Pu Gong Ying Tu was inspired by a workshop on paper circuits I taught at MIT during winter break. Two of the students, Jessie Thompson and Zach Berta were scientists who loved gardening. Jessie especially loved plants and all the projects that she created had flower and plant themes.
A few sessions into the workshop, we were working on sensors and microcontrollers. I showed them how to use a microphone to detect sound, which can also be used to detect wind. If you blow on a microphone, it also generates a signal. Jessie saw this and immediately wondered what plant responds to sound or wind. Well, a dandelion. How beautiful is that? She made a single flower poster of a dandelion that you can blow on. It's a white puff and when you blow on it, the seeds “blow away.” Jessie and Zach worked on it together and they titled it "When Is a Flower Not a Weed?"
They allowed me to take this concept and turn it into a full-scale painting of a field instead of just the one flower. That's why it's really fun to get share new tools and mediums with a bunch of people — because then they come up with brilliant ideas like this one.
In the new painting, as you blow on one flower, its seeds spread and causes new flowers to grow, so it's a continuing system. That's how you get new dandelions to blow on. The flowers begin as yellow and turn into white, interactive puffs.
Part of my personal goal is to show that circuitry can be really beautiful, too. So I used the wire and copper tape as lines to draw with as well as the connections that make the circuit work.
All around the edges of the painting and the backing are magnets, so they just self align and stick together, allowing me to peel back the painting and show the circuitry.
After playing around with the painting, people also seemed to really enjoy looking at the circuitry underneath. They would have reactions like, "Whoa, this is really interesting to see, too. Wow, I've never seen a circuit like that."
Right now, it's hanging up at the MIT Media Lab. It's three years old now, so it's gotten a lot of love and could use some upkeep, but that's where it's been so far.