BSG Enigma - Exploring The Mystical Elements of the Best SciFi Series Ever

I’ve always been interested in the intersection of physical art materials (especially wood and glass with lighting elements), and interwining interactivity with a deeper conceptual component. ‘BSG Enigma’ was my first art installation in approaching all of those elements, and in this blog post I’ll share my process and experience in doing so.

SOAK is a regional Burning Man festival which emphasizes interactive art, and for 2018 the theme was “Parallel Universe.” To me, that immediately made me think of the (fantastic) sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica, which explicitly delved into parallel universes in terms of time and perspective. Anyone who has watched this series will have been introduced to some pretty interesting metaphysical and mystical elements, and it was this area that I wanted to focus upon.

With three months before the festival starting on May 24th, 2018, I decided to volunteer at the makerspace ADX, located in Portland, to build community and also have access to the wide variety of tools. I built much of the project there in the ADX facilities, learning the tools, and learning techniques from a number of artists who worked there.

One of the tools that I used quite a bit was the table saw, along with the drop saw, for cutting the wood pieces.

Another favorite tool of makers is the laser-cutting machine, which was used to precisely cut out thin sheets of wood (pine) - in this case, for the Raspberry Pi touchscreen.

Before actually using the Epilog laser cutter, I used Adobe Illustrator for creating the cutting image. This is done by creating vector-based graphics, and then assigning line widths to either tell the Epilog to cut the line, or simply “burn” the image.

I was interested in combining different wood types (the aesthetic is amazing!), and here’s a salvaged wood piece that I started out with:

Because the different parts of wood were of different thickness, I used a planer for leveling the pieces to the same width:

Back to the Table saw for cutting the pieces to be the desired widths

With the pieces of similar widths, I then used wood glue to bring them together

And another wood-gluing section:

At first I tried to use a Table Dremel to cut out the wood, but eventually used the laser cutter, which did a much nicer cut for creating a space in the wood for the Raspberry Pi 8” touchscreen interface:

I then created the rest of the container protecting the Raspberry Pi, by using a bandsaw to cut acrylic sheets and pieces of wood to the appropriate dimensions. Because the RPi needed access to the GPIO ports, I created an opening in the back:

And then, with the top attached, the full enclosure looked like this:

Concurrently while building the enclosure, I worked on the smarts. First, I tried to bring in GPS capabilities, but unfortunately fried that micocontroller (also called “letting out the smoke”, something you do not want to do):

I then pivoted and focused on using an ultrasonic sensor to sense when someone got close to the art installtion, changing the color display of the LED strip (programmable LEDS).

Voila! It was all complete, time to show it off!

I parked my car out in the lot and then hiked to the SOAK event. I was pretty thankful that my art installation was lightweight, as I was schlepping everything on my own shoulders, for about a mile, including all my camping gear for the weekend:

Here’s my campsite, and you can see BSG-Enigma here too:

Here’s BSG-Enigma, placed at the SOAK festival. The Raspberry Pi had an Express server built on node.js, rendering an HTML webpage describing the mysical aspects of BSG.

In conclusion, I was proud of successfully building this piece and overcoming personal insecurities around displaying it to the public. I had to resist my perfectionistic tendencies and inner critic, which told me that it wasn’t beautiful enough.

I learned that much of creating art is being willing to roll with the punches, learn and try new things, and that oftentimes art serves as a way of connecting to other people and initiate good conversations.

And to me, that is priceless!