Turning energy into color

An art installation that changes based on each person's touch

  • Sep 28, 2023

Introducing Susana Passinhas, a Barcelona-based UX/UI designer from Portugal. In the following interview, she shares her path through Fab Academy, talks about her interest in bioplastics and shares details about her final project, Energetic Hybrid Pod – an art installation that maps one’s conduciveness to colors. 

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. What did you do before you started Fab Academy?
I studied Audiovisual and Multimedia many years ago. That was my first undergraduate degree and then I worked for around seven years as a designer. After that I went to get a Master’s degree in Design and Multimedia. Then I went to Amsterdam to work as a designer and I worked there for five years. And in the meantime, I moved here to Barcelona.

2. How did you find out about Fab Academy?
When I lived in Amsterdam, I got to know Waag Society, which is the Fab Lab of Amsterdam let’s say, and I was really interested in the program at the time. Since then I always felt like one day I wanted to do it. When I moved here, I looked around and I saw that there is a Fab Lab Barcelona here and that’s when I knew.

3. Why did you choose to do the program?
A couple of years ago when I was taking my Master’s degree, I actually learned a little bit about processing and Arduino and was quite fascinated about this stuff. I thought this program would give me what I was looking for, which is the foundations and how to work with some machines and with electronics, really understand sensors and all of this stuff.

4. When did you decide it was the right time to apply?
Last year in the summer I quit my job and I decided to do sort of a sabbatical. At the same time, I also applied for a scholarship here from IAAC to do the Fab Academy and I got it. So that was my trigger.

5. What is it like being back to school for six months?
It’s really nice. I’ve had this experience before. I was working around seven or eight years and I also quit my job and I went to get my masters. So it was kind of the same thing but this time, it was not two years, it was just six months. It’s really good to be back to school. I really love to learn. I like the rhythm. I like to be practical, to be creative. It’s really fun.

6. Which ones out of all the projects you did in Fab Academy were your favorites?
I think I liked everything! In particular, I really like electronic sensors so input week and output week. Also molding and casting. I really liked working with the embroidering machine as well. I think the only thing that was a bit more tense for me to work with was the big machine, the CNC. But it was also an interesting challenge for sure.

Discover how Susana and other Fab Academy students
experienced the dynamic program weekly here.

7. Did something go wrong during the six months?
I wouldn’t say something went wrong but I would say there were weeks that were more challenging. Definitely working with the CNC machine even though I actually did all my assignments in one week. But the one assignment I couldn’t do in one week was the one where I had to produce my PCB board, my circuit board. And that one that I had to solder the first time, the circuit needed to be nice and so on. That one took me two weeks actually, it was the most challenging one. But after that, all the PCBs that I did went well so I think it was a good lesson.

8. When did you realize you got an idea for your final project?
My idea has been the same since the beginning. I started with the idea that everything is energy and I really wanted to explore how energy could control things or give an input to an output in this case. I just basically evolved my idea as I was learning through the weeks. As I was getting more solid knowledge about things, I also consolidated my idea more so I ended up doing pretty much what I wanted in the beginning.

9. How did Fab Academy contribute to the development of your idea?
It gave me solid foundations in terms of knowledge and knowing what I was doing, how things work. I remember looking into my circuit and have things working and thinking, wow, I know everything about how they are working and that was pretty cool.

10. Could you describe your final project?
My final project is an art installation called the Energetic Hybrid Pod. It’s an object that is very organic so it’s inviting you to touch it and as you touch it, it captures your values because we are conductive. We can conduct energy, voltage through us and the installation maps these values through a color. So when you are playing with it, there are gonna be different colors displayed depending on each person’s capacitive touch. Everybody will have a different result.

11. What techniques did you use to create it?
I used additive and subtractive manufacturing. I used 3D printing, laser cutting. I also used the small CNC milling to do my PCB board. I soldered, I used software to do everything – Blender, Inkscape, KiCad, a little bit of Rhino at some point as well.

12. Did the other Fab Academy students help you in prototyping your idea?
I actually prototyped the idea myself. Of course, you always have some input from the instructors but my approach through the entire Fab Academy was to actually start by myself and use boards that already exist like Arduino boards or the Barduino, which is the board that we have here and play with, and try to figure out things myself. And then I do my own board. Only if I struggle, then I go to the instructors but I like to start myself.

13. How do you imagine your project developing after Fab Academy?
I would like it to be exposed in some artistic facilities where people could interact with it because I think it’s very playful. I also thought about making it into something more commercial. It could be a lamp that you have at home that lights up when you put your hand or whenever you put something conductive on it, like a strawberry, for example, is enough to light it up.

14. How do you see yourself after you graduate?
I’m still going to continue to be a designer, a UX/UI designer because I really love it, but now I have more to it because before I always had to think about solutions within what I knew what to do. I knew how to design apps, websites and so on, but now I can do basically anything my users need for whatever problem they have. That’s a big thing. 

15. Do you feel that you’re now part of a network with the other Fab Academy students?
Yes! I think it’s a niche actually. Not so many people know how to work with all these machines and have the access to all of these things. I think it’s a very strong community in that sense and everybody supports each other.

16. Who would you recommend Fab Academy to?
Anybody that is curious, wants to know more, explore, challenge themselves. Definitely they need to have a little bit of background or know a little bit at least about 3D or electronics, just a little bit at least. But as long as you are curious and you want to challenge yourself, I think this is for everybody.

Curious to know more about Fab Academy?
Find all details about it here

Sep 28, 2023