“Care is accustomed to act, to take the initiative, to stake its claims, yet powerlessness and even helplessness are as intrinsic to the lived experience of care"
-Robert Pogue Harrison. Gardens, an essay on human nature.

Circles of Care is a multimedia immersive installation that explores the subject of care and how acts of care are transformative forces on our environment.

Multimedia Immersive Installation
Director  •  Experience Designer •  Animator •  Installation Artist
Sound Designer:
Giovanni Betancourt
Visitors enter a specially constructed space where a minimalist sculpture at the center of the piece invites the participants to interact with the installation to trigger a visual music piece that envelops the participants. The visual music is affected by the hand gestures of the participants, who through “caring” hand gestures (caressing, rubbing, holding...) become the “Caretakers” of the piece, which unfolds as a process of growth and decay.
mY approach

At the center of the Circle of Care is the idea that taking care of a living system, whether it is a creature, a garden or another person, gives order to the life of those who take care. In order to the bring forth this idea we followed Ang Lee design triad: Simplify, Focus Magnify

The Challenge
One of the project challenges was to create an experience in which, in a limited time span, participants could create a relationship of care-taking with the installation. From the beginning it became clear that the most direct interface of care we could use were the hands and hand gestures. That’s how we came to the idea of triggering the visual and sound elements of the piece using touch, and most specifically "care" touch gestures.

Developing the interface to capture the connection between the participants and the space was central to the piece and was one of the first elements we tackled. In a first iteration, projection mapping and hand tracking using Leap Motion was used to create a sort of "device-less" AR experience. A set of gestures of the participants would be used to trigger the blooming of a flower that would grow on their hands. However, as we playtested this prototype it became evident that a simpler interface made more sense in order to create an effective experience.
In a first iteration of the interface we used Leap Motion and Projection Mapping to capture the gestures of the participants. However, during playtests, this approach came as too convoluted to actually be immersive.

Our objective in this point was to come up with a more direct interface where touch gestures came naturally allowing the participants to immerse themselves in the piece in a more effective way.

After multiple tests we went with a garden gazing ball as our main a single input for interaction for a couple reasons: In the first place, for any experience gardener the ball was a direct reference to a Garden: an organized system, constituted by multiple living and nonliving elements and that is created and maintained through constant processes of care and nurture. Secondly, the sphere became a central point of the piece were both the participants and the environment were reflected: when participants are caressing the sphere, they are not only “touching” the space, but they are also “touching” their reflections and those who are around the sphere, turning themselves part of the living system they are taking care of.

Additionally, the gazing ball material conditions, allowed us to create a capacitive sensor that then was connected to TouchDesigner. Using multiple math operations inside touch I was able to create a complex system where the length of the touch and the amount of people interacting with the sphere were used as variables to trigger the visual music, using a single input.
I used TouchDesigner, A Makey Makey Go and a custom Arduino Sensor to build the system that triggers the visuals and music of the installation.

Changes in the interface meant logical changes in the whole installation. From the beginning the idea of a circular space where the participants meet in a circle to take care of the installation was present. I also had a very strong intuition regarding projection mapping over the participants in the space. However, when we moved from the 3 leap motions in a circular arrange to a single gazing ball in the middle, the projection mapping itself became a central element of the whole experience. We had found a way to simplify and focus our attention, now we needed to magnify the effects of each action on the space.

To the left, Initial gallery Technical Ryder and Layout VS to the right, final Technical Ryder and Layout

At the base of the image making process was the idea of a “living organism”. It was important to find a visual language that was both abstract and organic, and that could evoke easily that the installation was a growing and developing being. To achieve such effect I used a procedural approach using analog under-the-camera animation with inks, oils, alcohols, etc. combined with  digital image editing and re-timing. This process resulted in an animation that felt familiar and strange at the same time, evoking the characteristics of a living system, without pointing to any specific living organism in particular.

In the installation itself, the animation is triggered in a layered way by hand gestures. How much impact does a participant has in the development of the piece depends on which stage of the "life" of the system they are acting over. During the initial minutes of the piece, touch is critical to make the organism grow and develop, but as the piece moves along the actions of the participants are less and less influential on the development of the animation, arriving finally to the inevitable death of the system.  During this process, the participants are standing between two projections of the system, inhabiting the space they create with their touch, magnifying the idea that caring for the piece has a direct effect on the environment they stand on.

Styleframes of the Animation projected during the piece,

Circles of Care was presented as my MFA graduation thesis from the program of Animation and Digital Arts of the University of Southern California. This project was possible with the support of the International Artist Fellowship and the Annenberg Fellowship from the University of Southern California.

  • Reflection Points | May 2019  | Los Angeles , CA
  • Baker's Dozen | September 2020 | Torrance Art Museum | Torrance, CA
  • Shortlisted | Lumen Art and Technology Award | September 2020