Alchemy Today

tools of engagement

In the latest issue of  ed  the magazine for the Society of Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD), Wayne LaBar founder of ALCHEMY studio discusses the new technologies that are merging to engage people in experiences at museums. Below is a reprint of the article.

In addition if you are interested in exploring the subject further register for the SEGD Exhibition & Experience Design Workshop being held August 21 – 22 in Washington DC. Wayne and others will be speaking at it.


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Mechanical Interactive Walls

Some of the exhibits that have always seemed to suck us into mesmerizing states of fascination have actually been interactive (and at times non-interactive) large-scale wall experiences. Recently, we have become aware of two that should get your brain turning and will no doubt “spin off” countless ideas. (Pardon the pun, which you’ll understand when you see these.) The first is a work by the design group called Humans Since 1982. This is called “A Million Times.”



















Made with clocks (a subtle time-related experience, connected in this way to the melting piece Calamidad Cósmica), this piece can create messages and depict complex patterns and fields, suggesting many ideas for riffing and evoking many related ideas and aspects. A system like this could be responsive to viewers or to objects such as magnets or other more technological EM transmitters (i.e. cell phones anyone?). This could be a beautiful way to engage people in some complex ideas. On its onw it’s a beautiful, evocative piece.

Another piece we ran across was the experience “Flow 5.0” by Daan Roosegaarde a Dutch artist.



Here, what interests us is that fact that this interactive piece is different than, say, “Pipe Dream” by Bruce Shapiro    


or the work of Daniel Rozin (like this at the Perot Museum).    



“Flow 5.0” actually sends something physical back to the viewer – moving air. This could open up other ideas about what else could touch the viewer/user that they might explore or appreciate.

Certainly, with both the physical and visual interactive and non-interactive wall experiences, there is ample material and inspiration to evoke some truly immersive and memorable museum visits, not to mention make many buildings more engaging.

Let us know about more if you run across them. What ideas do these spin off?

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3D Projections

Amazing 3D projection projects – Moving from informational to expression.

In the museum and experience context, the idea of projection to convey information  is a common occurrence.  Here at the studio we are looking to explore how the projection itself  - not the content of the projection – can be used to excite, awe, and engage the public in ways maybe no one thought it could. You might say these are “engagement screens.”

On side of the scale, where the projection is “complete” but the screen invites interactivity, is this novel and cool “water” projection by art studio Red Paper Heart.

Wow made us want to dive right in.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the screen’s inability to express the complete image is the beauty and allure of this experiment that Brian Mafftt did during the recent “Nemo” winter storm. Funny, in reality it also uses “water” like the above example – just in a different form.


In fact, you can tell it’s a DLP projector by the red, green and blue “sparkles” – a wonderful way of showing how a projection image is composed of these colors. You can see some of his still images here.


Now, of course, we have seen images projected on fog and images made of water, but there is something compelling about both of these and the fact that the “screen” itself can be the power of a projected experience versus the image projected. Obviously, a powerful experience would be to marry both of them. If you have other examples or ideas, please feel free to share them here.

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light shadow mirror: viewpoint – weekly inspiration

A recent rash of projects that are definitely making us think includes works by these two artists.


The first set is by Rashad Alakbarov who hails from Azerbaijan. He recently displayed these works at the De Pury Gallery in the show called Fly to Baku. Here is a write-up from art wednesday.



The second set, which has also gotten some recent press, is by Jonty Hurwitz.

What both of these have in common is their powerful exploration of the importance of one “viewpoint.” Certainly, we know that whether it be looking at past moments in history, interpreting art, or even discussing science (just consider the observer impact in quantum mechanics), where one observes and when one observes have powerful effects on experience.

In thinking about exhibitions and museums, it appears at times that we concentrate too much on restricted singular views of subjects from particular institutional types: art in the art museum, science in the science museum, history in the history museum. What has gotten us thinking is how subjects like “viewpoint” can be a fascinating and intriguing way of blending all of these.

This may be fertile ground for many museums to really stress the cross connections. These pieces are just two powerful examples of art and science coming together.

We are now on the hunt for more interesting takes on “viewpoints” and we think there is an exhibition that could take shape. Look for more examples over the coming weeks and please feel free to send us yours.

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floating on a bubble

A museum/gallery experience that has been making the rounds a while in the studio is Tomás Saraceno’s On Space Time Foam.


We are excited and intrigued with the opportunity it gives visitors to actually float in or step on a mega scale bubble/foam structure. This certainly fits into our whole fascination with scale.

One can imagine this is what it is like to be miniaturized and walk amongst a soap bubble cluster.

Obviously this experience could be an incredibly powerful additional component to a bubble area.

But more intriguing is to use such an experience to communicate something about materials, or about the very structure of the universe. Just imagine finding this experience in a space or planetarium institution. It would be an exhibit that might change the very nature of what people expect in institutions such as this.

What other connections does it suggest to you?

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firewall – inspiration weekly

The first thing that has captured our eye this year is this engaging and beautiful piece called Firewall:

It’s both artistic and musical and has an almost magical feel. It certainly would fit into many of the institutions we know. This was created by Aaron Sherwood created in collaboration with Michael Allison.

In addition, the experience has made us “riff” off of this piece for new experiences we might be part of, including:

-          explaining topography

-          exploring earthquakes

-          physically demonstrating sound waves

-          creating an illusionary environment

We would love to hear your ideas!

Meanwhile, back in October we were captured by the work of Antonin Fourneau and the Water Light Graffiti system. So now we have both fire and water. We just need to add earth and air and we’ll have the alchemy quattro.


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Isaac Newton vs. Rube Goldberg – Inspiration for the Holidays

As we are fully in the holiday season, here is a little gift of inspiration.

Some of our favorite concepts and experiences – ones that, to us, always reflect a bit of alchemy – are Rube Goldberg devices. We recently came across this latest version by 2D House, a Toronto-based photography studio.

It’s a wonder we don’t see more of these in our museums and science centers. Here’s an idea: We would love to engage with someone on a Rube Goldberg exhibition. Imagine the “tinkering” space that could be added to this type of exhibition.

Lets have a Rube Goldberg movement

We hope you enjoyed this video as much as we did. By the way, want to see more? Take a look here at some of 2D House’s other work inspired by Rube Goldberg.

Happy Holidays for 2012 from alchemy studio

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Inspiration – Water Light Graffiti

Having been a part of doing a digital “graffiti” wall in an earlier project for the Liberty Science Center, this new form of a digital “graffiti” wall that uses water is a new source of inspiration.  This is the Water Light Graffiti system


Check out the video

This project was project done under the Digitalarti Artlab by the artist Antonin Fourneau in Paris.  This graffiti wall uses a large wall of LEDs that are activated by moisture sensitive sensors. Participants can use a variety of tools to participate. We love the way this could add a bit of art/digital to water spaces in museums and science centers.

Part of the Wayne LaBar, ALCHEMY studio inspiration set at the ASTC session “Design Inspiration” being presented Tuesday.

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Inspiration – Vacationing in a design office

Weekend inspiration for the summer. Let’s go camping in a creative/design office! What might that be like? Here you go:


Film  directed by Jerónimo Rocha, shot at Behance.

OK so perhaps our holidays really do mean we need to let work go. Or perhaps our work spaces offer places to get away at the alchemy that occurs at the very edges of our desks. Happy weekend!


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Inspiration – Light Reeds

Here is a very cool concept that we believe deserves to be built:


It comes from the company Pensa. Actually would be great to see these at museums with water or think of how you might riff on this idea for other “plants” or objects.

A great alchemy of art, technology, inspiration and message.

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