This kinetic sculpture explores my conflicting relationship with plastic.
On the one hand, I love working with plastic. On the other hand, the earth is being suffocated by it.
Plastic's creative possibilities are endless. It’s durable and shape shifting, making it perfect for vacuum forming, laser cutting, and 3d printing. These same qualities also lead it to litter the ocean and land fills, causing permanent damage due to its resistance to decomposition.
How does one resolve these two realities? While I want to take advantage of plastic's properties in my work, I don’t want to contribute to the destruction of ecosystems. I took this internal tension and expressed it physically in the most suitable material: plastic.
The first image that came to mind was a person trying to breath with a plastic bag over their head. I like the idea of the iconic yellow smily face becoming something sinister.
I made a quick mockup simulating the breath with a vacuum cleaner. The breathing motion looked right, but I didn’t want the head to look disembodies.
I 3d scanned myself in different poses until I found one that worked best. The pose needed to express intention to hold the bag over their own head.
I used a Microsoft 360 Kinect and the software Scanekt to make the scan. I further refined the 3d model using Zbrush and Meshmixer.
I printed the bust, leaving space inside for the breathing mechanism.
My initial idea was to use a use a small computer cooling fan to inflate and deflate the bag. After playing with one, I soon realized that it is designed to spin in only one direction. My next idea was to use a syringe like a lung, pushing and pulling the air.
I designed a mechanism that pushed the plunger of the syringe back and forth using a hobby motor.
I 3d printed all the parts and tested. I wanted to the mechanism to be fully contained inside the sculpture so I reduced the length of the syringe. Everything worked great, but I wasn’t moving the volume of air needed.
I imagined filming this sculpture emerging out of different environments around the city. This is why it was important for the breathing mechanism to be self contained. A pedestal would be great for housing motors and batteries, but it would make the sculpture look detached from its surroundings.
Here is my next design. Instead of a rack and pinion, it uses a central threaded rod to move the plunger up and down.
This design has a larger lung capacity.
I added magnets to the bottom gear and used a magnet sensor to keep track of the plunger position. I programmed an Arduino Uno to move the plunger up and down so I didn’t risk breaking the mechanism by controlling it manually.
Once again everything worked great, except it couldn’t create enough air pressure to inflate the bag. The mechanism wasn’t air tight enough and I was back at the drawing board.
I returned to my original idea of using a fan. I used a hobby dc motor which has no problem being driven in both directions. I printed different fan blade designs and came up with this one.
Hurray! It finally works!
I made a small plastic bag using a soldering iron to melt together plastic from a larger bag.
All that was left was programing the breath timing and putting everything together.
How do I feel having gone through this process?
I still love working with plastic. Every time I 3d print something it feels like magic. The world's plastic waste problem is still very much here and it's something that governments, corporations, and citizens will all need to address.
Regarding the sculpture, it's very satisfying to take a feeling and express it as a physical item. The making process forced me to make design decisions and work within the constraints of my materials. Looking at my sculpture I’m reminded that I do have some power to shape the world around me and also that my actions have consequences.
I’m curious to see what thoughts this sculpture sparks in others.
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