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Installation Features Goldfish "Playing" A Glass Harp

Fish Harp from Henry Chu on Vimeo.

Hong Kong new media artist Henry Chu is known for his playful and minimalistic screen-based interactive designs that often engage a user beyond the screen. For example, his iPad App, Squiggle, allows the user to draw colorful straight lines on the screen and then turn the iPad into a digital harp by tilting the tablet.

Chu’s latest artwork Fish Harp (see video above), now on display at the agnès b.’s LIBRAIRIE GALERIE, turns users into pensive spectators. The sound installation is made from several wine glasses placed on top of a glass sheet. Underneath, goldfish swim freely in a small pond. Just as skillful hands would play the glass harp, sensors trigger ambient sounds when the fish swim underneath the wine glasses. We think the artwork takes a poetic spin on augmented reality and generative style music.

We chatted briefly with Chu to learn more about the conception of Fish Harp


The Creators Project: where did the inspiration for making Fish Harp came from?
Henry Chu:
In the beginning I wanted to make something related to illusion, like a mirage. I planned to make a flower and fish themed artwork, and create phantom images from the refracted light. I was limited by time and resources, so in the end I only created the fish version. Another reason is the music, flowers are harder to relate to music.

The most difficult part of the project was adding the music. Unlike Squiggle, which included a music and visual element from the start, I didn’t want to make this into a instrument, so I made it non-interactive and purely for enjoyment. It’s just like keeping a fish. You don’t get much interaction (although you can smack at the fish bowl, but the intention is to “admire” the fish. Observation leads to experience and understanding). I was looking for the most natural sound-generating method. Finally I thought of a “glass harp” instrument. Fish bowl plus the glass harp concept became the artwork.

Fish Harp brainstorming sketch.

Most of your previous work deals with interaction, but your latest works like Fish Harp and The Five Colors Blinds The Eye not so much. Have you taken a different creative direction?
It’s fun and interesting to create with interaction as a premise, but that can eventually become restrictive. Like you have consider the setting of the sensor. The artwork’s learning process, for instance, also cannot be complicated. In Fish Harp and Five Colors, I wanted to make something “lighter.” Making something simple and direct is just a phase before I embark on a new interactive project.

Any new projects coming up that you’d like to share with us?
I’m going to have an art exhibition for children where they can both see and play in Hong Kong next year. Around ten artists are participating, and I’m making an interactive shadow artwork. Before this, I’m revealing my first generative painting at Alan Chan’s Gallery 27.

Fish Harp along with Creator Gaybird’s When The Cloud Is Low is on view at the agnès b.’s LIBRAIRIE GALERIE from now until January 12, 2012.

Images courtesy of Henry Chu.