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Home » Please Touch the Art: Jen Lewin at TEDxMileHigh (Full Transcript)

Please Touch the Art: Jen Lewin at TEDxMileHigh (Full Transcript)


I thought I would start at the beginning, or at least at my beginning I grew up in Maui, in up-country Ko’olau. This is a view of a place that was pretty close to my house. I could be found here running around barefoot, climbing trees; I was a tomboy. I was also trained as a classical ballerina. My mom was a dancer. But most of the time, I was basically daydreaming and looking out over this expansive view of moving lights and moving clouds.

In third grade, in 1983, my public school took on a program called Logo, and the implementation of Logo in schools was the brainchild of Hal Abelson. It was this great program where, as a kid, you could learn to program to draw. You would program and move this small cursor, or turtle, around a screen, and draw pictures. For me, this was profound. I could use a computer to make art; I could program to make art.

Later in my life, I studied a lot of different things. I studied architecture, I studied form, I studied dance, I studied music, I studied film. But I also studied mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science, and I rather stubbornly insisted on doing all of these things always at the same time. This is an example of some of my early work. What you’re looking at is an up-close view of a form that I created.

I painted this; it’s painted silk; I wove electronics through it. I created my own circuit boards, and I created a giant, robotic butterfly that you could dance with. You could walk up to each of the wings, and they would move away from you at the same rate you move towards them, and you’d have this wonderful experience with this huge robotic creature. I learned very quickly that light is really, really important. You can use light to bring people into a piece, and you can take them from being not just a viewer, but a participant, and maybe even an actor.

This is a piece that I also built a few years after the butterfly, and you’re looking at some giant robotic moths. In this piece, there’s an orb that you touch. If you touch it, it senses capacitance and starts to strobe, and then it wirelessly talks to the moth up in the air, and sets it into flight. Now, obviously, it’s not a coincidence in this piece that I’m using light, and this is a sculpture about moths. But for me, there was something really beautiful and ethereal about this, and I loved that I really could bring people to the piece.

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