How to Build an Interactive Performance Suit Called Proximity Cinéma

Introduction: How to Build an Interactive Performance Suit Called Proximity Cinéma

About: Tiffany Trenda is a new media performance artist based out of New York and Los Angeles. She received her BFA from Art Center College of Design and her MFA from the University of California Los Angeles, Desig...

"Proximity Cinéma"Concept

"Proximity Cinéma" is a live performance based off of the 1968 artwork by Valie Export called "Tap and Touch Cinéma". "Tap and Touch Cinéma" was considered one of the most provocative feminist pieces and was performed all over the world. Waltraud Hollinger (the artist) wore a cardboard box with a curtain. This allowed the public to touch her breasts. Hollinger would also look deep into the eyes of the person in front of her while they caressed her bare skin. The performance commented on the male gaze in cinematic history and how it created the fetishized woman. That is, the female body in cinema was objectified for male pleasure and Hollinger explored this obsession in her performances.

While Hollinger comments on the gaze of the cinema, I focused on the objectification of the female body through cell phones. Instead of the male's gaze, women are now creating images for the Internet's gaze by posting self portraits on social media.

Not only has the notion of the gaze changed throughout cinematic history, but the idea of touch has been challenged. Originally “touch,” meant skin-to-skin. Now it refers to human to screen contact using our smart phones, iPads, or tablets. Therefore, our devices are transforming our words, our behaivors, and our interactions.

I proposed to create a similar intimate experience as Hollinger's but instead of a cardboard box, I used cell phone screens. The audience was given the opportunity to either touch my body or a screen. More often, the audience preferred to touch a monitor. So, we feel more comfortable in touching a machine rather then a human body, or female body.


I created a synthetic suit with thirty-eight small 2.6” LCD screens. The images on these devices would change by either touching the screens or from the proximity sensors found on the suit. Using the touch screen, the audience would see images of my body. Depending on how close they were to me (using proximity sensors), different text would read on the monitors: "Go Ahead", "It's OK", and "Don't Worry About It". During the performance, I would hug, caress, and touch the public.

So, let's get started and create...

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Step 1: Gather Your Tools and Materials

First, you will need to gather your material. Here is a list of items you will need to have for this project:

- (14) Infrared Proximity Sensors - Make sure to purchase fourteen infrared sensors that are small, that are easy to attach to clothing, and have an output of around 10cm - 80cm or more. I used Infrared Proximity Sensor - Sharp GP2Y0A21YK from Sparkfun.

- (38) EZLCD-301 2.6 TFT Touchscreen Serial USB Smart LCD - You will need to buy thirty-eight smart LCD screens at EarthLCD.

- (25 feet) Flexible silicon wire - I recommend to purchase five colors. Each will color will need to be approximately twenty-five feet.

- (20) Yellow Car Fuse Blades - You will need four yellow 20 Amp fuses.

- Heat Shrink Wrap - This is to protect the connections and it's best to purchase different sizes (1/8 - 1/2 inch).

- (2) Switches - purchase two switches. There are many different types. Make sure the voltage is correct. I prefer to use one that is harder to switch on and off. An audience member may hug you during a performance and turn you off accidently. Don't let this happen! It's embarrassing. ;D So, chose a switch wisely. I purchased this one at Allied Electronics.

- (38) 6 Pin Connectors

- (15) yards of Fabric - You will need to purchase fifteen yards of four-way stretch fabric. Make sure the fabric is durable because the weight of the screens will put stress on the suit.

- Velcro - Do not get strong industrial velcro that you find at Home Depot. Instead, purchase a velcro that is from a fabric store.

- (2) 600 mAh 35C Small LiPoBatteries - You can purchase these batteries at E Hobby House.
- (2) LiPo Large Batteries - I purchased two Turnigy nano-tech A-SPEC 6000mah 1S 65~130C Hardcase Lipo Pack from Hobby King.

- (2) Small Battery Chargers - There are many Lipo charges out there and you don't need to purchase all three chargers. I preferred to minimize the time it took to charge them. So, I purchased two Celectra Variable Rate DC 1-Cell LiPo Chargers by E-flite at Hobby Town. I connected them together.

- (1) Large Battery Charger - I highly recommend purchasing Hitec X1 AC Plus Single Port AC/DC charger.

- (1) Soldering Gun and wire

- (1) Heat Gun

- (1) Wire Stripper

- (1) Sewing Machine

- (1) Fabric Scissors

Step 2: Plan

It's important to create a sketch to outline your electronics. You will need to plan out where your sensors, screens, and batteries will be located on your suit. The left and right sides of the suit are connected to two separate batteries that are found in a backpack. Each of the lower legs has their own small battery. Then I planned out a module of four screens to one sensor and a module of two screens with one sensor. Lastly, I drew out the channels on the suit where the wires would be hidden.

Step 3: Take Off the White Connector on the EzLCD

For the screens to lay flat on your body, you will need to take off the white connector on the back of the ezLCD. To do this, you will need to:

1. Un-solder sixteen connections.

2. Cut five wires to length (black, red, green, and white).

3. Re-solder twelve ends.

4. Hot glue the back of each screen. This will prevent the wires from disconnecting.

The three wires will be for the proximity sensor while the other two wires will be for the power (red and black). Please see the attached photos for the placement of the wires on each pin.

* Remember to keep the color of your wires consistent throughout all of the wiring.

Do this for all thirty-eight screens.

Step 4: Connect the Five Wires to a Female Connector and Wire the Sensor

Connect the five wires to female connectors

1. Strip the 5 pieces of wire with wire cutters.

2. Place the wires inside the connectors. There will be a female and male portion. I placed the female part to each screen.

Complete this for all thirty-eight screens.

Wire the sensor

The sharp sensor does not come wired. So, you will need to wire it. Please see the image for the placement of the three wires. Complete this for all thirteen sharp sensors.

Step 5: Programming EzLCD and Sharp Sensor

You can download the Aruduino program here.

Here is the Arduino Code for the Proximity Sensor:
//collects data from an analog sensor int sensorpin = 0; // analog pin used to connect the sharp sensor int val = 0; // variable to store the values from sensor(initially zero) void setup() { Serial.begin(9600); // starts the serial monitor } void loop() { val = analogRead(sensorpin); // reads the value of the sharp sensor Serial.println(val); // prints the value of the sensor to the serial monitor delay(400); // wait for this much time before printing next value }

I found that this tutorial to helpful in setting up the Sharp GP2Y0A21YK sensor.

Here is how to program the ezLCD:

1. Plug the ezLCD to a computer using a development cable that is included with purchasing an ezLCD.

2. An autoplay window will pop up on your computer. The ezLCD will turn on and show their logo on the scren. If the splash screen did not show up, then you will need to search for the ports. Click on the ports and you will need to update the driver software. This will allow you to connect.

3. Go back into the autoplay window and find the terminal icon.

4. Drag the terminal icon onto your desktop. Do not run the terminal on the ezLCD!

5. Open the terminal program and make sure you are on the ezLCD port.

6. If ezLCD is still not working, you may need to download the latest firmware found here.

7. Now we will create text. Open a text editor (Microsoft Word, notepad…).

8. Type the commands into one file.

9. I created a script with two basic functions:

A. Respond to changes in the analog input (io 2) by displaying different phrases in a custom font. These phrases included: “Go Ahead”, “It’s OK”, and “Don’t Worry About It”.

B. React to touch (polling the “touches” variable) by displaying an image. Each image is a different photo showing the part of my body where the screen would be.

Step 6: Layout the Electronics

After you have finished taking off the connectors on the monitors, programming the ezLCD screens, and wiring the sensors; you will need to lay them out on a large sheet of paper. I used brown paper from Home Depot. I drew out the suit and placed the electronics in the appropriate places.

Step 7: Create the Bodysuit

Measurements and pattern

1. Take measurements - You will need to measure the upper arm, the sleeve length, hips, thigh, waist, chest, neck, and inseam.

2. You will need to purchase a catsuit pattern (use A). However, you will need to move the zipper from the front to the back. If you are an experienced pattern maker, then feel free to make your own.

Create a muslin

1. Read the directions on the pattern.

2. Cut out the pattern along the cutting lines (these are usually a thick line).

3. Check to see if it has seam allowances. Since you are creating a muslin first, you can always adjust this after for the final suit.

4. Take note of the grain lines. The arrows on the patterns will tell you which direction the paper should lay over the grain of the fabric.

5. You will need to check for the following: sewing, dart, zipper (usually marked with a zig zag), lengthening and shortening lines.

6. Mark the fabric using chalk. You may want to label each piece so you won't get confused when sewing them together.

7. Carefully cut along the chalked lines.

8. Then sew the appropriate pieces together.

Fitting and planning

1. You will need to draw on the muslin using a black marker. Make sure to draw out the channels for the wires, the frames for the screen, and and the sensors.

2. Try on the muslin and see if it fits properly. If not, you will need to make proper adjustments for the final suit.

Final suit

1. Once you have created the proper adjustments, you can sew the final catsuit.

Step 8: Create the Channels for the Wires, Squares for the Sensors, and Frames for the EzLCDs

To Get Started

Now that you have your catsuit, you will need to sew all of the textured elements. I used a type of tucking called a pin tuck. This allowed for me to hide the wires in the suit.

Pin tucks are sewn closer together so you will need to be aware of the stitching and spacing. It's best to make a few samples to see what machine setting works best.

This tutorial can be useful in learning how to create a pin tuck:

Frames for ezLCD

You will need to make thirty-eight frames for the ezLCDs using the pin tuck process.

1. First sew two 1/4" pin tuck 2.7" long.

2. Then sew two 1/4" pin tuck 1.62" long.

3. Then sew the four pieces together into a frame.

Channels for the wires

1. Please see Image A. This shows the location of the different channels (the channels that will hide the wires). Measure your body for each channel. You should have about 23-25 channels.

2. Then make 23-25 strips of material using the pin tuck process.

3. Then you are ready to sew the channels onto your catsuit. I highly recommend sewing some velcro in the channels. This will help you to snake the wires in later. Here is a helpful tutorial for sewing velcro:

4. Now you will sew the frames of the ezLCDs onto the suit.

Squares for the sharp sensors

1. Lastly, you can either sew a few squares onto the suit to house the sensors or you can sew the sensors directly onto the suit. If you decide to sew them in, you will need to do this now.

Step 9: Make a Backpack to House the Batteries

You will need to either purchase a backpack or build one. I built one using cardboard and some craft materials. I highly recommend to cover the backpack with the same material as your suit. The interior of the backpack should be lined with anti-static foam to protect the batteries.

Here is a tutorial on how to build your own backpack:

Step 10: Add the EzLCDs, Sensors, and Wires Into the Suit

1. You will need to snake the wires into the suit. Some of the areas are going to get complicated. So, I suggest taping (with electrical tape) the wire to a pen or pencil. This will assist in snaking the wires through the longer areas of the fabric.

* Do not make the wires to the exact measurements of the channels. Instead add a little extra room to account for the movement of the body.

* Remember to keep the colors of your wires the same (black and red for power...) throughout this process.

2. Add the male connectors on the wires where the ezLCDs will be.

3. Place the sensors into the squares on the suit (unless they are already sewn in) and solder the wires.

4. Use shrink wrap to protect the connections of the wires. You will need a heat gun for this step. If you need help with this, here is a tutorial:

5. Add the ezLCD screens into the frames and connect the female to the male connectors.

6. Don't forget to place the fuses onto the four wires that will hook into the batteries.

Step 11: Plug and Perform

1. Charge your batteries.

2. Plug the wires into the batteries.

3. You are ready to perform! Don't forget to have fun. ;)

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    4 Discussions


    Reply 3 years ago



    3 years ago

    Nice project, strong statement


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you so much! :)