The moon upon its fourteenth night

An interactive, life-sized sculpture with embedded audio components that plays a story from the 1001 Nights when a person approaches.

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This sculpture was conceived as part of "To Be Continued: Troubling the Queer Archive", an exhibition set to open September 16th in a semi-virtual form at Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa, Canada. The show examines non-Western Queer histories, and so my premise was to create this life-sized, humanoid, electrically powered archive of LGBTQ identities in Middle Eastern history.

The audio (emitted from a lil' speaker in the mouth) tells a story of gender transformation and same-sex desire dating as far back as 14th century Syria. The sculpture uses a capacitive sensor to determine a viewer's's distance and adjusts the clarity of the audio accordingly, so that you have to get very close to it to hear the story, creating a kind of physical intimacy between the viewer and the sculpture's strange, androgynous form.

I used the visual reference to henna -- a very interpersonal, bodily art practice --  to make a conductive surface out of copper tape and conductive pigments on the arms. This works as an antenna for a capacitive sensor, which, in turn, controls the clarity of the audio that emits from the speaker in the figure's mouth. It does this by mixing two audio files; one that just contains the story audio, and one that contains only noise. The closer you get, the higher the signal-to-noise ratio, the clearer the sound. The Teensy 3.6 was great for this, with its hardware-based capacitive sensing function, and, along with the audio shield, its capacity for polyphonic mixing and playback.

The audio tells the story of Qamar-al-Zaman and Princess Budour from the famed 1001 Nights. With records dating back to the 14th century Middle East (parts of it even goes back as far as the 9th c.!!), it tells a fun, raunchy tale of gender-bending and same-sex desire, as well as misunderstandings, adventure, and mischievous Jinn. It challenges the way gender norms in Muslim history are understood, and to hear it, you need to get very physically close to the sculpture, generating a kind of intimacy with your body’s intrinsic electric capacitance and the sculpture's androgynous form and many limbs.

While this was initially conceived as a directly touchable artwork, it was re-thought a bit due to the pandemic. I ended up using distance- instead of touch-sensing to perform the audio mixing function without, y’know, risking people’s lives.

To preserve the project archive, I created a link ( with the repository containing the project audio, story text, code, schematic, and various forms of photo documentation, all of which can be accessed through the QR code on the figure’s belly. 

In my mind, this figure is a sort of time traveller from a future in which gender and sexual identity is freely determined, sent back in time to tell us of a part of our history which we’ve forgotten. This is part of why it’s covered in crystals, which are used for timekeeping: I think of its body and our bodies as historical archives in their own right, accessed though intimacy, connection, and the intrinsic capacitance they create.

Additional views:

Front view
Front view; QR code visible on the belly
Back view
Clear plexiglass case with electronics, speaker + power cables


Project code. Very straightforward; the capacitive sensor reads distance, which translates to the volume of two different audio files. The closer you get, clearer the audio (i.e., less of the 'noise' file)

ino - 4.61 kB - 09/13/2020 at 21:03


project schematic.fzz

Electronics schematic, WIP. I had lots of trouble getting the audio loud and clear enough, still not satisfied with it!

fzz - 137.18 kB - 09/13/2020 at 20:58



JPG of the project schematic.

JPEG Image - 832.27 kB - 09/13/2020 at 20:58



Text of the story that is told by the sculpture.

document - 45.74 kB - 09/13/2020 at 20:58



The 3d model I made before I started the sculpture. I 'sliced' this into pieced and cut them out of foam for the sculpture's core.

obj - 13.84 MB - 09/13/2020 at 20:59


View all 7 files

  • 1 × Teensy 3.6 The microcontroller that does all the work. Has hardware based capacitive sensing and great audio handling capabilities.
  • 1 × Teensy Audio Shield. Processed the audio: mixes the story file with the noise file based on the sensor reading (i.e. distance)
  • 1 × Copper tape + conductive pigment From the teensy down the arm, acts as an antenna for the CapSense
  • 1 × PAM8302A Audio ICs / Audio Amplifiers. To enlouden.
  • 2 × Capacitors One large (~100uf) one small (~100pf) between the amp's Vin & GND as a decoupling filter.

View all 8 components

View all 2 project logs

  • 1
    3d sketch

    Create a 3d model to use as a reference for the figure.

  • 2
    'Slice' the model

    I used IceSL-Slicer to 'slice' the 3d model into 1" thick flat pieces.

  • 3
    Cut out of foam

    I then cut these pieces out of foam, stacked and glued them.

View all 10 instructions

Enjoy this project?



Sophi Kravitz wrote 10/05/2020 at 15:06 point

I love this concept and the foam process execution is A++, thank you for sharing this here.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Pansee Atta wrote 10/10/2020 at 02:58 point

Thanks! I really appreciate it :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

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