Simulated Graffitis

“Simulated Graffitis” was a project idea I developed for a the “Technologies of Location” workshop at Media Lab. I later build a “Digital Spray Can” as a prototype during Matti’s “Physical Interaction” course.

project idea
The City of Helsinki practices a zero-tolerance policy for street arts in the city’s public space resulting in a city with only few visual signs of “real life”.
The idea of “Simulated Graffiti” is to bring street art virtually back to the city. This way it cannot destroy anyone’s property while providing almost unlimited space for self-expression.
The street artist uses a mobile device to draw/spray/paint/… the artwork (images 2 + 3) virtually onto a wall. The device needs to be able to give the artist the same feedback one gets when spray-painting “real” graffitis (e.g., sound, smell). He or she can see the simulated graffiti on the device and chose to upload it to an online archive (image 4). GPS metadata will be attached to every artwork.
One can then access a map of the city in which the spot where the artwork was produced is marked (image 5). While being able to see the sites of different artworks, the application does not reveal the artwork itself. To see it one has to visit the location with a mobile device and the artwork will be shown on the screen (images 6 + 7).
The application is at the same time fun to use and raises awareness for the purpose of street art: It is at the same time an act of self-expression and of reclaiming public space for public life.
Additionally the project admits and tries to raise the understanding that “simulated” or “digital” graffiti and it’s related tools will never be able to replace “physical” street art in the sites. Therefore the application does not aim to “solve the problem of illegal street art” in our cities but provides a tool for street artists to engage in a new form of street art and enlarge the crowd participating in it’s making: People who would never spray-paint graffitis illegally will use this application and come to understand the pleasure street art can bring to the people.

When I proposed this as a project idea I ment it in a rather ironic manner. But after it was bouncing in my head for a while I wanted to develop it a bit further and see if it can actually work as an art project. That’s why I developed a prototype for it:

Digital Spray Can

When thinking about the interaction a bit further I came to the conclusion that using the iPhone as a spraying device is not enough, but instead it needs a physical device for spraying. The Digital Spray Can came to life. It looks (almost) like a traditional spray can but it spray paints virtually. The result can be seen on a computer screen. It uses a custom-made button, a distance-sensor and a 2axes accelerometer to detect the hands movement. Depending on the degree of tilting it will change the speed of drawing. The distance effects the line-width, as it does in “traditional” spraying.
Speaking a bit more technically, the data comes from the 3 sensors to an Arduino board hidden inside the spray can. The Arduino sends the data wirelessly (via an Xbee-shield) to the computer (with another xBee connected to it). Then I use openFrameworks to cut the datastrings and visualize it as seen in the video below.

(the video quality is rather crappy, but I think you get the idea)

To stay honest here, the Digital Spray Can did not work as expected. However, it is quite fun to use and definitely worth further exploration/development. I hope I’ll have the time for it. The plan would be to send the data wirelessly to a mobile device, so while being outside you could immediately see your Simulated Graffitis. I already thought a bit about how the mobile app could look like (see slideshow below)



download source-code (both parts needed)
Arduino (cannot find it any more but should be easy to make from the ping example)