Jason McDermott
social firefly

social firefly

A brief disclaimer: The following is an account of a recent design proposal I worked on with a few mates, guys I’ve worked with before, and most definitely will work with again. It’s an account of the exciting combination of ideas, communication and a deadline that can pull the most interesting work out of you, and how this piece came to be. So, without further ado…

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Recently Frank Maguire, Liam Ryan and I came together to discuss the brief for the latest Vivid light art festival, slated to run later on this year. The theme of the festival, fiat lux, didn’t give too much away regarding conceptual or curatorial direction for the festival, so we took that as licence to think as broadly as possible. In part the desire to work on something small for vivid was to stretch creative wings which had remained folded since November last year , but for me the idea grew out of a desire to work with these two talented designers on a project of our own direction. We met to talk about ideas and thoughts on where we might take this festival of light, and within a matter of minutes we’d settled on the crux of the piece, the conceptual core which would flow through right to the delivery and communication of the idea.

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Our piece, quite simply titled Social Firefly, is an active social network of small electronic fireflies, all vying for the attention of their peers, interacting and communicating primarily through the silent medium of light. Messages spread from one part of the social network to another, only through the incidental connection of neighbouring fireflies, with messaging patterns and behaviour emerging over the colony as a whole. We were inspired by the emergent synchronising patterns of fireflies in real life, and the incredibly fascinating implications of social network theory, taking these two ideas as our conceptual cornerstones, to anchor and frame the design.

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It took a few attempts to get the thing off the ground, with Frank being a proud new father, and suffering a few missed connections ourselves, but take flight we did, and we’ve been informed that we’re on the short list for artists to take part in the festival — which of course we find incredibly exciting. To us, the piece has been alive since before we submitted the design proposal, we imagined the movement of the lights, the interaction between socially connected fireflies and those who live more on the fringes, we see the waves of communication propagating over a large tree canopy, observed by curious human observers on the ground, from the nearby ferry terminal, from the high rise buildings that peer over the social miasma that is Circular Quay.

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The design of the fireflies is relatively simple — it’s a small arduino controlled robot, with servo motors moving a small 4W LED light, using an array of small LDR (light dependant resistor) light sensors to pick up ambient and nearby firefly light. Each firefly will happily blink and move around by itself, either content to be alone with its thoughts, or eagerly reaching out to others nearby trying to make a connection. When the light sensors pick up light coming from (in all likelihood) the other fireflies in the tree canopy neighbourhood, the otherwise lonely fireflies perk right up, moving around to find their new friend and blinking brighter to signal their existence.We’re interested in a number of things in this artwork, in the interplay between actors in the crude network we’re establishing, the interaction these strange creatures will inspire in their friends. Can’t wait!

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  • Jason,
  • March 11, 2011