An Interactive Installation/ immersive experience
School of Visual Arts - MFA Computer Arts 2023 Thesis Project
Chrysalis is an interactive installation that visualizes my family and symbolizes feminine power in the family spiritual network. It creates an immersive experience in and out of a walk-in cocoon-shaped sculpture, which combines 3D fabrication, projection mapping, soft sculptures, animations, etc.
It was seleted for the exhibition
at the Romanian Culture Institute
Sep 08, 6:30 PM – Sep 28, 5:30 PM
New York, 200 E 38th St, New York, NY 10016, USA
I intended to represent my family experience as a cocoon - a net of protection and obstruction. It shows how for generations female members of my family have had to balance the masculine (patriarchal and repressive) and feminine (matriarchal and supportive) energies. I hope to dissect, confront and share the problems through expressive creation. This accounts for the sharp contrast between the outside and inside environments of the cocoon. The visit may be transformational, reminding the audience of their own family issues or experiences, and helping them release and heal their bad memories through interactions.
The installation has three parts: the cocoon shell, the outside space, and the inside space.
The cocoon shell is made of a wooden frame and a fabric cover. The outside space is interactive with a projection mapping, while the inside space accommodates one to two people, including interactions with small sculptures and films.
I. The Cocoon Shell's Frame
I modeled the cocoon in Cinema 4D, then edited the frame structure in Slicer for Fusion 360.
During the design process, I also tested two other prototypes:
And came up with two backup plans in case I couldn't finish it on time:
1) Cut it in half and make it against the wall.
2) Make a relatively small version and hang it on the ceiling. Visitor can put their heads in.
After determining the solution, I started editing the actual-sized pieces in Adobe Illustrator and cut them on three 8'×4' birch plywood sheets with the CNC routing machine. I divided the structure into 47 pieces and spent five days organizing and assembling them. The sculpture measured 8.5 ft X 4.75 ft X 4.7 ft and was executed for two months.
II. The Cocoon's Surface
The cocoon’s surface was made in multiple layers: quilts to hide the frame and hold the interior decorations, and solid boiled wool, a kind of stretchy fabric, for the outer layer to simulate a real cocoon.
III. Projection Mapping
For the exterior environment, I decided to create an interactive projection mapping onto the surface.
I first did a simple test at the 2022 SVA MFACA Open Studio: when people are standing in front of the cocoon, their silhouettes can be outlined. The projected patterns will also change with the audience’s movements.
Inspired by physarum and voronoi patterns, I created an organic, moving texture in TouchDesigner for the external projection mapping and incorporated a Kinect sensor to capture the silhouettes of people standing in front of the sculpture and display an electronic effect.
IV. Interior Environment
At first, I was planning to create a really nice and cozy atmosphere as the outside is, but as I was doing my research on female textile artists, I found their most powerful works do not show the bright side but are created in a dark and critical way. I realized that the key to make expressive art is the courage to face and dissect problems. Therefore, I decided to display a sharp contrast between the outside and the inside.
I take this cocoon as a visualization of my family. It is a net of protection and obstruction at the same time. It might make people feel disturbed when they stay inside, not because I found my family disturbing, but because I want to reveal the negative energy that has remained in the family network for generations. I guess probably every family has it. And if we don't have the courage to solve the problems and release the bad influences, they can be inherited forever. Just like if a creature doesn’t break through its cocoon, it will eventually die and decay inside. My intention is to let the audience feel what they feel instead of being aware that this is specifically about my family. It might remind them of their family issues or experiences with anyone. The point is to release and heal, to be therapeutic.
When people get in the cocoon, it will be decaying, festering, and moldy, similar to the mutant biological tissues, which might be somewhat psychedelic and bizarre. Mood board here:
I experimented with various fabrics and techniques to make soft sculptures to decorate the inside environment.
V. Interior Story & Interaction
My family has been a warm nest to me since childhood. As the only girl in my generation, I can enjoy exclusive love. But gradually, I began to realize what women had compromised and sacrificed for the harmony of this family. At the same time, the remaining patriarchy also gave me exclusive sorrow while growing up. I started to redefine love and pain. For me, they are symbiotic.
Standing outside, you can see and interact with the spiritual network projected on the cocoon's surface. Pure, healing, and powerful.
As you step inside, you'll be transported to a space where the struggles and transformations of my family come to life. You will see a female soul - an avatar of my maternal bloodline spanning three generations on the central screen:
My grandmother, who lived a tough life and built a cocoon for herself to protect her dreams and identity. My mother, who had overcome the family karma of repression and learned to express openly through teaching. Finally, me, who broke the cocoon by opening the heart and embodying the spirit.
Three of us form that one female soul. From defense to communication to release, it's an ascending journey. Each of us lies on a different chakra of that soul, waiting to be awakened.
I put light sensors in three bird nests that each hold one of the 3D printed small sculptures I made to represent the women in my family. Then I connected light sensors to the nests with Arduino, programming in TouchDesigner so visitors can aim their phone flashlights and trigger the corresponding films to play.