Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

Scroll to top


No Comments

E-Static Shadows

  • On March 10, 2009


E-Static Shadows‘ is a practise-based experimental research project by designer Dr. Zane Berzina and architect Jackson Tan which creatively explores the speculative and poetic potential of static electricity found in our everyday environments, surrounding our everyday interactions. The aim of the project is to investigate how electrostatic energy could either be effectively utilised or play a part in the development of active, responsive and interactive textile systems which would be capable of detecting, translating and displaying this energy into dynamic audio-visual patterns. This design pilot project studies the possible translations of electrostatic energy into other types of energy such as light, sound and motion using specially engineered intelligent textile systems as mediators and displays for these processes.


The electronic textile acts as a static mirror responding to the usually invisible charges generated by people interacting with materials and making them visible. Equipped with tiny LED lights, transistors and woven electronic circuits seamlessly integrated into the electronic textiles structure, the installation is able to create transient shadows on the textile display in areas which detect a presence of electrostatic fields, feeding on the charges created by viewers and objects. Simultaneously it acts as a simple sonic instrument in response to the presence and intensity of charges and human proximity.

Static electricity is one of the oldest known physical phenomena. The ancient Greeks noticed the amazing ability of amber, once rubbed, to attract light materials despite gravitational forces. Because of its electrostatic properties amber in Greek means ‘electron’.

For a long time electrostatic continued to be a source of mystery and amazement, before the rational and scientific approach to understanding the world came about. In the early 17th century fascinating devices and machines that tread between the boundaries of magic and science, conceptually and perceptually, were evolved through the unravelling of static electricity, including the first electrostatic generator by Otto van Guericke. In 1901 various scientific experiments culminated into Dr. Nikola Tesla’s plan to wirelessly broadcast electrostatic power to the whole world from his facility at Wardenclyffe in New York.

Teslas Wardenclyffe Facility

Public electrostatic demonstrations and performances easily became one of the crowds’ favourite entertainments in the 17th to 19th century due to its seemingly miraculous, contradicting experiences. Just one example is Stephen Gray’s experiment premiered in London in 1730.

The famous “flying boy” used to demonstrate electrical polarity in suspended objects.

He suspended an eight year old boy in mid air, utilising the human body as a medium for static electricity, attracting paper and light objects to the boy’s negatively charged face and hands. This type of showmanship converged both artistic and scientific fields of endeavour creating discourse about the employment of human architecture as a medium for interactions with the environment within the context of electrostatics.

Submit a Comment