Water striders are a family of insects that are able to transfer their body weight so they can run on top of the water’s surface. Upon seeing them for the first time at the Jakkoin Temple near Kyoto, the namesakes of the Swiss design studio Drzach & Suchy were struck by the way the water striders themselves were invisible, except for the shadows cast under the water deformed by the weight of the insects’ legs. With this in mind, the duo created a 3-D printed haiku that only appears when each individual word is placed in water.
“We wanted to mimic water striders and achieve a similar deformation of the water surface, yet in a controlled way, to be able to ‘paint’ on the water,” Drzach & Suchy says. “The goal was to create a structure, a kind of net or grid with varying heights, which could float on water surface and deform it at predetermined spots: the dominant parts of the net should be touching the surface causing the shadow spots, while the others should be hanging above the surface, letting the light go through.”
After choosing a haiku that fit their theme–“old pond / frog jumps in / sound of water” by Matsuo Bashō, the most famous poet of Japan’s Edo period–the designers began experimenting with fishing line to see if their concept was practical. After a few tests with various materials, they produced a series of 3-D printed sheets, each of which reveals the shadow of a word when floating on water.
Although Haiku only uses this technique to spell out words, Drzach & Suchy tell me it can be used to cast any bitmap image in water shadows. The next step for the project, according to the designers? Waiting until 3-D printing techniques advance enough that it’s possible to print sheets that are almost invisible to the naked eye, like the legs of a water strider.