Serial Paintings

These are serially-filled displays or sculptures (2d or 3d) that alternatively encrypt and reveal visual information using unidimensional streams of matter.

Serial Paintings

– pneumatic displays –


Alvaro Cassinelli & Daniel Saakes, 2013

I) As an art piece

‘Serial paintings’ aim at revealing hidden aspects of the physical and mathematical relationship between perceived image and its material support. In “Back and Forth: anadrome pneumatique” (image on the right), a string of colored balls is pushed back and forth between two distant canvases using compressed air. Without rearranging the order of the balls, the string is forced into the shape of a spiral; this folding ‘decrypts’ and deploys the color sequence into each canvas surface, alternatively revealing a pair of images with opposite meanings.

These images represent antithetic, crystallized phases of the ‘painting’ that easily lend themselves to subjective interpretation. They cannot be perceived simultaneously, as one image needs to be destroyed in order to create the other; this is done in a process of transformation that is purposefully exposed to the public (and triggered by it).

This breathing from order to chaos and back constitutes the most exciting moment of the painting: a swirling (and noisy) visual abstraction representing cycles of creation and destruction of subjectively perceived form.

“Back and Forth: anadrome pneumatique” is the first work of the ‘Serial Paiting‘ series. These are ‘serial displays and sculptures’ (2d or 3d) that alternatively encrypt and reveal visual information using unidimensional streams of matter (see below).


Plastic balls, laser cut acrylic, metallic tape, foam, mini air compressor, plastic tubes.


Note: If the browser does not support this format, right click and download it first (it’s just 11MB), or download from here: [mp4/11MB]

You Owe Me One (installation)

This piece can be shown horizontally (on the floor or on a table) or vertically. Both interactive canvases can be on the same wall, as part of a larger sentence as in the example below:

you owe me one

Alternatively, the two spirals can be hanging in different, perhaps opposite walls of the exhibition space, connected by an arbitrarily large plastic tube running on the floor – figure to the right and bottom).

In particular, it is easy to scale up the work: the images and videos in this submission present a spiral 30×30 cm, but we are now in the process of designing a pneumatic painting composed of two larger spirals (at least 60x60cm). It is also possible to concatenate more than two canvases.


Details of the interaction with the public:

These “pneumatic paintings” are operated at the will of the public. A small air compressor with a handheld air gun can be used to directly pump air into the canvas as in the videos. Alternatively, the compressor can be used to refill small air-compressed cans.

Another possiblity is to use a manual pump – this is slightly more silent and implies an interesting, sport-like form of interaction with the public (check video below). Finally, it is possible to directly blow on the canvas with the mouth (using an air filter and an exchangeable mouthpiece), but we prefer demo this rarely since it involves providing lots of disposable mouthpieces.


ampleman back and forth

Technical details and construction

The spiral has to be air-tight: we first tried with plastic tubes, but the separation between the spiral arms was too large, thus decreasing the resolution. We instead used a laser cutter to create a groove on the acrylic plate, and manually inserted a metallic tape measure.

The position of the colored balls is pre-computed using a Processing sketch, and balls are placed manually in a long, patient operation while the spiral is open.

The Processing sketch takes as input the dimensions of the spiral and two images, and computes the folded color sequence. The process is semi-automatic, as an optimized “entanglement” of the unfolded and folded image can be better realized using an iterative process (we are now working on a large, Esher-like example).

laser cut
insertion balls insertion manual

As explained in the introduction, this is part of a series of “serial paintings” (2d) or sculptures (3d) in which the shape of the container plays a role in decripting the content. Interestingly, the space-filling curves do not need to be flat – they could cover the surface of tridimensinal objects and act as a programmable colorful skin.

We are also exploring also dynamic structures and other original ways to move the string of matter around.

The following shows a prototype of a flexible, ‘modulated’ spiral that actuate the balls thanks to gravity alone.
gravity modulated spiral

II) As a serial, slow 3D display… or printer

An intriguing research direction consist on developing a serial 2d or 3d display, either using liquids or plastic balls surrounded by an index matching liquid. To create a final solid volume, the plastic balls could be melted togheter, the liquid evacuated while the matrix (possibliy made of paper) could just be disolved or scratched manually. Interestingly, the printer itself – the pump’s dimensions – will remain small and portable.

Such matrices can be made by stacking 2d layers of… paper (image in the middle), or by putting toghether elemental blocks of a fractal, space filling curve (image on the right).

Filling the support matrix will certainly take a lot of time and be an active process or just passive (capilarity), but this may not be a problem (example: 100x100x100 voxels, assuming a “serial printing speed” of, say, 20 vox/sec, this means about 14 hours. This may be OK for a “3d display” used for showcasing products in a shop, updating every night).

Simulations (more to come)

Check this video for a larger scale simulation: