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This Gorgeous Light Installation Replicates Waves Breaking on Dry Land

Chinese artist Jiayu Liu’s new installation ‘Ocean Wave’ is a gigantic data visualization of waves crashing on the shore.

A number of elegant mathematical formulae try to demystify the movement of breaking waves, which wash ashore then recede back into the ocean. In the recent installation Ocean Wave, at this year's Kinetica Art Fair in London, Chinese new media artist Jiayu Liu visualized the data of this natural process by creating a real-time, light-based installation that replicated ocean waves hitting a shoreline. Liu is known for highly conceptual and evocative light installations, like her Avatar-esque magical forest and simulated icebergs in a tropical Chinese garden, and Ocean Wave is similarly entrancing as a thoughtful audiovisual work.

Liu's installation features multiple tracks outfitted with motorized, glowing blue squares that contain printed circuit boards. Using data captured from a camera's sensors over three to five seconds, then fed into software, Liu's light blocks moved along tracks according to the changing edge of the waves captured in China. Supplementing the data visualization was the real-time sound of waves recorded on site.

Normal exposure of Ocean Wave. All images courtesy the artist.

Liu tells Creators that her idea was simple: she wanted to use cameras to capture an "infographic" from the waves. The work is, as she says, part of her constant interest in not only representing the natural world in her artworks in introspective ways, but augmenting them with various types of technology.

To create Ocean Wave, Liu used openCV library and a custom algorithm to extract data from the edge of the wave in real-time. The electromechanical control system (written in C#) communicated with wave detection software through Websocket, while the 50 sliding motors—which ran along customized 100% carbon fiber tubes—were controlled by CAN software.

A long exposure of 'Ocean Wave'.

"To visualize more accurate shapes of the bubbles generated by the wave, the lighting needed to be constantly adjusted based on the real-time changes of the waves," Liu explains. "The lighting system was installed on the moving slider, and it couldn't be connected through cables [so] we used wireless communication through two antennas to cover the entire physical space."

As Liu explains, the system presents multiple gradients of blue in the light blocks, which are coordinated with the breaking waves' different positions. Liu says that this, combined with the use of multiple contexts, was meant to create a strong foundation of multidimensional thinking.

"The piece explores the intricacies and multiple relationships as well as the layers between humans and nature," Liu notes. "Additionally, [it explores] the complex perspective and notions held by people in which to observe nature."

A long exposure of 'Ocean Wave'.

"Due to the capability of the webcam (it cannot capture images in the dark) and time difference between China and the UK, it kept capturing and sending real-time images [between the two locations] during the daytime in China," she adds. "The data was stored in the hard drive of the installation for eight hours, waiting to be played after the exhibition opened every day."

Liu says that some members of the audience described Ocean Wave as creating the effect of real-time waves emerging from the gallery. Another viewer suggested Liu project actual footage of the beach and waves. Though Liu paired the installation with video projection during studio tests, she ultimately decided against this for the exhibition, preferring instead to leave some things to the imagination.

As expected, Liu is already at work on her next project. All she will say is that she is currently trying to create flowers blossoming from cliffs.

Click here to see more of Jiayu Liu's work.

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