Key words: remote data, group behaviours, butterflies, moths, nitinol, arduino, prototype

Lepidopteral is a multi-object computer-controlled kinetic artwork that responds to environmental data fluctuations. The work questions whether biological behaviour can be simulated by a minimal activation of moth-like objects. The motion here aims to expose changes in a data feed by placing value on the fluctuation of data rather than its actual values. The environment being sensed is the agent that interfaces with the work.

The artwork is inspired by a piece of video footage shot at Lago di Fiastra in Le Marché region of Italy in 2005. Here, butterflies had clustered all around the lakeside, looking at first glance like small crocus-like flowers. On closer inspection it was easy to see they were all butterflies engaged in reproduction or egg-laying. As a congregation they sat gently raising and lowering their wings, sometimes synchronised, sometimes completely still. It struck me that when we think of moths and butterflies we tend to think of them in flight rather than at rest.

Lepidopteral aims to explore subtlety and gentleness within an auto-motive work, to represent some calmer elements in nature, such as the butterflies described above, but without direct interference to, or use of, biological materials. The work seeks to simulate ‘liveness’ and natural motion – abstracted nature, perhaps – through mechanical and electronic means.

To create a work with minimal mechanics, and one that is silent, Lepidopteral uses muscle wire to control the flap of small nylon wings on an array of objects. Muscle wire (known as Nitinol or Flexinol) is a ‘shape memory’ alloy that contracts when a current is passed through it, the current that each of the objects receives is determined by the fluctuation in data received from local sensors, or from external feeds through the internet site, cosm. The work comes to life, gently and gradually as the data received changes.

The first version of Lepidopteral was phototaxic – responding to light levels from sensors in Berlin.

circuit in_progress


Julie Freeman is a London-based artist and researcher who is curious about how technology changes our connection with nature. She translates complex processes and data sets from natural sources into sound compositions, physical objects and animations.

Current research topic: Digital Automata & the Internet of Living Things