Shy Mirror



IMA Winter Show, NYU Shanghai, China | 2016. 12

#interactive Installation #Maya #Arduino #Fabrication


Xiran Yang - Designer | Fabricator

Zhang Zhan - Developer | Fabricator

Alexis Zerafa - Video Editor | Fabricator


Shy Mirror is an interactive installation using mirror as the major component. While mirror is often used as something that helps people to view themselves, this installation tries to reverse that function and turns mirror into an intermediary that stimulates people to view others and pay more attention to others.

When one approaches the mirror and tries to view him/herself, the mirror will turn away from the viewer till he or she steps away from it.





Early Stage Sketch

Early Stage Sketch


Constructively speaking, Shy Mirror is composed of two parts—the upper part and the bottom part. In the upper part, a 40cm*100cm mirror is hung on a wooden frame by string. The wooden frame is connected to the 90cm-tall wooden box at the bottom by nails. The bottom of the mirror is connected to a motor attached on the top of the box. In the front side of the box(also the side where the mirror is facing) there is a distance sensor used to detect the audience’s movements.


When the viewers of Shy Mirror approach it, and when they stand close enough to the installation, the distance sensor will detect their movements. The sensor will then send a signal to the motor, asking it to start rotating 90 degrees. The motor will start moving and as a result, the mirror will start rotating 90 degrees as well. Therefore, the person standing in front of the mirror would not be able to see himself. Instead, the person is able to see others in the mirror while the mirror is turning away from him. And when the mirror finishes rotating, it will not turn back unless the person moves away from it. As a result, people who intent to look at the mirror and pay attention to themselves will be forced to pay attention to others and look around in the end.Therefore, Shy Mirror transforms people’s self-awareness to attention to others.

The idea to build this interactive installation is driven by our daily observations of people’s behaviors. We have noticed that people care about their own outfits, how they look and how they sound to others. It seems that it is easier and more natural for individuals to pay more attention to themselves than to others.


Meanwhile, mirror is almost the most common and powerful tool that allows individuals to view themselves and appreciate themselves. Interestingly, because of the law of reflection, mirrors can also prevent people from viewing themselves and instead let people look at others. When someone turns a mirror to a certain angle, he would not be able to view himself in the mirror but other people. And when a person is looking at others in the mirror, these people who are viewed by that person are also able to in return see him in the mirror.

In addition, it seems that when people pay attention to themselves, it is not always because they are narcissistic but because they care about others’ opinions. Self-awareness and the attention to others are not contradictory but somehow always inevitably bounded together. In order to juxtapose self-awareness and the attention to others, as well as considering the interesting characteristics of mirrors, we decided to make a “Shy Mirror”.


To accomplish this installation, we used wood to build the structure so that it is strong enough to hold the mirror and motor. Arduino and the distance sensor are used to detect human movements and provide feedback accordingly. We intended to build this mirror installation narrow and tall so that each time it can be viewed by only one person. Therefore, the sense of “self-awareness” would be stressed. We also intended to locate it in a room where other people will be so that the person who interacts with our installation will be able to find people who he can pay attention too. The installation is both durable and detachable because each of its parts is connected by nails (except the top of the mirror is connected to the frame by string in order to increase its movability) and can be moved to any place as long as there are power and audience. It can also be a prototype for future larger installations.

Though our team initially planned to encourage our audience to reconsider the relationship between self-awareness and attention to others, we ended up paying more attention to others than ourselves. During our working process, we have paid attention to each other and learnt from each other. We have paid attention to our peers and their feedback. We also have paid attention to our instructors and their advice. In return, we have not only delivered our concept by successfully building Shy Mirror, but also experienced this concept ourselves and deepened our understanding of it.