Introducing Fraqture: A Platform For Uniting Tech and Art

We here at Smashing Boxes are excited and proud to see one of our favorite recent Labs projects go up in the 21C storefront window in downtown Durham this week! Fraqture is an experimental platform that blends art with technology, exploring the parallels between glitch art, which exists on our screens, and graffiti, which lives in the real world. It was originally conceived of as an installation piece for the Durham Storefront Project in collaboration with The Carrack gallery. Today it has grown into an interactive platform that can be adapted to almost any context. During the day, Fraqture uses several algorithms to turn a curated pool of images into glitch art; twisting them, shuffling their pixels, and repainting them in an infinite combination of ways. In addition to the curated images, passersby can become a part of the piece by using a forward facing camera to take a picture that glitches into a totally original piece of art and then vanishes for good. At night, when fewer people are passing by, it generates art that doesn't require any images at all by manipulating geometric shapes and even playing classic arcade games by itself. Snake anyone?

Learning From New Orleans

The installation in Durham marks Fraqture's second exhibition. In March, we we brought the piece on a road trip to Louisiana for New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. For that exhibition,we used a Twitter feed instead of a camera to add content to the pool of images. We added a smashing pink sign with the hashtag #SmashMyPixels above the display, hoping that people would tweet their own photos into the feed. We realized that, while many people stopped briefly to look at the images being distorted onscreen, few seemed to realize that the images were coming from people like them. And because the approval process for submitted photos was manual, those who did tweet with the hashtag may not have seen their images right away. When we got back to the office, we reviewed this first iteration of Fraqture and had an “a-ha” moment: Anyone who walked by Fraqture should see something that draws them in without having to do anything. Creating an image that feels more “live”, like some sort of pixelated mirror, might be the answer. And since everyone knows what to do when they see a photobooth, we decided to work through April to add a camera and a countdown timer.

What Drives Fraqture

The core of the platform uses a programming language called Clojure, and more specifically, the Quil graphics library. One of Fraqture's contributors, Brandon Mathis, wrote a great introduction to Clojure and Quil in his article Clojure: A Reflection on My Latest Obsession. We built custom hardware using a Teensy, a microcontroller which takes commands from the Clojure application and drives 540 individually controllable LEDs. The Fraqture platform gives developers access to the global pool of images and a library that makes drawing on the LEDs as easy as it is to draw on the screen.

Get Involved

Fraqture will be on display at the downtown Durham 21C until and we hope you’ll come check it out. If you want to help shape the future of the project, we are looking for people and places that are as excited as we are about the marriage of tech and art.

  1. More exhibitions. If you have an event, conference, or meetup that would be interested in hosting an exhibit or learning more about the how the platform was built, email us at fraqture@smashingboxes.com.
  2. More interactivity. The LED panels, social media connection, and camera are a great start, but we have big plans for interactivity. In the future we are looking at manipulating and generating images using image processing, audio, and other hardware. We are also considering adding in a musical library like Overtone so that it can generate synthesized sounds in addition to imagery. If you have a cool idea for things you'd like to see, open an issue on our Github.
  3. More contributors. We've had a blast making drawings internally, and have opened up the code base so that others can submit their own art for the platform to display. We also welcome content for the platform to manipulate by tweeting #smashmypixels or emailing us at fraqture@smashingboxes.com.

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Smashing Boxes is a creative technology lab that partners with clients, taking an integrated approach to solving complex business problems. We fuse strategy, design, and engineering with a steady dose of entrepreneurial acumen and just the right amount of disruptive zeal. Simply put, no matter what we do, we strive to do it boldly. Let's talk today!

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