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e_static shadows junio 30, 2010

Posted by christian saucedo in Technology research in surfaces.
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Desarrollo tecnológico. superficie interactiva

Autor. Dr. Zane Berzina & Architect Jackson Tan

Investigación y desarrollo. Dr. Zane Berzina, Architect Jackson Tan

Principal Investigator – Prof. Janis Jefferies, Main Researcher – Dr. Zane Berzina, Architect – Jackson Tan, Textile Engineering – Dr. Andreas Neudeck and the TITV team, Sound Engineering – Dr. Tim Blackwell, Material Science – Dr. Natalie Stingelin-Stutzmann

Año. 2010

Web. http://www.zaneberzina.com/e-staticshadows.htm

Imágenes. http://www.zaneberzina.com/e-staticshadows.htm


Vía. http://www.zaneberzina.com/

E-Static Shadows

The project ‘E-Static Shadows’ is a practise-based experimental research project by designer Dr. Zane Berzina and architect Jackson Tan which creatively explores the speculative and poetic potential of static electricity found in our everyday environments, surrounding our everyday interactions. The aim of the project is to investigate how electrostatic energy could either be effectively utilised or play a part in the development of active, responsive and interactive textile systems which would be capable of detecting, translating and displaying this energy into dynamic audio-visual patterns. This design pilot project studies the possible translations of electrostatic energy into other types of energy such as light, sound and motion using specially engineered intelligent textile systems as mediators and displays for these processes.

The focus of the proposed project is held on the synthesis between the creative approach to textile practice and technical innovations in electronics, soft circuitry and new materials in order to create sensory environments that actively respond to electrostatic fields generated by human interactions. The research project deals with issues across the fields of art, design, craft, sound, technology and material science researching and addressing the positive and playful potential of static electricity. The underlining intention is to research how the easily accessible but little utilised phenomena of electrostatic can add to our sensory experiences, advance the design knowledge of interactive environments and eventually improve our quality of life. This provides opportunities for new speculations regarding the role of static electricity within a built environment.

Electrostatic energy is an essentially regenerative energy. Therefore, to some extent, this project also explores the potential of the electrostatic energy as a certain type of renewable energy that, under circumstances, can easily be generated virtually when and where desired. Eventually this interrogation could lead to interesting uses of this energy not only in an interactive art and design context but also in other fields such as architecture or in the development of new technologies and processes.


A short historical de-tour

Static electricity is one of the oldest known physical phenomena. The ancient Greeks noticed the amazing ability of amber, once rubbed, to attract light materials despite gravitational forces. Because of its electrostatic properties amber in Greek means ‘electron’.

For a long time electrostatic continued to be a source of mystery and amazement, before the rational and scientific approach to understanding the world came about. In the early 17th century fascinating devices and machines that tread between the boundaries of magic and science, conceptually and perceptually, were evolved through the unravelling of static electricity, including the first electrostatic generator by Otto van Guericke.[1] In 1901 various scientific experiments culminated into Dr. Nikola Tesla’s plan to wirelessly broadcast electrostatic power to the whole world from his facility at Wardenclyffe in New York.[2]

Public electrostatic demonstrations and performances easily became one of the crowds’ favourite entertainments in the 17th to 19th century due to its seemingly miraculous, contradicting experiences. Just one example is Stephen Gray’s experiment premiered in London in 1730. He suspended an eight year old boy in mid air, utilising the human body as a medium for static electricity, attracting paper and light objects to the boy’s negatively charged face and hands.[3] This type of showmanship converged both artistic and scientific fields of endeavour creating discourse about the employment of human architecture as a medium for interactions with the environment within the context of electrostatics.

Electrostatics today

The existence of constant motions and interactions within urban spaces induces a huge amount of electrical charges in our daily life. Despite this fact, electrostatic has been one of the most underrated forms of energy existing today. The Electrostatics Group of the Institute of Physics states that: “Electrostatics is at the same time both a well-defined subject and a very ill-defined area of research and technology.”[4] Little research and investigation has been done to test the effect of these charges in relation to the human body as well as the built environment with the exception of its effect on electronic devices. In modern domestic and industrial environments it is usually regarded as a nuisance or hazard responsible for electrostatic shocks, process problems and industrial fires. Therefore in contemporary man’s habitat a rather limiting approach is exercised towards electrostatics in order to reduce electrostatic discharge.

Typically designers of today are embracing restrictive methods by relocating electrostatic into the functional domain. Efficient but prosaic anti-static design solutions are employed to eradicate electrostatic in order to protect sensitive electronic components. Although these solutions, including developments in textiles, are proven to be effective, looking at electrostatic in a different way could provide striking poetic conversations with the environment. In 1996 Dr. Frances Geesin and Ron Geesin suggested a different approach to electrostatic in their collaborative work ‘Tri-Aura’. With the help of electronics and computer engineer Spencer Childs they developed interactive textile sculptures which can be triggered by the proximity and movements of the human body.

Bad Hair Day‘ – a constantly moving, static lampshade by designer Afroditi Krassa offers another delightful take on product design by employing electrostatics. The lampshade, which is covered in long yarn filaments, becomes statically charged once the light is switched on. This results in the “hair” rising, as if the lamp was a living organism, and they become attracted to any negatively charged material, such as human skin.

The research also draws significantly on Jackson Tan’s background in interactive architecture and his experiments related to the field of electrostatics. In 2005 these practical explorations culminated with the design of a ‘hard’ electrostatic detecting panel that responds to the presence of charges. It was our starting point and our joint challenge to translate this ‘hard’ technology into the medium of soft textiles.

Within this context the research project was seeking to reconsider the role static electricity plays in human environments using creative strategies and provoking a playful interaction with this natural force. This investigation also concentrates on potentially positive uses and benefits of electrostatic for the development of interactive environmental design strategies using textiles as a medium. The rapidly developing field of smart textiles in combination with the progress in micro-electronics informed and formed the research. By conceptualising, engineering and optimising electronic textile systems the project investigates potential for technology that allows us to interact with the hidden electrostatic world.

  1. Bernard Seeman. The Story of Electricity and Magnetism. Harvey House Inc, New York, USA, 1967, p. 21
  2. Tower of dreams.
  3. Stephen Gray. A Letter Containing Several Experiments Concerning Electricity. Royal Society Philosophical Transactions 37 (1731/1732), London, UK, p. 18-44.
  4. Electrostatics Group Homepage, Institute of Physics.


Process_Design and technology development

The two-year research project was divided into three main stages. Here it is possible to have a small insight into our working process concerned with the design and technology development in the form of a visual diary..

STAGE 1 (Click here)

STAGE 2 (Click here)

STAGE 3 (Click here)


As a result of this cross-disciplinary project an interactive textile system is developed, informed by the research, that suggests ways in which electrostatic can play an important part in the construction of interactive environment scenarios.

A deeper understanding of the subject is achieved through an interpretation of the charges into human sensorial modalities – vision and hearing. Therefore this playful and fully analogue concept offers new sensory experiences to its viewers.

The electronic textile acts as a static mirror responding to the usually invisible charges generated by people interacting with materials and making them visible. Equipped with tiny LED lights, transistors and woven electronic circuits seamlessly integrated into the electronic textiles structure, the installation is able to create transient shadows on the textile display in areas which detect a presence of electrostatic fields, feeding on the charges created by viewers and objects. Simultaneously it acts as a simple sonic instrument in response to the presence and intensity of charges and human proximity.


The ‘E-Static Shadows’ project was exhibited at the Dana Centre, Science Museum London for the first time on March 6th and from the 9th to the 11th 2009, 10 – 5pm.

The visitors of the installation were invited to act as players in this interactive design scenario, exploring the electrostatic fields of various materials in dialogue with their own bodies and the reactive electronic cloth. The soft installation registered the amount and intensity of the charges exposed to the sensory textile membrane and translated them into a series of transient audio-visual patterns.

It is hoped that ‘E-Static Shadows’ provokes a higher awareness of invisible static electricity and its hidden potential leading to a better understanding of interactions between people; people and objects/materials; people and space.

The interactive installation was accompanied by a public presentation by the research team and discussions with invited scientists.

The Dana Centre address:
The Science Museum’s Dana Centre
165 Queen’s Gate
South Kensington

Contributers to the exhibition and the public event

Dana Centre, Science Museum London

Dr. Frances Geesin, Reader in Materials and Textiles, London College of Fashion

Dr. Mark Miodownik, Materials Library,
Kings College London

Dr. Nilton Renno and Steven A. Rogacki,
Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences,
University of Michigan

KASTILO (materials)


Principal Investigator
Prof. Janis Jefferies
Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre in Textiles / Goldsmiths Digital Studios, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Main Researcher
Dr. Zane Berzina
Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre in Textiles / Goldsmiths Digital Studios, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Jackson Tan
in square lab, London

Textile Engineering
Dr. Andreas Neudeck and the TITV team
TITV Greiz – The Institute for Specialised Textiles and Flexible Materials

Sound Engineering
Dr. Tim Blackwell
Computing Department, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Material Science
Dr. Natalie Stingelin-Stutzmann
Queen Mary University of London, Department of Materials

Resource: http://www.zaneberzina.com/e-staticshadows09/support.htm


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