reflected | refracted

Have you ever wanted to swim in a pool of light? Drift in a sea of colors? 

reflected | refracted is a study in volumetric color space, and was shown at the DANM MFA Open Studios in Fall 2017.

The room is alive!

reflected | refracted is an invitation to explore and embody an immersive, volumetric color space.

Existing at the intersection of computer vision and physical computing, this installation challenges existing notions of human-computer interaction.

Through synchronized movement with technology, you reshape the complexion and memory of yourself and others.

reflected | refracted is part of a larger research effort exploring the relationship between color and embodiment, responsive environments, and how we can spatialize and play with color.

Credit: UC BERKELEY,  CS 184 Color Spaces

Credit: UC BERKELEY, CS 184 Color Spaces


This project was initially conceived as a playful meditation on the acting exercise, Mirror, where participants could synchronize their movements with a live feedback color system. My objective was to prototype a system that used the positional data of trackers to visualize the hand/wrist movement of the participants in 3D-RGB color space. 

reflected | refracted is an exploration on how humans react to color as a mood-setting tool, how we embody color, and how synchronized movement in a social games can invoke an interactive mindful practice. Some of my research questions included: 

  • How can color and memory effect gameplay?

  • How does lighting as an environmental factor influence the pace of the game-as-system? (From gradients to hard color switching.)

  • Can lighting be an effective tool for modifying movement?

  • Are there patterns in the gestures/movements in relation to the 3D RGB color-space?

Screenshot 2018-01-28 16.26.28.png


More and more we find ourselves immersed in our screens -- from the computer to our mobile phones -- in out-of-body distracted experiences. reflected | refracted encourages participants to come back to their body with an emphasis on slow, meditative movement. Through this embodiment, there is a return to presence in the physical world around you. 

In the future, there will be an even greater market of consumable content on ‘immersible’ virtual reality screens. Perhaps the VR-headset will become ubiquitous, and our everyday interactions will be mediated by a virtual overlay. We’ll watch TV, order on Amazon, and participate in a ‘third life’ of seemingly limitless possibilities. What of the body? Will we let ourselves rot in submission to the virtual machine? Consumed by the addiction and desire of catchy jingles and flashy marketing? My assumption is that we will not. The life span on “virtual reality” -- as defined by headset overlays and popular gaming -- will be shorter than we imagine. The nausea and vertigo will get the better of our bodies, and we find ourselves instead in mixed-reality worlds and embedded interactive systems that provide ephemeral, haptic feedback for our interactions.




It was awesome to hear so many people reacting positively to reflected | refracted, despite my own insecurities about how simple the installation looked. It was really nice to hear how joyful and relaxed the experience made people feel. Someone even said that it felt like therapy for them! During Open Studios, I had a table out for feedback and got some really affirming notes in response to the two questions I asked:

What is your favorite color? How does the space make you feel?

  • “silver - it feels open and has me relax and have fun”
  • “pink - it feels meditative, I like the cooperation of 2 player and how everyone’s perception of color is different.”

Reflected | refracted is a system that I’ll definitely continue developing, and hope to integrate into my MFA thesis research. I am very curious about responsive environments, and rooms that learn from someone’s presence and participation. I’d like to continue exploring how I can use color and lighting as a mood setting tool, and as a way for the environment to communicate with the patrons inside of it. More than anything though, I want to investigate how group dynamics might affect the lighting and media in a space, i.e. if people are standing closely together that might be visualized with circular patterns or with warm colors and if they were all spread out then maybe we would see a bunch of disparate points that were cool and isolated. The possibilities are quite endless, but through the documentation and iterations of reflected | refracted I have learned a lot about what colors people like to see in light, what colors looked better when photographed, and how much work it takes to put something like this together. (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧



Below is a system diagram that describes the technical flow of the installation:

System diagram for  reflected | refracted  as shown at UCSC DANM Open Studios Fall 2017.

System diagram for reflected | refracted as shown at UCSC DANM Open Studios Fall 2017.

If you want more details about the system or interaction design, feel free to email me at zsandova at ucsc dot edu.