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The Persistence of Vision

Art is not theoretical; it needs to be experienced rather than interpreted.
~Jack Dollhousen

Question: Can I control eight pins or sixteen pins at one time and have them function as both inputs and outputs?

Controlling an Array of LED’s with Binary and FOR NEXT Software Loops

The ability to turn sequences of LEDs on and off can be powerful. You can create some illusive effects with light and control the ON and OFF state of multiple pins at one time. Understanding how to control the states of multiple pins at one time is an important building block that leads to digital control of many electronic devices simultaneously, both AC and DC.

The artist and inventor Bill Bell employs an optical effect called persistence of vision to create images with flashing LEDs. In this process, the images left on the eye as it scans a straight row of LED’s creates pictures and text, such as the word “eye” below and a pictograph of the eye.


Triple Eye Lightstick by artist Bill Bell. "Persistence of vision",  Lily Rodriguez, (c) Exploratorium, The same optical effect that allows us to see moving images in movies, is coupled with another effect — saccadic, or rapid eye movement — to reveal the seemingly hidden images.

The LEDs in Bell’s Lightstick works blink 5,000 times per second--a frequency that is barely detectable to the human eye and yet the images are revealed for roughly one tenth of a second. As you stand still and move your head back and forth looking at the vertical row of LEDs, the images are left on your eye. [1]

The artist Jim Campbell has used this technique with his Ambiguous Icons (2000-2004) series, which have human figures moving in time, through arrays of LEDs. Jim Campbell programs arrays of single and multicolor LEDs, and your eyes and brain visually integrate their separate flashings into a coherent image of a human form walking. The image is constructed in your mind’s eye based on the flashing and movement of the image.


Light Bulb Works by Jim Campbell. 2001-2008.  One artist who has been particularly successful at using the subtlety of LEDs is Jim Campbell. He uses LEDs to suggest human form moving in space as a kind of cinematic experience.

This creates a wonderful marriage between what we see and the ability of our perceptual system to resolve information and create a coherent structure. Jim Cambell’s work demonstrates collaboration between the perceptual system of the eye and our expectations and knowledge about the world, and in this process, we construct reality. In Jim Cambell’s words, “Ambiguous Icons explore the relationship between information and meaning, in the context of reduced or compressed levels of information.”(Artists web site) [2]


Light Bulb Works by Jim Campbell. 2001-2008


Persistence of vision is one major theme that can be explored in technologically based art, as it is directly related to establishment and evolution of pattern.

Dan Paluska, Jessica Banks, jackbackrack have created a work called The Fotron 2000-2003 figure 8-4 a robotic sketch artist that uses an LED light to create quick gestural sketches on long exposure Polaroid film. The robot moves quickly and captures the viewer’s image in what appears to be a persistence of vision image, but the image is recorded to the film. [3]


Fotron2000 (FOE-tron-too-THAU-zin) by Dan Paluska, Jessica Banks, Jackbackrack 2003

In this work, the artists were interested in the robot precision and automated processes in making drawings that they could not realize themselves and to utilize the technology in powerful but also impractical ways. The artists joke that The Fotron2000 "brings good things to light."