Heart of Plexi – An Agony in Two Fits

The design and assembly of my final project for Constructing Generative Systems was a dramatic saga. I had some materials left over from my two previous projects, all of which refract light in interesting ways. Todd had us build prototypes a week before the final was due to figure out what aspects of the project worked and what could use improvement. I ended up spending several hours staring at and playing with materials before I actually settled on something. I laser cut the last of my iridescent plastic into three rectangular pieces. I glued them together to form two “walls” and a “floor.” I took two LEDs, one super bright white and the other red, and electric taped each one to a watch battery. I then crumpled up a piece of purple vinyl around the LEDs and positioned it in the corner of my “walls” and “floor.” By the end, it was 1am, and I still had to get up early for class the next day. The prototype looks like this:

After discussion of my prototype in class, I decided that I would make six similar structures and stack them. Since the plastic glue eroded some of the iridescent coating on my prototype, I decided to use BoxMaker to make laser cutter templates for boxes that would snap together. My plan was to use half of each six-piece box to build my “walls” and “floor” combination, and then snap several of them together.

With less than a week to go, I went to Canal Plastics and bought three pieces of iridescent plexi–enough for six half boxes. Unfortunately, I could not get a slot on the laser cutter until the day before my project was due. I also only managed to sign up for two non-consecutive slots, one at 4pm, and the other at 9pm. This made me nervous, but I figured it would be fairly easy to assemble. This might have been okay, were it not for the fact that I LEFT MY PLEXI AT HOME on the day I was supposed to cut it. I rushed home after Nature of Code, grabbed my plexi, and rushed back to school, missing half of my laser cutter slot in the process. I set up my file, figuring I would only have time for one piece of plexi before my next slot at 9. The laser cutter was a bit overworked because of finals, and did not cut through all the way on the first go round, despite my using the proper settings for my material. I ran it through a second time. I tried to pop the pieces out. It still had not gone through. I ran it through a third time, but found that I had shifted it trying to pop out pieces, and now the cut was off. And thus, I ruined my first piece of plexi. I had to scale back my project to four half cubes because Canal Plastics was closed by this point (or at least it would be by the time I got there).

By this point, I was pretty upset, especially since I had to wait until 9 to do my next cut. When 9pm rolled around, I set everything up again. It took FIVE cuts to go all the way through, adding up to nearly an hour (and there were people behind me!). I did a few tests on leftover plexi to find the optimal cutting speed. Despite using this new setting, it still took me two tries to fully cut through.

I brought my pieces back to the J-Room to assemble them. Unfortunately, cutting and recutting shifted the measurements ever so slightly, so the pieces did not fit together snugly and fell over when I put them together. Glue was not an option. I went to Duane Reade and bought some clear packing tape. I used the tape along the corners, precision cutting it with a razor blade. This was painstaking, and took several hours. By this point, it was way past closing time on the floor, probably around 2am. One of my half cubes did not turn out so well. Now I was down to three. I spent another hour or so trying to figure out the best way to stack them. I gave up when I realized that they were not stable enough to stack. I eventually fit them together in a somewhat triangular formation. I was planning to use some of the tiny super bright LEDs that Tiffany Chou had used for her Finite State Machine project. She said that they were really delicate, and that I would need to use a resistor. I could not figure out how to tape the LED and the resistor onto the battery. With no time to spare, I taped three regular red LEDs to batteries and rolled them into the purple vinyl. It was 4am at this point, and I was getting kicked off the floor. True to the generative art form, the final piece was not at all what I had imagined. When I assembled the sculpture on its pedestal, I found that it resembled a heart:

See more pictures of this project on Flickr.