Dream of Akinosuke

  • This past wintersession, I participated in the 4-week, RISD/Brown + MIT workshop, Human + Computer. Based around the concept of transhumanism, the belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations through the use of science and technology, 
     
    I collaborated with Kate O'Connor, a senior in mechanical engineering at MIT, to create this piece. Inspired by the Japanese folktale "The Dream of Akinosuke," our piece was inspired by the idea that insects can control the human soul. In this work, that notion carries over to human relationships with electronics, as the wearer is caught in a beautiful but eerie butterfly net of coocoon-like freshwater pearls with a robotic twist. The sense of life artificially imbued into the paper butterflies takes on another dimension through the ocasional flapping, created by running an Arduino-controlled current through the integrated Flexinol wire. 
     
    The process involved aesthetic and technical branches. Starting with hand-cut paper butterflies and a sketch inspired by monarch migration and hibernation, I ultimately laser-cut the components to save time and make the monarchs more realistic. Freshwater pearls were wire-wrapped into a lattice with gold-color wire, and a shadowy black paper lace was stitched underneath.
     
    On the technical side, we initially thought to use motors, but realized the memory alloy Flexinol would work much more elegantly. Kate researched using it and made the initial electronic prototype, then later MIT Media Lab graduate student Tiffany Tseng, a facilitator of the workshop series, and I worked to make the actual butterflies functional on the piece. Though it was difficult to achieve the proper resistance and find a balance where the Flexinol would heat enough to move the wings but not enough to burn them off, ultimately we were able to actuate two of them in time for the opening of the Human + Computer show at RISD's Exposé gallery.