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 perma.cc link (https://perma.cc/79JP-AGY6) 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.