Dare to Go Bare

I’m considering another tattoo, so I’ve been spending some idle time looking at design and ink, wondering if a new tat will prove to be a permanent mark of pride or folly. But in my wanderings, I came across something called Bare Interactive Ink Technology – a temporary “electronic” tattoo, if you will. Imagine painting your body with this special conductive ink, and all of your movements could interact with electronic devices around you.

What? Could I just wave my dragon tattoo in the air to turn the TV on and off?

Well, not quite. Bare was developed by Bibi Nelson, Matt Johnson, Isabel Lizardi & Becky Pilditch from the department of industrial design engineering at the Royal College of Art. As described on the website, Yanko Design, Bare is:

“…this new parasitic technology being explored where you apply the special paint to your body via brush, stamp, or spray. The paint acts as a medium to send information from a person to another, transmit data from a person to a computer, or power small LEDs. It’s however limited to simple applications such as switching and data transfer that consume less power, but the potential is unlimited…the ink per-se is temporary, non-toxic and water-soluble and is composed of non-metallic conductive particles suspended in food and cosmetic additives. Thus it is safe for skin application.

The circuitry between the ink and the electronic device is completed when the small electrodes are placed directly on to the skin, which in turn transmits the data.”

Well this is a pretty futuristic type of henna, no? And although this ink is still in development stages, it seems natural that the designers of Bare foresee its use in performance. A dancer’s body, decorated with beautiful and intricate designs by makeup and costume folks would be able to trigger lighting and sound effects onstage as he or she moves to choreography. In fact, in their project video, the designers asked a dancer whose limbs were painted with Bare Ink to step into something called “The Music Box.” She improvised movements that set off pre-programmed audio samples and patterns, resulting in music that seems to be…composed by the body:

In their project paper, the designers explain how the Music Box works:

“The functionality of a MIDI keyboard was mapped onto the surfaces of the space with a matrix of resistance switches that input signals to a computer. A professional dancer was invited to interactive with the space and the conductive ink was applied to different parts of her skin in an iterative process. As different parts of her body touched the surfaces different switches were closed as electrical signals passed over her skin, creating musical notes and patterns.”

It might be the editing of the video, but at first I thought it wasn’t the most compelling display of the idea. Yet it’s clear what the potential is. It’s a start.

Take the concept of the Music Box to the stage and using human skin as a conductor could present some new opportunities for dancers, composers, set and video designers, prop masters and makeup artists to collaborate in wicked new ways. However, I still have some some practical questions about this conductive ink: How long will the ink last on the skin? What if the wearer starts sweating? Will the paint flake off the more the performer moves? Most importantly…does it come in Candy Apple Red?

– Jocelyn

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