Code Abstractions

t0uch me n0t

by Chang Xuan Hui


Inspired by the chromatophore cells of cephalopods that react to the imminent threats in their surroundings, t0uch me n0t is a simulacra of a visual defensive signalling system found in the natural world. Using colours and movement, the digital organism responds to the audience's interactions with the interface. The audience is invited to use their mouse and cursor to explore how they can incite various levels of distress from the creature. The work explores the notions of the digital platform's ability to express emotion and how we as humans react to these displays of emotion despite knowing that the emotions in fact do not exsist. The anthropomorphism of the visual display incites one to question how we choose to respond to expressed emotions, real or simulated.

The intended way this work is to be exhibited is a projection onto a 3D object, the visuals would then react to readings from motion and pressure sensors so as to emulate an actual tangible organism, an illustration of this conceptualization is available below.

This project is a response to a text titled Biological Networks,On Neurons, Cellular Automata,and Relational by Thecese Tierney from 2007.

Follow this link to a fullscreen version | video | highres-image of this project.


Xuan Hui is a multimedia artist who is inspired by various subject matters, from pop culture and oriental mythology to the natural biodiversity, cephalopods in particular. She enjoys exploring topics of anthropomorphism, duality, spirituality and self-identity. The mediums she uses ranges from digital programs for coding and illustration found and processed objects or materials to costume and prop ensembles which are heavily inspired by her roots in pop culture and cosplay. In her free time she can be found gaming or working on her next costume. Xuan Hui's goals for the future include working on big media productions as a costume and prop technician and produce works that will change the stigma around the aesthetic of popular culture in contemporary art.


During the pandemic, the lack of physical interaction with others meant that social interaction online became the new norm, the validity of emotions being accurately conveyed through digital media has always been questioned and I became interested in how emotions could be replicated, evoked and conveyed through digital means. I thought about how this conveying of emotions occured in the natural world where different animals could convey emotions to each other, especially those of defensive nature when threathened. In particular the use of colours and shapes in the natural world is very prominent in displaying distress, we see it in cephalopods such as octopus and squid, many poisonous species such as dart frogs are brightly coloured as a warning against predators. When approaching the choice of aesthetic, I knew from the start that I wanted to work with a more illustrative, animation like approach instead of something rigid or geometric to produce an organic like visual that could retain elements of the synthetic. I wanted to see if synthetic displays of emotions can evoke authentic emotions.


I built majority of the base code on my own and I'm happy that it was something I was able to build upon and develop albiet I believ there are ways that I have not learnt yet to make it more efficient. I was also happy to be introduced to a lot more functions than that were available in the p5js reference resources. I also learnt how to look at a code more functionally and understand better how the different elements interact with each other.

p5js Sketches

Code Abstractions