Minjun Chen

Approaching Chaos


Approaching Chaos is an art installation that engenders inspirations in library spaces, sparking people’s imagination and willingness to explore as they sit down and start a search. 

Project Type: Interactive Installation, Physical Computing, 1 week

Teammate: Minjun Chen, Sarah Outhwaite

My Role: Prototyping, Video Production

Approaching Chaos


Standing at a distance, you see a constellation of swirling, color-changing letters projected in a flocking pattern behind the library terminal.

As you walk toward the table, the swirling letters become less chaotic and more ordered. When you finally reach and sit down at the library terminal, the image stabilizes. You can read the Nietzsche quote.

“One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.”

--Friedrich Nietzsche

Once you finish working at the terminal and move away, the letters start to flock and swirl again. The video mirror becomes chaotic, with reflected colors and font sizes moving to different locations while maintaining their correspondence to the base video.

01 Interactive Experience


02 Behind the Scenes

We individually built and debugged the circuit, Arduino code, processing code, and then brought each component together.

The prototype used two sensors: 

  • A live camera is placed at the top of the library terminal, on level with the user’s face

  • An ultrasonic distance sensor embedded into the edge of the table, on level with the user’s stomach when they sit down.

The prototype’s physical form extends the edge of a small white table with a foamcore rectangle. The Processing sketch maps the Nietzsche quote over available space in an orderly grid. Color data from the live video is passed into this grid, determining the color and size of each individual letter. Once the video mirror is established, a flocking behavior is passed to each individual character. 

Analog data from the distance sensor mediates the level of “chaos” present in the display. Based on the distance measurement, the sketch renders each character at a variable point between its calculated flocking location and original grid position. At maximum distance, the characters engage in full flocking behavior. At minimum distance, the character engages in no flocking behavior - returning the video mirror to its initial grid. This portion of the code is original.


I saw the physical computing strength by extending my elevator installation going for beyond purely psychological activity, allowing for multiple sensory experiences.

At the same time, using the analog inputs slowed us down. It took far more time to prototype the sensor-based aspects of our installation than the digital aspects, and they limited the accuracy of the responsive experience. 

03 Reflection