycle. The researchers in the documentary traced nitrogen atoms to prove that individual atoms from dead plants are reused by new living things. This is the cycle of life. It can also be understood that this is a process of rebirth. Therefore, I choose mold as a medium to convey the power of microorganisms. It is a very important process in the cycle of life. We fear death and hate decay, but we don’t know that if there is no decay or perish, there will be no new life. I also named my project Immortal Power.

The Design

At the beginning I used various ingredients, but they didn't look good in color and smelled very bad after they got moldy! More importantly, it gave me an allergic reaction, indicating that it is not friendly to the human body. Therefore, I went to research and found that Penicillium is not only beautiful in color, mainly yellow, white and green, but also non-toxic and harmless to humans. In the process of cultivating a large number of Penicillium bacteria, I did not have an allergic reaction or caused discomfort to my body, and its smell is more acceptable, just a slight sour smell.

The process of making an interactive model: First, use silica gel for remolding, because silica gel is similar in color and feel to the skin. After many attempts and observations, I found that wool is fluffy, which is similar to mold fluff, and it is easier to control the shape of wool felt. Especially when the different colors are wetted with soap, they blend together very nicely. Finally, the silver wire is very thin and has good conductivity. Mix it into the wool and stick it into the silicone surface. After the silver wire passes through the silicone, it can be made into a touch device by turning on the Arduino.


The Technical Process

I use openframeworks and Arduino to communicate between them. What I set is to have a background dynamic effect when the device is not touched. It seems like microbial particles are swimming, they merge into different words and then spread and gather. These words are closely related to my themes, such as "microbe, exist, body, chimera" to guide everyone to think about my concept. When you touch the wool device in different areas, it will trigger the switch of different visual effects. For example, in the second picture, I simulated the morphology of the cells under the microscope, using the noise function to make them squirm and make two of them roam around. There is also the effect of the third picture. It interacts with the audience and the camera in real time. First, the interval and size of the matrix are determined, and then the image of each frame of the camera is allocated to each matrix module. And use getTexture.bind and unbind to enrich its changes. It implies that there are microbes in every part of our body, and tens of thousands of microbe individuals have synthesized our body. Then the effect of the fourth picture is to express the concept of reproduction and rebirth of microorganisms. The planet in the middle is complete to disappear is a life process, no matter what life body it is, it will dissipate. But the reproduction of microorganisms is endless. This effect uses a lot of calculations, in order to make the position of each particle move smoothly. I made a total of 8 effects, including visual dynamic effects and real-time interaction with the camera, all of which will be shown in the video display. Finally, I thought of a simple and stable method between arduino and openframeworks communication. Once the data of the touch sensor is greater than a certain value, the count I defined will be assigned a value, and then this value will be communicated to openframeworks, that is, the value in openframeworks is the count in Arduino, if the value matches this value, it will run this part of the visual effect. I tested it many times and it is very stable.



Future development

As early as the 1990s, scientists had used AFM to record the regular beating of cardiomyocytes. And in 2015, scientists found nano-level vibrations in more cells, including ordinary E. coli, and even eukaryotic cells such as osteoblasts and neuroblasts also have this regular vibration, and different Cells have their own unique vibration frequency and amplitude. This gives us a hint as to whether we can use this technology to distinguish the type of cell by listening to the "sound" of the cell. I am very interested in this, so the sound of the microcosm will be my next in-depth research direction.And the interaction of sound and vision can bring a more immersive experience to the audience.


Self evaluation

I think the completion of this project still needs to be improved. For example, the layout of the venue is not exquisite enough, and the maturity period of the mold (the most beautiful period of color) was missed when the installation was arranged, the shots were not smooth enough, and the visual effects in openframeworks were not suitable for the theme. But I have overcome my hands-on ability very well. Practicing wool felting requires not only patience but also color harmony to be more delicate. Cultivating mold is also a repeated attempt, and it takes a lot of time to observe the effects of different ingredients and the growth cycle. I am quite satisfied with the effect of the final installation, but the interactive form and dynamic visual effects do require more time to study. I should reduce unnecessary visual effects, and make good effects more deeply.


After Life The Strange Science of Decay (BBC,2011) 

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Kasas S, Ruggeri F S, Benadiba C, et al. Detecting nanoscale vibrations as signature of life[J]. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(2015) 

Pelling A E, Sehati S, Gralla E B, et al. Local nanomechanical motion of the cell wall of Saccharomyces cerevisiae[J]. Science(2004)

Zhou Baoliang et. The secret weapon of bacteria[M](2014)