Pipedream is a series of pieces I have created which follow a simple theme: I string between 16 and 96 clear tubes along a wall each filled with mineral oil. At the bottom of each tube is a valve which can allow air into the tube. Controlling these 16 to 96 valves with a computer--a different form of motion control than my usual stepper motors--I can create patterns and even rasterized images (see Pipedream III, pictured at bottom).
The idea first came when the newly construted Science Museum of Minnesota was looking for large wall-mounted installations. Although I initially wanted to propose a large Sisyphus for the space, my wife suggested I try a new medium: water and bubbles. This reminded me of an earlier idea I had jotted down in my notebook . After building an 8-tube maquette and submitting a proposal, Pipedream I was accepted. It opened with the museum in December, 1999.
Pipedream I was my first large installation, and it taught me a lot about working with the bureaucratic side of public art. When a physician from Iowa contacted me about building another Pipedream in the expanded Cedar Rapids Science Center, I readily accepted. Pipedream II was commissioned soon after, and was installed in March 2001. This time I expanded the tubes to 32 and added different colored glitters to each tube to create a shimmering effect as the bubbles rise. Finally, I added an interactive railing (using light sensors).
Finally, in June 2006, I installed Pipedream III in the Ontario Science Center in Toronto, Canada. In this instance I went to 96 tubes each of a smaller diameter. With some improved programming, I was now able to display obvious images using the bubbles as my pixels. Pipedream III now displays iconic faces, patterns, and images captured at a webcam station in the museum.