Preliminary Thesis Research Document Draft

Thesis Proposal:February 26, 2014

Chang Liu, DDA 617, Graduate Seminar II, Professor Liz White

Tentative Title: Slow River

Interactive Art MFA, Fall 2015(anticipated)


General Topic:

Slow River is a multimedia spatial and an interactive installation, and it seeks to detach the audience from “countable” time by providing optional contexts with subtle variations of natural color and independent pieces of literary text. 


Connected to time and sensory perception, my core concept is to create an immersive meditational environment for audiences, arousing new thoughts regarding their own passage through time, which goes along with a series of gradually changing colors. Color spectrum is also an expression of the natural landscape, which stands for time, climate and seasonal transitions. In addition, the text is provided as a new reading experience, reshaping the sensation of color and text. In term of interaction part, some unexpected things may happen in the interaction process, which is sort of a new understanding of audiences themselves. 


Slow River is a time-based and site-specific work. It may presented as multiple forms. I would like to provide the user experience with peaceful, mysterious and fantastic. The space may look like a luminous box. The visual part like lights is soft and transitive, blurring the boundary between physical world and virtual edge, as if the room is a surreal world which is totally separated with “outside world”.

Text is my main information architecture in this project, its content may come from a famous book/poem/article but be disintegrated in a few words or they consist of adjective vocabularies of characteristic and using for interactive part. 


My aim is to create a new sensation of interaction, combining the color spectrum and text/words with literature meaning. Based on those visual elements’ subtle changes, audiences can fell sort of sentimental emotion of time. 

Text, words, data information, color spectrum can be combined together to create a poetic space and arouse audiences’ thinking, deepen their sensory experiences.


The slow and subtle change entirely expressed the transition from vision to perception. This is a new sensory process, challenging the experience that you appreciate a painting work. The relationship between audiences and artwork is not only viewing, but also is a process that fact to yourself, exploring yourself, obverse yourself outside your body. As development of this project, it will be a profound discussion about believe of human and machine.


Thesis Research about Color Theory of James Turrell

Leonardo da Vinci wrote volumes about the importance of light in rendering nature;
Romantic artists described the sublime through light;
as well as how the experience of light reflects the wondrous and complex nature of human perception.
As the artist himself explains of his work, “Light is not so much something that reveals as it is itself the revelation.
Turrell applied this approach to nothing—no object, only light and perception.
Turrell has created opportunities for us to experience it as a primary physical presence rather than as a tool through which to see or render other phenomena. Viewing his work, we are called upon not to consider what is being lit but instead to contemplate the nature of the light itself—its transparency or opacity, its volume, and its color, which is often perceived as changing, thus adding a temporal aspect to the experience.
removing the distance between the perceiver and the object perceived in order to see “truth” is an ongoing concern.
Renaissance artists utilized color for its symbolism and to enhance the naturalism of their compositions…
…….in the seventeenth century, Sir Isaac Newton defined the optical spectrum of color in terms of absolute and universal wavelengths of visible light.
In the early to mid-twentieth century, Josef Albers demonstrated in both his teaching and painting that our perception of color is entirely dependent on the context within which we see it.
Turrell’s art does not illustrate these leaps in understanding but embodies them.
The actual experience of light in Turrell’s constructions often defies our expectations—whether it is seeing a circle reveal itself as an ellipse or wondering how the world outside a Skyspace can seem from inside as if it has been painted a deep shade of blue or red or green.
The greatest revelations borne by Turrell’s art are a deeper understanding of what it is to be a perceiving being and an awareness of how much of our observation and experience is illuminated by the “inner light” of our own perception.
Turrell often refers to the brilliance of color experienced in a lucid dream when the eyes are closed—or to the Quaker practices of his religious upbringing, which describe meditation as “going inside to greet the light.” The Quaker concept of “inner light,” which is shared in a collective silent-prayer meeting, is echoed in the experience of Turrell’s Skyspaces—in the collective silence, duration, and receptivity they induce.

I’m interested in the revelation of light itself and that it has thingness.

It alludes to what it is, which is not exactly illusion.

Amba, 1982.
Coutesy of the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh

EAK: Your work also focuses on an architectural relationship between perception and space.

JT: I’m interested in delving into and exploring the architecture of space created by light. Mostly we have dealt with space by displacement or massing of form. While there is an architectural vocabulary referring to the space between, this has rarely been enlivened—it’s more rhetorical than actual. The art that I make covers this ground between form and actually forming space using light. For example, when the sun is shining, we see atmosphere—we can’t see through the atmosphere to see the stars that are there. The same applies if you are on a stage with footlights and stage lighting—you can’t see the audience. However, if you step in front of the footlights, the audience is revealed. The space is architecturally the same, but the location of the light actually changes the penetration of vision such that some people see each other and others cannot. It is a structured space without a massing of form. This quality of working the space in between so that it limits or expands the penetration of vision is something that intensely fascinates me.

It means that the containing form has to be made somewhat neutral. What you’re looking at is that in-between zone, not formed or made by the massing of material. This has a lot of ties to architecture, but not the sort of architecture that we use to build everyday structures. It certainly isn’t how we light our buildings. Architects make a form and then they stick the lights in.

EAK: What criteria determine the structural configuration in relation to the selected hue or tone?

JT: That actually has changed over the years. I make this work for an idealized viewer. You might say that’s me. The idealized viewer has changed and matured. He has become more circumspect. Color has to do with the kind of work I’m doing—whether I want opacity or translucency or transparency. How I want it to penetrate or to be stopped. The milky colors of a Japanese kimono are very subtle; in contrast, Korean culture evinces a brilliance of color with very deep saturation. I work between those two approaches—each has enlightened me. It’s very different in light than with physical material; the first and most important thing one needs to do is to throw away the color wheel, because it provides misinformation. If you’re going to work with light, you need to learn the spectrum. We’re making an immense mistake by moving the color wheel into the computer. If you mix blue and yellow with the earth, which makes pigment and reflects color, you’re going to get something near green. But if you mix blue and yellow with light you’ll get white, which surprises most people. We really need to look at the spectrum and have a different way of thinking about light. In general, we’re a surface culture and tend to look at and speak about reflected light because of our tradition of painting.

EAK: How did you begin to use light as a medium?

JT: The history of art is a history of looking at light. Perhaps being American, I was interested in a less vicarious form that actually used light itself. I started out by dealing with a picture plane and the traditional presentation of light in painting. I can remember Malevich talking about how the paint was on the surface like the thinnest of membranes. If you put light on the surface, it’s even thinner. But plastically, it’s very effective in terms of the space it creates in front of it or beyond it. That was really a way to look at a more direct perception: rather than being something that’s about light, it is light. The light is actually turned and directed right to your eyes. The light inside that space is invasive and penetrating. This direct experience of light is the difference between watching football and playing it. I think that we’re an active culture in that respect, and
so it was an easy step for me.

EAK: You make something from nothing—an illusion?

JT: Yes; however, I don’t think it’s all that illusory. Although light exhibits wave phenomena, nevertheless it is a thing—it is optical material. But we don’t treat it as such. Instead we use it very casually to illuminate other things. I’m interested in the revelation of light itself and that it has thingness. It alludes to what it is, which is not exactly illusion.

I’ll give you an example. We tend to think the sun rises. In fact, the earth is actually sinking or spinning down the other way. You probably have been in a train when the train next to you moves, and you feel like you’re moving, but you’re not. It just appears that way. At Roden Crater, I have one space where I remove all reference to level, so your only frame of reference is the stars in a circular opening. Actually it’s elliptical but you see it as circular. That’s your frame of reference, so the strange thing is that you feel yourself tilting in reference to the stars. You can say this is an illusion, but that’s actually what’s happening. To get that sensation you have to have a different quality of light in there. In that way, they’re not illusions, because that’s actually reality.

EAK: Several site artists from the time you began working, including Robert Irwin, Michael Heizer, and Robert Smithson, felt that science and technology propelled them to look beyond the earth.

JT: In the late ’60s, I became interested in James J. Gibson’s idea of ecological psychology. Learning to work with this material, light, to affect the medium of perception was something that I had to get used to. My technology is extremely simple. My work might inform a scientist about art, but it doesn’t in any way raise notions of science or technology.

Light is something that I had to learn how to mold and form, because it isn’t formed with the hand like clay or hot wax. It’s more like sound. You make instruments to create what you want. I learned to do that by trial and error. I used a big projector and at first, it was really hard to form and control light. Gradually, I began to understand light as a substance that I could shape. I could see the evolution in the work. However, neither science nor technology actually influenced how I learned to work this material. The late ’60s and early ’70s were a contradictory time. On one hand, we were going to the moon, and anything was possible. On the other hand, despite technological advancements and euphoric attitudes, we were conducting a war in Vietnam and my generation was up in protest.

Also, artists were zealously idealistic in thinking that people were going to buy and collect ephemeral work. There were a lot of losses along the way for artists who had amazing and wonderful talent but nowhere to actualize their ideas.

Aten Reign (2013)

Critics attempting to describe Turrell’s installations often rely on terms like “magical” and “transcendent.”

James Turrell’s latest site-specific work,

What’s site-specific work?

Light is, by its very physical properties, impossible to capture and define: it is possible to confine the reaction of light with chemicals, but the experience of existing within and fully understanding the colour spectrum is inexplicable. – See more at:

Colours have become symbolic of emotions and thoughts, taking on animate qualities and connotations that surpass their scientific properties just as light itself has come to symbolise “inner light”, elucidation, and when featured in religious iconography, the light of God. – See more at:

Rudolf Steiner (b. 1861) and Hilma af Klint (b. 1862). Each of these artists explores in some way the relationship between the physical environment, light, and colour, and how the essential physical properties of each can be altered through their interaction. – See more at:

Just mark:


  • Doug Wheeler:
Related field/knowledge:




Kind of clear thesis idea after last weekend

Last week, I felt so frustrating, because I still confused about what is my specific idea/topic that I really concern and what’s kind of form that I should take and come up with in following one year. I’m fascinated in several areas in digital art field, such as 360 immersive space, spatial installation, light installation, big screen and so on. In term of topic, I also interested in some key fields, but kind of different  directions and can’t be combined , such as sound visualization, text interaction, light and color, body language, perception, immersive experience. etc. I found many references related to these keywords. I felt exciting in that time, but finally I found I’m totally lost and can’t find the favorite one.

At first, I try to figure out a “prefect” idea which can involved in all the parts what I concerned and be presented in a complete way whatever in visual part and technological/interactive part. Then, I realized that is a huge aim, kind of impossible. Especially in digital art field, new information in concept and technology update every second. We all can’t catch them all and I need time to digest those knowledges and information. It’s overwhelming!!

From last Wednesday, I met with Madeline. I started to reconsider what is the most important part of artwork, and what is the core concept of my thesis idea. Lack of powerful concept, work is just like a technology demonstration. (quota by Mindy) From there, I ask myself “why”and“why not” when an idea come out in my mind. In addition, last thursday, I talked with Liz, Liz pointed an important point for me: user experience. Yes! What’s kind of atmosphere/environment you want to create?(peaceful, playful, meditation, mysterious……); what’s feeling that you want to convey to your audiences from this work? Those are good questions!!

I organized all my inspiration materials. I make some categories as concept, technology, vision, interaction, new inspiration, sound and so on. Gradually, I found my idea become more and more clear, although I have to give up some of my favorite idea/concept, may separately put in another projects. Thesis project only need one main concept, otherwise I will get more and more confusing in following period. As I discussed with Mindy, this process is kind of painful, but it is necessary to make ourself more clear what I want and what’s important.

So, here.

Thesis Idea Abstract:

  • Core Concept: Using color spectrum as main visual elements to express the pass of time, and rethink the perception of human in their experience and this process, creating an new sensation of interaction, combined color spectrum and text/words with literature meaning.
  • Visual Aspect:-Color Spectrum, Gradual Change;Text/Words as main information architecture.
  • Form: Installation/Spatial Installation
  • Materials: LED Display, LCD Display, Projector; Super Veil(from book,Senseware by Kenya HARA),Fabric as screen;
  • Hardware&Software: Max/Msp, Processing, Arduino, Web-Camera(HD) (for tracking); Kinect/Faceshift for depth capture/detection; website-database for providing text(words) content; social media(twitter,facebook) for interaction platform;
  • Interaction:Audience visiting time-color-words accumulation-words/color subtle changing by time pass
  • Draft:photo 3 photo 1

    IMG_20140227_0001IMG_20140227_0002 IMG_20140227_0003IMG_20140227_0004IMG_20140227_0005



List of Midterm Studio Visting Faculty

Current Schedule:

Peter Patchen-March 4, Tuesday, @3pm

Liubo-March 5, Wednesday, @3pm

Linda-March 6, Thursday, @10am

Andy-March 6,Thursday,@4:15pm

Bryan-March 7, Friday, @1:30pm

Carla-March 7, Friday,@3pm(tentative)


1.Peter:general topic suggestion
2.Liubo:technology requirement+interactive possible
3.Linda:conceptual discussion/deepen concept/make more powerful
4.Andy:  hardware recommandation/budget acknowledgment
5.Byran: Performance social meaning/human relationship/time,space
6.Carla: completeness of artwork, scope of work, vision suggestion, exhibition suggestion

New Inspiration for thesis

Ellsworth Kelly (born May 31, 1923) is an American painter, sculptor, and printmaker associated with hard-edge paintingColor Field painting and theminimalist school. His works demonstrate unassuming techniques emphasizing simplicity of form, similar to the work of John McLaughlin and Kenneth Noland. Kelly often employs bright colors. He lives and works in Spencertown, New York.

I went to Met and found his work in a new special exhibition which is a contemporary art exhibition, especially focus on pop-art in 1950’s-1960. My thesis idea is more and more clean during this period. I actually give up some ideas, although the process is really painful and struggle, because I kind of like some different directions things, I must get rid some of them. I mentioned Kelly, because the vision of my thesis will related to the subtle change of color.


Thesis Research PROCESS IN SP14-WEEK 5

Inspiration from some recent exhibitions:

Doug Wheeler @David Zwirner

I have been David Zwirner Gallery to experience the wonderful light spatial installation work by Doug Wheeler. I think he create a fantastic and immersive environment, and the light that he used make the space looks mysterious and feel dizzy.


3D PrintShow

I saw many 3D printing piece, and sculptures at 3D PrintShow in New York, which just happened last week from Feb 13th-Feb 15th. The two pieces impressed me a lot! I love some landscape stuffs, and it inspired me to continue my interests and prolong my pervious ‘sound mountain’ concept, but maybe the new thing is employing body language to reconstruct the landscape shape, presenting kind of the urban landscape.


-Light Research (a little bit)

I really like some light installations. I’m still doing many different kinds of light and their work principles during this period.




Yesterday, Madeline Schwartzmanf gave us a great presentation of her book, See Yourself Sensing. She is very impressive, and has sensitive view of artwork whatever the digital art field or fine art. From her presentation and her book, I known more about how to do a real efficient and practical research based on one concept or topic but combine many other directions. This is my issue. I always feel lost in my own research. In studio critique , she said she likes my work, especially in visual part, but she suggests me to think about more on concept. Her point is that my artwork need a real specific and powerful concept inside. Yes, sometimes, when I explain my work, and explain some keywords that I concerned, such as Landscape, sound visualization, interactive and identity. She said it is great because I can clear to think about what I like and what I concern, but I need to make myself more clear about what the specific point you want to convey from your work, whatever the idea is big or small, smart or kind of “stupid”. If it is interesting and powerful, it will be explored by artists.

When I showed my Thesis Research Keynote to her, she gave us some suggestions. She think I already found what I like, what can be reference of mine. She recommend me to read more about the origin concept of these artwork references, because artwork is not only just something looks cool, but also have a strong and unique concept inside, like the soul. Yep, that should be very difficult to combine a great visual part and powerful concept together in an interactive spatial installation. Maybe due to her original education background is architectures,so she have an novel viewpoint of space. From her perspective, she think body is an extendable space and communication between people also form a new space. That inspired me to think further about space.


Week 4:Feb.5th – Feb. 12th


review my materials/reference and my proposals from last semester until now…

I must admit I’m a collecting-addicted guy in images, videos, books and many kinds of information. I collect images everyday from different channels, so I always have a big storage folder which is fun and rich. However, I found many innovated artworks, creative ideas, latest technology methods are update everyday. I definitely can’t catch all of them that make me even can’t focus on one specific topic and constantly develop it for a long time. From this week , I decide to slow down my tempo to review these current information, artwork references and inspiration, because if I continue to find more references, I may totally get lost in an more wide ocean and I can’t find my own direction. In the other hand, a amount of artwork references are kinda of overwhelming for me, because those artists and artwork which I choose are such successful and influential. I don’t want to see a big shadow in my own thesis work in the future.

I think these current materials and references are enough for me. I started to review them from the discussion activities: 3 WORDS OR PHRASES “CLUSTER” and INDEX(1ST) FOR THESIS which happened in the end of last semester. I reviewed the two presentation proposals which are “Artist Talk” and “Thesis Inspiration Presentation”. I realized I’m not that confused in my thesis topic, however, I found my favorite direction never be changed that is about spatial installation, body language and emotion, human’s perception in an immersive space.


The second thing I done in this week is make a category of my references including different aspects.

Form:wall piece,spatial installation,objects…

Materials: projection, 360  panorama projection,LED, OLED, Lights……

Text Description: Text reference about description of artwork

Visual Part: -motion sensors+camera+tracking-get real-time capture environment live feed;

-generate landscape shape employed human body and body language;

-video layers on/off effect controlled by human body;

Sound Part: reflective sound feedback in specific spot

Interactive Experience: -human body-time-left portrait-time-subtle transforming effect in colors, shapes, and density-think about the different viewpoint may watch a variable thing;

-tracking the direction of body language or tracking and analyzing facial expression to interact/make a reaction between audiences and work.




Space Construction:transparent fabric/voile may be contracted  in an intricate structure,kind of extend my pervious work Manufactured Landscape. 


Artwork Packaging: I think thesis project is more like a big project which should including the main object and some other Derived/related Works which may includes 3D printing objects,drafts, paintings, visual elements high-res printing works and mobile application. Although I’m not sure that which parts will be involved in, it is a worthing question to consider. I know it sounds like a huge project that generate a lot of stuff to do. Well, whatever which part I plan to accomplish, I still need to consider this question because of I always think whatever the work comes from a simply or a complicated idea, the completeness of an artwork is really really important.



(PS: When I saw a pervious thesis work of other student was disassembly abandon in our studio corner,I felt like very sad and regrettable.)


Timeline, following days, studio visiting, technology experiment, test……ing,Thesis iBook

Technology experiments before Feb.21:

-kinect tracking and impact visual effect

-tracking data from kinect and make delay portraits(Luckily, I’m learn this kind of tracking skill in my DDA elective class: performance.)

-IR sensor/motion sensors,force sensor, tracking software and hardware……(still not sure,purchase list in process)

-thesis iBook is my personal idea because I try to put all of stuffs including brainstorm reference, logical flow, inspirations, book note, research process, influential artwork and exhibition, technology test result, prototype and so on together which will make me more clear and more easy to show to my classmates and professor. I try to do it.

New books I read:

Staging Space by R. Klanten, L. Feireiss


Along Together by  Sherry Turkle

The vital of illusion by Jean Baudrillard

Stay tuned…