human fishtank on a budget
January 17, 2013 8:09 AM   Subscribe

For an art project I'm looking to build a transluscent human-sized fishtank-like container. How can I accomplish this without spending thousands of dollars?

The concept I'm trying to embody is being "trapped in my own head / trapped in society's expectations". The idea is of a translucent container around me where you can kinda make out my body from the outside but it's rather fuzzy. From the inside I would be trying to reach out by writing messages on the other side - but the translucent fuzziness means you may not be able to make out what I'm writing.

I'm thinking sizewise it would be between a shower cubicle and bench-coffee table length. Needs to be taller than me so that you can't peer into the top of my head. The thing will be temporarily set up on site so it needs to have an element of portability.

Some ideas:

* Using room dividers/screens around me and putting translucent plastic or glass as the screen - where would I find such a thing?
* a frosted/translucent Zorb ball - Googling this has been tricky (I keep getting *transparent* Zorb balls which is not the effect I'm after!)
* Put up posts and wrap saran wrap around - is there such a thing as frosted saran wrap?

I did ask the event/exhibition organisers if there was possibility of using a bay window or shopfront-type space but they didn't think that was likely.
posted by divabat to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
You could build, fairly easily, a framework say 4 feet square by 8 feet tall, out of 2x2's or 2x4's, that you would then wrap with thick gauge translucent plastic sheeting - the sort of stuff that people used to use to cover windows with in wintertime, or sold as dropcloth material.

Buy 8 foot 2x2's or 2x4's at the Home Depot (or the like) and you could even get them to cut 4 of them in half there.

There are metal corners that you can buy that make the assembly of this sort of thing much easier, some screws and a staple gun and you are good to go, for maybe $150. I don't know how portable it would be, but it would be easy enough that you could assemble it around yourself there and then.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:26 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you ever seen a spandex table cover with lights underneath? They're they type of thing you'd see in clubs or catered events. I'm not finding a great example on google right away.

I'm thinking you buy several wide yards of white spandex. Build a platform thats the dimensions of your "tank" footprint. Rig lights under the platform, and top with strong plexi, and maybe support beams. With PVC pipe or something similar you create a frame to stretch the spandex around. Hop in, (with a pair of sun goggles), stretch the spandex around. You'd be mostly visible through shadows, and could use your hands to write/stretch the scrim around you.
posted by fontophilic at 8:27 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you wanted something more of a solid-seeming barrier than plastic sheeting or fabric would be, you could use frosted plexiglass. This would still be far from "thousands of dollars" but is a step away from "on a budget". Each 4'x8' panel costs about $200 at Home Depot.
posted by aimedwander at 8:52 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

How translucent do you need it to be? Somehow this reminds me of the cartoon (not this particular episode, just the style in general) Tales of Mere Existence--it looks like the way it's done is that the artist writes on the back of some kind of translucent stretched paper while videotaping the front side. I realize this isn't what you're looking to do, but would that be translucent enough? Or perhaps some other kind of paper that's been greased to make it more translucent (which is what the settlers supposedly used as windows in early Western US)--that would be pretty inexpensive.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:14 AM on January 17, 2013

Response by poster: needs more cowbell: OOOOO! that is a really interesting way of doing it. Whatever that paper is would work!
posted by divabat at 9:30 AM on January 17, 2013

If you go the plexiglass/acrylic route, it could save you some money to get the normal kind and "frost" it yourself. Besides customizing the level of transparency, it could add something expressively with the method used: sanding it could have a painterly, brushstroke effect, whereas paints, spray treatments or chemicals could range in all kinds of ways, from pitted to tonal qualities, and layer of paper or medium would have yet another kind of effect, etc.
How stable does it have to be and how long does it have to last? If it is only a frame for performance, maybe the stretchy, flexible quality of fabric is what you want, assuming this "writing messages" is on the surface with your finger or a prop? It depends on what you are trying to communicate and adjusting to your budgetary restraints: claustrophobic? all-enveloping? inescapable? rigid and unyielding? etc. yadda yadda yadda
Layers of paper would be more durable than a single sheet and are also more customizable.
Also, if it's not being sold or stored, figuring out how to make it easily disposed of/reused could be considered, and it does seem like you'll need a light source, which isn't really expensive and with fluorescent bulbs, the heat is no longer an issue, but the quality and color of the light could deal with some of your visibility and style issues.
posted by provoliminal at 9:55 AM on January 17, 2013

I might start by going in for a chat with the folks at your local plastics dealer, perhaps Tap Plastics here in SF. If you explain your project and your budget constrains, they should be able to give you some suggestions to consider. If your setup allows, you might be able to cut costs by only needing to build one side (the "front") of the tank, with accompanying support, and using existing walls, room dividers, drapery, or screens to create the other three walls.

I'd imagine that using vellum (paper vellum anyway) would probably be silly expensive, but I've never tried to buy such a big quantity.
posted by zachlipton at 1:00 PM on January 17, 2013

I believe the person who draws Tales of Mere Existence is in SF too, so maybe they can point you to a paper source....
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:41 PM on January 17, 2013

Back to your "Saran wrap" idea, maybe you could use that stretchy packing plastic? It comes in huge rolls.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 2:27 PM on January 18, 2013

Response by poster: ok, followup technical question: we found plastic sheeting (the sort you'd put on a window while renovating, Husky brand if that means anything to anyone) as well as window film to give it texture. Can you apply one on the other, or does window film only stick to glass?
posted by divabat at 10:46 AM on January 23, 2013

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