blog :. joão costa

@ Interactive Telecommunications Program

the paradox of sisyphus


The myth to be discussed in this text narrates the story of Sisyphus, the king of Ephyra, who was convicted to roll an immense boulder up to the top of a mountain. As he was approaching the summit, the rock would roll back to its initial point. Thus, Sisyphus didn’t have a choice but to restart his task, that never ends.

One of the main questions emanated from this tale is the attribution of a meaning to a life based on monotony, from the moment in which the mere act of accepting this task takes the character of punishment away from it. The Sisyphean task which is, by essence, infinite due to an external imposition, achieves its completion at the moment in which it does not sees itself as a pure task, but as an ending.


An obstacle wants to be surpassed. To the extent in which a barrier is imposed across someone, it brings along the challenge of triumph. Common is to give up on the first encounter, after the direct shock on that, which now, determines the way. It is also common to try and overcome this resistance by avoiding it – seeking for peripheral exits that might lead the way around the established problem. How to really face the objection that places itself with tectonic force, without any trace of motion or glimpse of freedom?

The value of nature may be operative up to a certain limit, beyond which they turn against themselves to give birth to the absurd.’ The absurd is born from the transposition of  a limit, and as a consequence it is cause and effect simultaneously. Albert Camus put this statement that one may face as the desire of paradox: the will to find in a question its own answer; in the obstacle, its transposition. Sisyphus, in the verge of his punishment, turns back to himself and acknowledges that that is, and will never cease in being his own condition. His barrier won’t be surpassed by contrariety – which is the most naive of the attempts. The boulder won’t cease its telluric nature, and will yearn, always, the return to the bottom.

The supplanting occurs in the moment in which accepting the encounter is necessary. It is needed to face it as if it were the first meeting; as a child in front of an imminent danger. The innocence in this situation may be primordial, since it will blind the facts that one assumes as certain, therefore,  invigorating a new search – the barrier presents itself more diaphanous each time under the effects of these actions. Sisyphus sees his punishment more clear and untainted. His taciturn living breaks off at the acceptation of its own existence. In the capability of admitting it and, at the same time, keeping it alive.

The conclusion of the task is stated as a goal beyond the barrier and, at some points, the yearning for the termination might blur the vision during the process, causing the subject to fear a determined nuisance. It is necessary to perceive the completion of the task as a potential consequence of a path to be covered. In that way the limits are now being defined and created by the individual that trail this routes. Thus, this stroller may end up as one of us, creators: seduced and thirsty by the existence of new obstacles.


The work that will serve as a premise for this iteration is based upon what has been written so far. It is named Sisyphus, per se, and it adds another layer of important significance that is sound. The work urges a discourse of common approach in Contemporary Art – it lives in the paradox of the absurd and the inconceivable. However, it is not an attempt to solve it or even to trail paths that will lead to a single and unique answer. On the contrary, it approaches the myth of Sisyphus in the way that it places the absurd for the subject to confront it. The Sisyphean task initiates and fails right in front of the spectator.

Formal definitions express the infinite in course, the cycle, the return. The work consists of a message, tape recorded, that cannot be broadcasted because of the feedback caused by a microphone placed on top of the speaker, resulting in a high-pitched sound that prevents the message from being heard. In a way, the assembly of the system is highly influenced by its entropy – the element’s limits causes its idiosyncrasies to turn against themselves, resulting in a self-sabotage.

The message is being played in an infinite loop. What it tries to communicate is a list of all objects that compose the work – a speaker, a tape-recorder, an amplifier, ten meters of cable, a microphone, a message and failure. This specific aspect of the work Sisyphus is the task that will never be completed and, of course, the questioning of whether this action is pointless or not. This is not the punishment per se, but it invokes arguments that are used to support the conceptual grounds, it is an attempt and, as it is always an attempt,  it becomes the only certainty – even though there are relations with concepts existing and highlighted by the myth, by no means there is a symbolic equivalence of elements, meaning that the objects are not assuming functions or forms of any myth-related contents.

As the message find its way out of the system, through the speaker and in the air, it finds an external imposition that is the microphone. The message is then recaptured by the system, and has to travel all the way to the same components again, in an action that will go on forever. By now, the self-sabotage is evident, since the source is the same as the output, it is a failed attempt to communicate the message, and the high-pitched noise of the feedback is the absurd substantially, but invisibly happening. One cannot see it, but surely feels the result of its expression.

The work is present, even though the materiality of its components does not express any vigour. The way it occupies the environment in which it is in, is strongly related to the presence emanated by the sound of the feedback. The high pitch fills the gallery as if there were a thousand out of tune violins being played at the same time. It carries along the feeling of extreme annoyance, disturbance and invasion. The spectators cannot refuse this punishment, that cannot be seen, but can be felt with extreme presence. And instead of trying to overcome the absurd by confronting it, they turn away from it, seeking the easier way out; they make the leap towards the unknown for they find the better way to surpass it is by avoiding what cannot be assimilated.

kinetic challenge

objective //

Generate and/or store energy by converting Kinetic energy (for a maximum of 30 seconds) into electrical energy in order to power a light source for as long as possible.

process //

For the kinetic challenge I worked alongside Craig Pickard.  Our initial concept focused on the conversion of gravitational potential energy (GPE) to electrical energy using a gearing mechanism to slow the descent of a weight and in turn increased the revolutions per minutes (rpm) of DC gear-head motor to generate current.  We wanted to create a system that would run for as long as possible, but at the same time be scalable with the potential to convert an even larger sum by adding addition elements to the system.

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The first conceptual design consisted of a series of modular units, each designed to slow the descent of a weighted object.  A ratchet-like chock prevents the driving gear from rotating in a clockwise direction, thus storing the GPE until the chock is lifted out of the ‘lock’ position and the weight is allowed to descend.  The pulley to which the weight is attached drives (using a belt or chain) a gear  located near the base of the structure.  The lower (driven) pulley is fixed to the same axis as a sprocket gear.  This in turn drives another gear that rotates a fixed shaft, although is free to move in an axial direction, thus bringing us to the system’s unique design feature.  This gear, which we will call the ‘shaft gear’, has a width equal to the spacing between adjacent driving gears (which are in turn driven by the closed pulley system).  This means that as it moves in an axial direction, the moment its trailing edge clears a driving gear, the leading edge is engaged by the next driving gear in the system; the idea being that as this happens, the descending weight (of the previous module which the shaft gear has just disengaged from) activates a leaver that releases the chock of the upcoming module and the process can begin again.  The video below shows a simplified version of the system to illustrate the shaft gear moving in an axial direction rotates the with the shaft.


We soon realised however that the design and fabrication of such a complex system was an impossible task given the time constraints and was, for all intents and purposes, perhaps simply unnecessary.  We abandoned the idea of a modular system in favour of a single gear-driven mechanism designed to increase the speed of the input to drive a high torque DC motor.  The motor which we selected was a 300rpm high torque 12V DC gear-head motor.  However, when we hooked the motor up to a 12V bench power supply, we found that the motor had a maximum of 88rpm.  We set about creating two prototypes of the gear mechanism to increase both our understanding of the processes involved, along with the limitations and constraints of the selected mechanisms, components and materials.

The first gear box, shown in the video above, was loosely constructed and had a speed increase ratio of 32:1.  You can see from the video that the mechanism was not very reliable and it was extremely difficult to overcome the initial resistance/torque in order to get the system moving.  For the second prototype, we opted to sacrifice speed in favour of torque.  Both prototypes were fabricated from laser-cut acrylic and we found that adding lubrication and compressing the gears between layers of additional acrylic (in order to keep the gears aligned) greatly improved the efficiency.  The video below shows the second prototype gearbox being driven by the motor as we found that the largest gear (what would be the driving gear) was still too difficult to turn by hand.  Despite this, initial tests using a voltmeter showed that we were generating around 3.2V.

the result //

Feeling like we’d learned enough about the materials, the forces involved and what was required of the gearbox, we entered into the final design phase.  Given that our greatest difficulty was gripping/turning the driving gear in our prototypes, we opted for a hand crank fixed to the axis of the main driving gear.  The increased length of the crank arm, relative to the size of the driving gear, meant that although we need to do more work (exerting a force along the distance equal to the crank arm’s circumference, which is larger than the gear), it allows us to exert a larger torque force to driver the mechanism (magnitude of force along the circle’s tangent, multiplied by the radius of the circle).  We used a square shaft to prevent the crank and driving gear rotating about the axis and instead relied on steel bearings to provide the rotational motion about the axis.

Having established a baseline for the amount of electrical energy we expected to generate, we purchased a 1W high brightness LED to serve as our light source.  We used a 1.5F 5.5V capacitor to store the energy generated during the 30s kinetic “charging” phase.  We also made use of a bridge rectifier to ensure the electrical input was as smooth and consistent as possible.  The image below shows a circuit diagram for the completed circuit.


In knowing that the efficiency of the mechanical system played a large role in the efficiency of the overall energy conversion, we wanted to fabricate the parts as accurately as possible.  To do this we used 3D CAD software to model and test system digitally before beginning the fabrication process. The video, images and drawings below illustrate this process.

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The larger gears and chassis were CNC cut using a router from 1/4″ plywood.  Using a 1/4″ straight bit allowed us to produces the larger gears with a diametrical pitch of 1.8 and a pressure angle of 20degrees.  The smaller gears, used for driving the motor, were laser-cut from Acetal Delrin and had a diametrical pitch of 8 and a pressure angle of 14.5degress.

Kinetic-Challenge-Drawings-Forces Kinetic-Challenge-Drawings-Exploded-View

We hung a plastic water bottle from the crank handle (in a horizontal position) and filled it with water until the torque created by the hanging weight overcame the system.  If we neglect the weight of the water bottle itself, we filled it with around 800ml of water.  This gave us a rough estimate of around 8N of force to over come friction and begin driving the mechanism.  We can then deduce that the torque is equivalent to the force (8N) multiplied by the distance (0.42m), which yields 3.36Nm of torque required to turn the handle.  The amount of work done turning the crank one revolution is equivalent to the magnitude of the tangential force, multiplied by the distance of travel ( the circumference of the circle, or 2 x pi x 0.42), which equates to 2.63 joules of work done per revolution.  We were able to generate 45-50 rpm using the crank as an input.  Making a conservative estimate of completing 20 revolutions in the allotted 30s, this means we expended roughly 52.6 joules of energy.  Therefore the requirement is equivalent to the work done over time (52.6j / 30s), which is equal to 1.75W.

— text by my friend Craig! –

kinetic challenge : progress

Craig and I have been working on a gearbox that will be our mechanism for this challenge. We’ll eventually attach some weights to the big gear in order to make it run by itself. But, before doing this, we’ve assembled a couple of prototypes that allowed us to perceive the issues that this approach my bring. Friction and alignment of the gears were two important problems that we came across on our first attempt. On the second one we tried to resolve some of this issues by changing the material of the shafts, the ratio of the gears (it was really hard to turn the motor on the first one) and adding some oil to make the system run smoothly.

final project progress

After realising that extracting sounds out of growing mycelium might be a difficult task, Jordan and I are planning to investigate the conceptual side of this act instead of trying to pursue a more technical and straight-forward path. In that way, we came up with some pertinent questions that can be faced as guidelines to our project. Since we won’t get any sound out of the mycelium growth, we thought working with the silence could be a good call. That said, we are now investigating characteristics intrinsic to fungus, such as its actions that happen out of sight, almost hidden from the viewers, that are directly responsible for our existence and our decays. This capacity of being, and ‘working’ in such a subtle way that can’t be perceived instantly. The way that time is applied to these manifestations affect not only that that can be seen after a while (the thread-like white mass) but it has a participation in what cannot be seen, such as the sound. Its voice reflect its tempo, its rhythm, and whatever it may be it is compatible to the pace of actions in this scale. Our goal here is to evidence this silence, to give a voice to what’s happening behind the veil.

David Dunn hasn’t reached out yet. We might end up interviewing an acoustic expert rather than mycologist. Igor Sokolov might be one candidate due to his research of subjects in the nanoscale (sound included)

Concept mapIMG_0310


In the meantime we’ve assembled our contact microphone to run some tests.




Untitled (Silence)

For the Week 2 assignment I explored implementation by recording the ‘silence’ in different ambiences. It is noteworthy how the size of the room, acoustics, or background noises interfere in what is supposed to be the silence. It enhances the primary sound gesture, that is listening. Working with silence is always sinuous due to it’s unknown body and nature, and that makes us think if there is a single silence, or each soundscape has its own.




fungus . project proposal

Jordan and I came up with a work that will exist to evidence an aspect of fungi that would otherwise be unnoticed: the sound. We are moving towards the creation of our own ecological environment, that’ll inhabit an acrylic enclosure. Inside that ‘terrarium’ of mycelium, we plan to spread a couple of contact microphones – those only react to vibrations, since they’re basically piezo discs attached to guitar cables – in that way, vibrations in the air shouldn’t interfere in the sound emitted.

We are intrigued by what sounds we might hear – or even the silence – so, we decided to contact David Dunn, due to his extensive knowledge in recording ecological environments on a microscopic level. He does not investigate fungi per se, but we might as well gather some valuable information out of this interview and apply it to this section of research.

Some sketches are presented below. While we wait to hear back from David we’re articulating how material issues can be developed.


IMG_0291 IMG_0292


Ideas for Final Project

On Feb 1, 2015, at 6:42 PM, Jordan Backhus <> wrote:

For curiosity’s sake, I think — either way — we should record the acoustics of our mycological growths in an anechoic chamber or the like; the results could be fascinating, and I am curious what we’ll discover, though I imagine our soundtrack will sound flat when played in realtime. Most likely, we will have to speed it up in post. 

I think it could be fun to explore fungi on a microscopic level. What would an X-Ray of a mushroom look like? It’s “skeleton”? And also, what does infection of a species look like over time? 

I will spend a little bit more time tonight researching options… There are many paths to take and I’m quite new to this. I like the idea of introducing a competitor to our fungi — an insect, larvae, or bacteria. Are there other sensory stimuli that you’d like to explore? I know that fungi do not need light to grow, but it’d interesting to explore their growth in other frequencies of light — radio, micro, infrared, uv, x-ray, gamma ray.

Let’s think! And we should decide soon…



On Jan 31, 2015, at 3:02 PM, João Pedro Costa <> wrote:

Following the sound vein of experiments, placing a growing mycelium in an anechoic chamber and recording its sounds would be quite interesting. I really like the idea of exploring its growth under different stimulus. Which aspects of the environment can be altered and how it’ll affect the outcome of the fungus.

I’d also like to add some kind of competitor to the fungus (an insect maybe?) and see how they would behave, if one would kill the other or they would adapt and cooperate.

I could go down any path, do you have any preference?


João Costa

+1 (917) 969-5090

On Jan 30, 2015, at 14:40, Jordan Backhus <> wrote:

Hey Joao,

I have a few interesting ideas for experimentation. I’d be interested to see the growth of mushrooms in different acoustic climates; does Beethoven or Chopin effect the patterns or volume of sporing / growth of fungi differently than does Rock, Metal, or Electronic? I’m not quite sure we’ll have the time for this sort of experimentation but it could be interesting. I’d also be interested to see how mushrooms grow in zero gravity rooms or even high-altitude environments. Ideally, I’s love to explore exponential decay and regeneration over time: the rot of a dead body into a magnificent playground of ecological diversity, including fungal matter and plantae. Could be fun to buy a slaughtered animal and explore its decomposition. 

Let’s discuss!



before fungus

The name by itself is quite intriguing. But, apart from that, I have some other interests in researching fungus. As an artist, I believe that placing myself in paths that I can’t really see where it leads is a great practice, and that might be the main reason why I’m here. Studying the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of fungus is a great starting point for an art project. What does a fungus have that is exclusive and can be further explored? What can I put a spotlight on that would otherwise go unnoticed?

I hope to come up with an art project that shows characteristics of fungus, its behaviour. I still don’t know an exact outcome for that though. It could be a drawing, a sound piece, a video, a sculpture, etc. I plan on diving deep into the process in order to see what can be used, and what is the best tool to explore it. I feel like the place I’m in right now, this unknownness, is a great spot, it deprives me from making pre-assumptions or from overthinking an ending. I must say it feels good.

I have one work that I always keep on my bookmarks, from the english artist Sam Taylor-Wood, called Still Life. What I can take as a truth is I want to make something as powerful as that, without placing myself as a medium but as a coordinator of events that wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t there.

and the wind was like the regret for what is no more : pcomp final