to have a simple spiral shape. But when the magnetic
field around the tower is strengthened, spikes are generated in the ferrofluid; simultaneously, the tower’s surface dynamically changes into a variety of textures—a
soft fluid, a minute moss, spiky shark’s teeth, or a hard
iron surface. The ferrofluid reaches all the way to the
top of the tower, spreading like a fractal and defying
The spikes of the ferrofluid are made to rotate
around the edge of the spiral cone, where they increase
or decrease in size depending on the strength of the
magnetic field. Using a computer, the transformation
and movement of the shape can be controlled along
with its speed and rhythm. The speed of rotation can
be controlled without motors or shaft mechanisms, so
that it works calmly; simply controlled by gravity and
a magnetic field.
The inspiration for my artwork comes from life and
nature. The organic forms and the geometry and symmetry observed in plants and animals are important
inspirational factors when considering kinetic or
shape-changing and potentially interactive art forms.
The manner of movement of animals and other natural materials is also important. The breathing
rhythms of living things is an excellent metaphor for a
texture that dynamically changes over time. One of my
eventual goals is to apply these elements in computer
display design as well.
The continuously changing weather conditions of
the earth are also important motifs. The motifs for the
work Morpho Towers: Two Standing Spirals [ 3], which I
created in collaboration with Yasushi Miyajima of the
Sony Computer Science Laboratory, were ocean, torna-does, and lightning (see Figure 3). Here, a black tornado elegantly dances in sync with music, reflecting the
Japanese concept of comparison. Mimicking natural
phenomena (“mitate” in Japanese) is a method that
works well when trying to understand how natural
shapes occur [ 4]. 1 It permits the comparison of ferrofluid forms to creatures such as sea urchins and jellyfish or to a tornado. Thus, it creates high-tech versions
of the Japanese “Hakoniwa,” boxes with small models
of things and landscapes taken from real-life settings.
When regarded as a ferrofluid display, my sculptures
exhibit principles of Organic User Interface design.
First, their form follows the flow: the entire shape of
the ferrofluid display emerges naturally under the balance of physical forces. In addition, their output may
With Hiroo Iwata of the University of Tsukuba as the leader, some researchers and
artists are proposing “device art,” which understands and uses new materials and electronic mechanical devices in a manner similar to tools.
serve as an input. While ferrofluid displays currently
primarily serve as an output device, the electromagnet
can be used directly as a sensor, allowing the introduction of feedback loops and interactivity in the artworks.
However, what function would be conceivable for
such ferrofluid display? Perhaps the focus should be on
the entertainment or aesthetic aspects of interactive
ferrofluid materials (for example, when applied to carpets or walls), especially if color representation can be
realized on their surface. If we consider the sense of
touch and the elasticity of the ferrofluid, more practical uses of the ferrofluid display might be found. Now
is a time of unprecedented advances in materials science, offering many opportunities to experiment with
various materials for constructing organic figures in
the creation of interactive art. Such figures are created
along a timeline and provide new meanings and new
ways of communication. The fusion of information
technology and material technology will develop even
more in the future, making it possible for them to
eventually transform flexibly, like the interactive 3D
surfaces shown in the movie X-men.
Bits may be transformed into reconfigurable textures and the concept of “bit-texture” may be realized.
Even artificial intelligence may be applied to such substances. Is it possible to imagine that we have a third
skin on the surface of our own body and on tools, furniture, houses, or other products, a skin that senses
information from the environment and its inhabitants,
and that responds by morphing according to its
required function. If this becomes reality, computers
that mimic natural forms may offer a more calm, relaxing, and comfortable user experience. c
1. Couley, M.D. and Rosensweig, R.F. The interfacial stability of a ferromagnetic fluid. J. Fluid. Mech. 30, (1967), 671–688.
2. Kodama, S. Pulsating ferrofluid art. Nikkei Science (Scientific American
Japanese Edition) (Mar. 2007), cover image and p. 30– 41.
3. Kodama, S. and Miyajima, Y. Morpho Tower/Two Standing Spirals. Shown
at WIRED NextFest 2007.
4. Kusahara, M. Device Art—A New Approach in Understanding Japanese
Contemporary Media Art, MediaArtHistories. O. Grau, Ed., MIT Press,
SACHIKO KODAMA ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate
professor at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo.
© 2008 ACM 0001-0782/08/0600 $5.00