Alaska, an interactive sculpture

Alaska, an interactive sculpture

Climate change has been accepted as the greatest threat to the existence of humans on planet earth. While there are still some deniers of this extensively proven fact whats more concerning is the apathy of the ones who do accept it. The attitude is clear, unless a storm comes to my doorstep, I will not care. This attitude is present in all of us and is fatal for all of us.

Many science authors, scientists, film makers, law makers, journalists have tried to beat this attitude by making powerful appeals to people. Nothing seems to have a lasting impact. Our project makes no such attempt. Our idea is not to try another way of making people understand. Instead, our project is an attempt at cynicism and mockery of the short sighted attitude described above.

How obvious and directly related to human action does the impact of climate change have to be, for people to finally understand the gravity of the situation.

For our project, Eric, my project partner, and I decided to focus on Alaska’s Glacier Bay. It is home to over 100,000 glaciers, 95% of which are currently thinning. We created a sculpture that mimics the peaks at Alaska Glaciers and destroys itself instantaneously, and almost comically, in response to any user interaction with it. Here is a video of how it works:

Product Images


Initial Ideation

We started off with the theme of climate change. Our first inspiration was this data visualization by Bloomberg, we felt it was a great way to show how closely human actions are linked to increase in global temperature. Our first quick prototype looked something like this:

This was the exact translation of data in the Bloomberg report into an interactive sculpture. There were several problems with making such a thing:

  1. The effect of other parameters on the temperature was minuscule. It is difficult to show “no-effect” in an interactive sculpture.
  2. Even if we were able to somehow show that, the simplicity and impact that the data visualization created seemed difficult to match and more importantly, it looked like an unnecessary exercise.

Change of direction

After the first round of play test we decided to take the project in a different direction. We decided not to focus on making it a data sculpture. Before the flood, the documentary by Leonardo DeCaprio, had just come out. We observed that most of the people in our network liked it, shared it and agreed with it. But there was no signs of urgency. We decided to not do another attempt at bringing out the data, instead we decided to make an interactive sculpture that comments on the short-sightedness of people who agree with the man-made climate change debate, let alone people who deny it.

Concept Two

We decided to remove all interactions and show a straight forward relationship between user action and environmental impact.

Fabrication and mechanism

Now we had to make the iceberg sink when user gives an input, we needed a mechanism to do that. After some discussion we felt that a “rack and pinion” mechanism would be good for us. A wrong decision as we will later realize. But at the time we thought making a rack and a gear would be very easy since we have a laser cutter at our disposal. So we started by making rough structures to test what material we should use, which motor to use, whether we will face any weight or power issues.

Yes, initially we wanted to use acrylic for the icebergs. Oops. We changed to wood, still ironic but better than acrylic. Once we shifted to wood for the whole peace we moved to a simple servo to drive each peace.

Final fabrication shots:

Playtest Two

This went well. All the parts were working well and the sculpture was responding as we had expected. We still had to work on the place to keep our mic sensor, but overall we felt we were in a good shape.

Final Setup