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CTRL_DAT

a mechanical flipdigits display with a pre-coded custom board assembled in a black steel case of 20cm × 20cm × 7cm size. 2022

CTRL_DAT, a limited series of 5 phygital sculptures, is a study about time used as a base factor in the generative art field. In one year loops, every minute, the sculpture generates a new composition, covering a number of 525 600 unrepeatable compositions in total (365 days × 24 hours × 60 minutes). Each sculpture has a unique built-in key to assure a different set of results.

You can buy CTRL_DAT (sculpture + instruction paper + NFT) by contacting Kate Vass Galerie

recorded at 60x speed

CTRL_DAT is a part of the PHYGITAL exhibition (www.phygital.codes) run by Kate Vass Galerie from Zurich, CH.

Digital – the generative system

One of the key principles of my usual generative works is a study of randomness and noise. Most of the pieces start with random impulses, which are later reinterpreted due to a pre-coded set of rules, to produce new, surprising results in every run of a program. I try to create an impression of a living thing by controlling chaotic signals in a logical way. It means that random numbers are the seeds for the work, making their existence alive and organic.

In CTRL_DAT my goal was to involve date and time into the creative process. I wanted to try to control the results in a long time range, with surprising, but also predictable outcome. I decided to design and code a year-long sequence of unrepeatable results that changes every minute.

First I picked 70 7-segment shapes:

...and then generated all symmetrical A/B patterns of 7×3 grid (there are 127 of them).

CTRL_DAT – patterns

Using a pair of the shapes (but not the same) gave me over 600 000 possible combinations. The challenge was then to put them in such an order so they didn’t repeat. My initial idea was to store all already shown compositions and just avoid them, but then the first limitation appeared – the memory of the controller (32KB). I had to minimize the use of it, so I decided to divide all of the possible A×B×C combinations (70×70×128) to sectors of 10×10×16, which let me cover the number of minutes in a day (1440) for 392 days.

I needed a seperate path generator for a 3D array of 10×10×16, that followed the rules: it had to cover all of the points, and in every step it could move only in one direction. The generated path turned out to be the unique key I was looking for, distinctive for every sculpture. It means that every sculpture repeats its own daily path, but every day using a different set of shapes and patterns. Also, the order of shapes and patterns shuffles after every reconnection of power.

The sculpture operates in 2 modes: as a timer or as a clock. The bottom row of the display is the time indicator in DDDHHMM format (DDD is a sum of days in a year). You can switch between the modes by pressing the button on the back. By holding the button you can restart the timer or update the clock. The full instruction is printed, signed and attachted to the sculpture.

CTRL_DAT – instruction paper

Physical – the medium

I’ve been fascinated by the analog means of presenting a digital work for a long time. Programming a physical thing seems more expressive to me, more natural. It’s there – as a real, self-standing, complete piece of work, with its own body structure and soul. Understanding a medium is as important to me as the coding part.

The CTRL_DAT sculpture consists of a screen, a custom board, and a steel case.

The screen is a mechanical flipdigits display produced by AlfaZeta, built out of 7-segment digits in a 7×4 grid. These types of screens are used for informational purposes, ie. at airports or at train stations, due to good visibility in strong light and low power consumption (energy is needed only to change a state).

The sound comes from the moving mechanical parts.

The custom PCB board, designed and assembled by Jakub Kirklewski, is a heart of the project, since it runs the operating algorithm. The board includes a microcontroller (Arduino Nano in this case), a power converter (24V to 5V), a RS485 signal converter and a RTC module (a clock). The size and the shape of the board was designed to fit the back of the display.

CTRL_DAT – custom PCB board by Jakub Kirklewski (project) CTRL_DAT – custom PCB board by Jakub Kirklewski CTRL_DAT – custom PCB board by Jakub Kirklewski

The solid case is also a custom project, hand made out of black steel, and black powder coated – built by Fundacja Cumy (Blanka Byrwa and Paweł Gałązka). It has a central input for a power plug, and a switch button.

CTRL_DAT – custom steel case production CTRL_DAT – custom steel case production CTRL_DAT – custom steel case production

How to get one of these

If you’re interested in getting one of the CTRL_DAT sculptures, please contact Kate Vass Galerie or visit the collection page on foundation app.