Some video of the piece in action:
And during testing:
Un[tram]melled is a work commissioned by the Brisbane Powerhouse to run in The Powerhouse for one month. This is possible in conjunction with The Edge, State Library who generously helped to make the Made From Light exhibition and a reality. Curated by Alex Winters.
Our developed world’s obsession with future technology is also teamed with a yearning for the technology of the past, sometimes sentimental, sometimes aesthetic in nature. We yearn for warm, dim lights, for the sound of steam being released, for the heaviness of steel and brass. The Powerhouse is a striking example of that liminal world between the old and the new. Un[tram]melled attempts to explore that juxtaposition through artistic process by creating a modern interactive work that connects specifically with this 1930s space, and allows the audience to create and interact with the artwork though a series of bespoke controls. Aesthetically, this work combines new and traditional art fields, exploring interdisciplinary connections between digital art and 3D printing mixed with watercolour, acrylic on paper, printed word, and clay.
In Un[tram]melled, you become both the task controller and the power generator. You will guide and explore animations that play with the available light and shadow on the Switch Room’s small North-most face. 100 years ago, and up until the 1960s, The Powerhouse ran Brisbane’s extensive tram network, and it is precisely through this instrument that the trams were turned on and off. Thus, trams become the theme in this work. It is all at once an experiment in site-specific art, arcade games, projection mapping sans software, frame-by-frame animation, and handmade hardware.
How was it made?
Un[tram]melled’s bespoke controls are made from artistic reinterpretations of arcade game buttons and joysticks, with paint, clay, and 3D printed pieces added by the artist (me) to turn them into little sculptures. These are what the viewer uses to interact with the visuals, and they need to be strong enough to withstand a month of adult’s and children’s fingers, alike.
The visuals are made in a game engine using frame-by-frame animation of characters that I drew by hand onto paper and scanned in. The visuals have been tweaked extensively in on-site testing to line up exactly with the awkward face of the Powerhouse’s tram switch machine without the need for mapping software. Pressing buttons not only sets off animations, but audio – harkening back to my days as a sound artist. A speaker located under the machinery itself makes the sound appear to be coming directly from the now unusable tram controls.
All parts, including the arcade controls box and projector plinth, are made by me. The Powerhouse is a heritage listed building (like most of the buildings I have worked in) and thus there were tight restrictions on how the space could be used. The controls are secured lightly to a preexisting balustrade, The projector is on a free-moving plinth rather than being hung, and the switch machine itself has not been touched. From brainstorming to complete this piece was allowed 1.5 months over the Christmas period of Dec-Jan. This is an ample amount of time, though much of this technology was new to me, such as customising the hardware and building bespoke boxes and plinths (and I’m not a professional clay sculptor either), so this was a very enjoyable learning curve that equipped me with a whole set of new hardware, physical computing, and carpentry skills!
This was my first time making my own bespoke control box, and if I had my time over, there are many things I would have done differently with hindsight. I now realise I could have made the control box half the size that it is, with half the buttons and joysticks used. But I’m sure the variety of buttons and joysticks to play with adds to the enjoyment that people take from it. I’ve had a lot of good feedback from this work and have been asked to do more work there in the future.