A Marriage of Disciplines Brings Interactive Results

Kevin DarrtPutting mechanical engineers and fine arts students together on a team project to create a sculpture and it's difficult to predict what the outcome will be. At Binghamton, the outcome is an interactive sculpture that will have a permanent home on campus.

Binghamton University mechanical engineering graduate student Kevin Dartt readily admits that his senior project was a bit audacious: engineer and build a nine-foot tall, 1,500-pound, seven-paneled, electronically interactive sculpture. And install it on campus.

In fall 2007, Dartt helped form a five-person team consisting of two mechanical engineering students, two fine arts students and himself. As a double-major in both fields, Dartt served as a bridge between the two disciplines. The team then set a fairly loose, if ambitious, goal for itself.

“We wanted engineering and fine arts students to work together to create an interactive piece that promoted community,” he said. “We didn’t really have any set aesthetic idea.”

To form one, the team talked to a number of artists and ran the basic idea past the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. But the idea also quickly gained support from University President Lois B. DeFleur. “She became very enthusiastic about it,” Dartt said. “And she wanted something professional.”

The team realized that, with more than 2,000 international students on campus, its idea of community had to grow and the project needed to represent something global. The resulting design features seven aluminum-framed panels — one for each continent — each about four feet wide by nine feet tall and inlaid with geometrically shaped fragments of blue acrylic — representing water — and five to eight panes of smart glass — representing land.

“The continents are geometric representations,” Dartt said. “We didn’t want them to follow any sort of borders or any sort of political boundaries. So we broke them up into more aesthetically pleasing images. We didn’t want to make it political, but wanted to emphasize the idea of continents and people.”

The smart glass is clear but becomes opaque when charged with electrical current, “like a window turning into a wall.” When left alone, the panes change randomly, but when someone approaches, a motion sensor in the sculpture stops the random sequencing and the viewer can manipulate the panes through touch sensors.

“The sculpture represents that the world is always changing,” Dartt said. “And our interaction with it can have an affect around the world.”

Plans are to install the sculpture between the Engineering Building and the University Union in spring 2010.

Last Updated: 11/26/13