The Reflection of Sensory Slippage – A Test Drive of Flow Theory

It’s been an exciting process to explore and try it out all the possibilities in my mind, I am enjoying the process, even though I’m still struggling with the work itself at this moment. All the story begins with a question: How to feel what is real?

Wide square in the city center,
Less density, the sky is so clear.
Raindrop sleep on the leaves of the tree,
The wind passed by the leaves,
Point hit, raindrop down.
Down to the ground, into the mirror.
The face in the mirror just realized that,
Oh, the reflection image mapping in the eyes in a long time is not the reality.
But the reflection, the trees in the water, the wind through the leaves moving, was so true that just want to stare, time is frozen to keep staring that, wind through the ears to keep staring that. Until the ripple expands.

4×4 Water Reflection Sequence Image, Yujie Gao, 2018

Is it something you perceive is real, or when you saw a reflection, or through other perspectives to look back what have you perceived, is real? I am obsessed with the mirror-like objects over the last few years, I took lots of pictures of that(see Appendix 1). This also related to my thesis which the moment when people’s perception being confused, and when their sensory slippage. For the test drive, the theory I want to use is the one I am researching through this whole semester- flow theory. I want to use this opportunity to experiment on how to produce a flow state in an interactive new media artwork. I would like to create an experience for people or myself to have a flow state, by doing a task that no right or wrong. It’s just about how you feel about the present when you are experiencing. The keywords of my test drive work are light, color, movement, and reflection.

I start doing and testing this work in October, but the idea, it became clear that I have to make this comes true, is from this summer when I traveled to Calgary. There is one afternoon, I passed by a city center square on my way to the museum. It’s been just after having a rain. The ground is wet, and sometimes when there is wind, the raindrop on the surface of trees will drop down to the ground, there also have the beautiful reflection of the raindrop down into the small pool. I stayed at the square for a quite long time, to just looking for the pool, and forgot my way to the museum. I thought that I have to make a work that I can re-experience this moment.

When I started the research of flow theory, it mentioned that people totally get involved and concentrate on an activity that forgot of time, the behavior of doing things became unconsciously. That’s where I found the theory is connected with the experience when I was in Calgary’s city square. So in my test drive, I want to incorporate these two together. In my previous experience, mostly I work with a team, and when we start to create a work. We’ll have a plan, a time schedule, a material sheet, all aspected will be planned in a very detailed proposal. We also have a online cooperative platform to sharing, updating and tracking the progress of the work. However, this time, I want to experiment, a process really to try it out. I have the idea about what I want to do in my mind when I started and then enter the process of doing, I do not have any preset of the work, I start with an idea and then to see where the idea takes me to, what will be the final work looks like, might quite different with the initial idea. It comes from lots of different decision in the middle of the process. All the consequence will be the reflection of my action and decision back to me.

Sketches, Yujie Gao

The whole process of this test drive can be separate in several versions, updated through times. In the very beginning, looking for the ideal reflective material is the main goal. The online shopping website Alibaba was my first choice, a lot of manufactures are produced in the south of China, especially in the Shenzhen area. So I know that the cheapest but also high-quality material can be found on this website. I have some discovery, but the only thing is the shipment is very expensive and that just for samples which I don’t know it can or can not be used till I see the material and try it out. So I change to Amazon, found a kind of unexpected material that has the reflective effect – Holographic Chrome Opal Vinyl Craft Paper. It is very beautiful, and the surface has a glossy reflection.

I love this material, but after testing, the problems of this material for this project at that moment are, first, it’s very expensive to buy a certain amount that enough to do a shape experiment. Second, it’s not quite flexible to create a three dimensions shape. By chance, I found a super cheap material in Dollarama, I even not deliberately go looking for it. It’s a silver warp sheet, after testing, the reflectivity of this material better than the colorful vinyl paper. Once found the ideal material, another aspect need to adjust is the light source. Initially, I used a projector to mapping the content on the sheet, then the reflected image upon the space, broken the boundaries of the horizon and vertical, the whole space became a immersed environment. And then a new problem is I need to hold the projector and keep moving it for having the images run around the whole space. And a big projector in hand is not a practical solution. Then I tried the flashlight, it is much easier for people to take, but it is only one color, so it loses the layer of content. The final solution for the light source change to LED light and the pocket projector. These are two options that meet all the needs. And the next step is the core, what’s the content and what’s the task?

The concept of scan

For me, through this whole process, I have been asking myself, what’s the task/challenge for the participant to produce the flow state. One day, I have an idea! I borrowed the concept from the meditation of scanning. When you are doing meditation, one thing you can do is close your eyes and feel your body by scanning it from your head to your toe. This probably can work out in this project!

Scan me

With the idea of scanning, I kept thinking what kind of object for the participant to scan, I tried to make a sculpture-like object that I made by the silver reflective material, but feel boring very quickly when I was scan, the challenge is too easy to match the capacity. Color, texture, light, movement, reflection, too many options I can play around here, then I lost, I don’t know which way I should go next. It will need to imagine, the ability to make the connection between these elements and space, time and participant. At that time a lot of my time spent on testing without any purpose, trying to occasionally meet something. I feel upset about this project at that moment, the only way that I can imagine to finished this project at the present day is to use my own body as “the object” which will lead a lot of question that around embodiment, and that won’t be my focus. But except this, how can I have a movement / meaningful object that participant can “scan” with. Once I using my body, it will more tend to that question which is totally not what I want to. There is are confliction of the idea of turning myself, a human, to be an object. The part I like this idea is, there is a kind of danger relation between the audience and me. The part I hate this idea is, it’s weird! To imagine a stranger scan me, it definitely a challenge for me. Even it is a conflicting idea, I choose to try it out. With the help of a friend, I wear reflective material. And recorded the last version of this test drive before present.

After Present

After I present the test drive presentation at the last class, I actually hate the idea of using my own body, because I think it will be the main distraction when they are trying to produce a flow state. And as I concerned before it will lead the whole work to another topic. Many questions will come after like: why using body? why using my own body rather than others body? If using my own body should I leave the head to expose or should I behind a kind of mask? Should I avoid eye contact with the participant? All these questions are not the topic I would like to discuss in this work. for the next step, I would really like to go back to my proposal to try to figure out the slippage of the perception.

What is the next step, for me, I would really like to have it as an interactive installation, but before this, I want to just try how to produce a flow state by using new media method, it might take away of the aesthetic aspect of the project, because it will be more like “doing” something by the participant, rather than me, producing the content of it. But it is ok with me to lose this part of control at this moment. So the first to step is to involve other people in the experiment, and using different measurements to test the degree of their experience. After having this experiment and then the second step will be transformed into an interactive installation.

Flow in the creation process

As the theory I’ve trying to incorporate is flow theory, it is also a state where artists have huge creativity when they are in that state. Thinking back to my own previous process of creating, I feel fully focused on the process once I start doing my experiment with materials, lights, and space. But I am not quite sure that is flow state, because within that process is also full of questions, doubt, struggles, anxious in it, it’s not an experience that most are enjoyment. So in this test drive, I record the whole process when I was testing, trying to the unfolding the process of creation. I looking back the recorded video several times at when I just finished the record and after one or two weeks ago. I benefit more about the content of the record, rather than to think “Am I in flow at that moment?” the experiment I was testing is sort of “hack the space”, one small piece of reflective material can reflect a quite large space that through different dimensions, both horizontal and vertical. All the time-lapse video recorded the effect of the whole space, which I was not fully seen when I was testing, I only saw what’s in front of me.

Similar project

The similar project I can think about is Hong Kong artist Hiram Wong’s “The Only Thing We Share is The Past”, this is an interactive installation that involves building a virtual tunnel between two different cities. “The interactive installation will serve not only as a vehicle for communication between the viewers of the two locations, but also render a temporal environment connecting the spaces through the use of light as material. A video feedback loop between the two exhibition areas, and in reverse, causes a tunneling effect where infinitely multiplied images of both cells are strung together to simulate a tunnel connecting Hong Kong and Wuhan. The effects of the light installation on the viewers are in effect multiplied into this augmented reality.” There is no direct connection between his work and my test drive, but this project kept into my mind when I was doing my project. I like this work a lot, and when I was experiencing this work at the exhibition site, I feel like I was into a flow state, the light, and the delayed image overlapping layer and layer. I just want to stay at that environment to explore by myself.


I am still don’t know how to define my test drive work, what I know is that it’s been really different from what I was proposed, and I would never imagine it will like this at this point. I thought it’s an installation at first, which now might be more about a performance. Through this work, rather than making a completed work, it is kind of loosen the authority or the creation of the work. and I would really like to create the relationship between the audience and artwork in that specific time and space, when and where they are prepared to engage in an artistic movement that can be reflecting back aspects of the interactors. As David Rokeby said and I kept looking this words in these few days “Mirrors, and in a more abstract way, automata, are ways of representing ourselves.” “A technology is interactive to the degree that it reflects the consequences of our actions or decisions back to us. It follows that an interactive technology is a medium through which we communicate with ourselves… a mirror. The medium not only reflects back, but also refracts what it is given; what is returned is ourselves, transformed and processed. To the degree that the technology reflects ourselves back recognizably, it provides us with a self-image, a sense of self. To the degree that the technology transforms our image in the act of reflection, it provides us with a sense of the relation between this self and the experienced world. This is analogous to our relationship with the universe. Newton’s First Law, stating that ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,’ implies that everything is a mirror. We discover our ‘selves’ in the mirror of the universe.”