Ways of Seeing: An exhibition of student projects by the MIT Museum Studio

April 12 – 18, 2012

“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.” —John Berger

This exhibition featured projects that explore the use of light for changing the way we see and communicate.

Light connects research across the MIT campus. For example, it’s a source of information in science, a means of measuring and computing in engineering, and a medium of expression and visual communication in art and design.

Reflecting this range of applications across different fields, the projects in this exhibition use light for communication, data visualization and shaping the perception of space and form. Though the courses of study and the approaches of the students vary, their projects share two related ideas: light is fundamental to our visual experience of the world and new light -based technologies represent opportunities for changing what we see.

The MIT Museum Studio is a platform for student experimental projects using technologies for communication in the Museum environment.


Clearly Impossible
Yao Zhang / Zhe Huang
April 2012

How can light influence our consciousness and shape our perception of space? By carefully controlling light, the purpose of this installation is to make an uncanny space in which a balloon appears and disappears. Upon first encounter, the space is empty. Once the viewer’s head enters the space, however, the balloon appears - only to vanish again as the viewer leaves. The installation constructs an “in-between reality” in which the distinction of individual elements is lost and visibility is distorted by our body movement.

Yao Zhang and Zhe Huang are architects and artists. They recently received their Master of Architecture degrees from MIT. Their interest in art concerns the exploration of human perception by working with materials, light and other stimuli that shape sensory experience.


Visible Pixels as a Network Interface
Grace Woo
January 2011

This work takes advantage of how our human visual system sees differently from a man-made camera. VR Codes are temporally-modulated color frequencies that embed data at flicker rates beyond what the human eye can see. VR codes can therefore be used as an alternative to static barcodes on an active screen, invisible to the eye, but plain to the camera of an electronic device. This type of technique allows designers to unobtrusively embed machine data within our visual environment.

 Grace Woo is a researcher at the MIT Media Lab specializing in the area of Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC). Her work has been used in the context of large-format media installation by both artists and engineers and has been cited by the BBC, CNN, New York Times and the Boston Globe.


Point & Shoot Data 

Travis Rich with Stephanie Lin, Samuel Luescher and Shaun Salzberg

Fall 2011

Point & Shoot Data explores the use of visible light as a wireless communication medium for mobile devices. A snap-on case, incorporating light sources and electronics, allows users to send messages to other mobile devices based on direction and proximity. No email address, phone number, or account login is needed, just point and shoot your messages using visible light!

Travis Rich is currently a student at the MIT Media Lab. His work explores how to use wireless optical networks to create natural, intuitive interactions between people, the physical world, and the digital ecosystem. 

Stephanie Lin is a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. 
Samuel Luescher is a student at the MIT Media Lab.
Shaun Salzberg is a student at the MIT Media Lab.


Sfumatura Mobile 
Michela Barone Lumaga 
April 2012

Sfumatura Mobile is an installation exploring the interplay of light and shadow and the visual perception of form and space. Each panel is sculpted by computer control to generate smooth, regular geometric surfaces. Slowly moving light cast across the sculpture surfaces changes the proportions and positions of light and shadow. The perceived forms of the sculptural reliefs change, revealing the tight relationship between light information and our visual experience of the world.

Michela Barone Lumaga is a graduate student in the MIT School of Architecture and Planning.


Robotic Light Expressions
Steven Keating 
April 2012

New modalities of creative photography are explored through robotics and long-exposure photography. Using a robotic arm, a light source is carried through precise movements in front of a camera. Photographic compositions of volumetric light are recorded. Robotic light “painting” can also be inverted: the camera is moved via the arm to create an image “painted” with environmental light. Finally, adding real-time sensor input to the moving arm and programming it to explore the physical space around objects can reveal immaterial fields like radio waves, magnetic fields, and heat flows.


Lens et Manus - A robotic-light rendering is captured in a long-exposure photograph.

Remixing Light - Robotically moving a camera in space paints a photographic image with environmental light. 

Seeing Microwaves - Robotically moving a sensor around a microwave reveals the surrounding radiation field.

Steven Keating is a mechanical engineering graduate student who studies in the Mediated Matter group in the Media Lab. His research is focused on digital fabrication and 3D printing. Driven by curiosity, Steven sees the world as how it could be instead of how it is and strives constantly to stretch the union of art and engineering.


Projected Plane, Threshold
Melissa Kit Chow / Helena Slosar 
April 2012

By carefully working with light and subtly skewing our everyday visual interactions with the environment, the goal of our work is to stir viewers out of specific habits of seeing. Projected Plane, Threshold scrutinizes depth perception and heightens perceptual consciousness and spatial awareness through the manipulation of light and shadow. As the viewer’s body disrupts the projected light, the shadow thrown onto the wall surfaces reveals the architectural space.

Melissa Kit Chow is an artist whose work toys with perception and the human body. Her current focus centers on the manipulation of light and shadow as a medium to reawaken the sensorial spatial experience. She has exhibited in New York City and her hometown of Houston, Texas as well as internationally in Iceland, Bolivia, Spain, and Thailand. Melissa Kit is a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design where she is pursuing her Master in Design Studies.

Helena Slosar is an architect interested in engaging the public at various scales in order to redirect their consciousness and encourage new relationships between themselves, the social realm and the built environment. Helena is currently pursuing a Master in Design Studies at Harvard Graduate School of Design where she is continuing her development of acoustic interventions which serve as the medium through which people begin to observe and affect their status in the greater public sphere.

Melissa Kit and Helena are co-founders of mk+H a Boston-based artist collaborative.


Chromodynamic Playground 
Rachel Boyce / Nathan Lachenmyer
April 2012

Chromodynamic Playground is an art installation that focuses on the interaction between color and perception. By using programmed LED light sources, the installation creates an environment illuminated by slowly changing monochromatic light. Under these conditions, materials appear to change in hue; the sizes and spatial relationships of objects seem to shift, and even the room itself appears to change in scale. The multicolor paintings provide opportunities to study a variety of “chromodynamics”, providing a glimpse of the way our optical system works.

Rachel Boyce enjoys empowering people to change and shape their world using technology and art in interactive installations. By day, she connects researchers with analytic datasets as part of a population research group at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Nathan Lachenmyer has been working in interactive digital media for two years, focusing his efforts on interactive installation and generative art pieces. He is currently a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science working in synthetic neurobiology.