Life in the deep.

A photo of four people in front of a projection screen displaying an ocean animation.

A still of ABYSSAL's tank structure, 2022. 1:00 loop; video projection on quilting cotton, PVC pipes, recycled paper, acrylic yarn, RGB LED lights, foam core board, plywood, 91 x 126 x 64 in. (231.1 x 320 x 162.6 cm). Photography: Brandon Mach.

ABYSSAL is a multisensory art installation focused on immersing one in the deep ocean environment. With an aim to foster curiosity and empathy for ocean ecosystems, we initiate a personal encounter with the habitat of deep zone flora and fauna. The installation uses video projections, sculptures, and sound to form a layered experience, enveloping guests in a new world. Aqua Children uses the word “abyssal” to convey the deep ocean’s mystery and hidden life, as well as its ability as an art installation to generate connections through exposure to deep zone habitats. As an art installation, we hope to provide people an opportunity to generate connections with non-charismatic marine flora and fauna.​

ABYSSAL’s primary structure consists of a large PVC tank displaying animated video projections of the illustrated deep sea. Within the darkness of the room,  particles of bioluminescence and stylized plankton drift within the tank’s boundaries. The inside of the tank is filled with recycled paper sculptures resembling kelp, hanging from the ceiling in multiple clusters to create a dense forest environment. RGB LED lights are contained within clusters of the kelp sculptures, and react to motion as one enters the tank. The interactive glitter and glow of the lights reflect the agency that plankton display within their habitat through their natural bioluminescence. Accompanied by this visual and tactile experience are layers of ambient instrumentals and oceanic sounds that can be heard from the in and outside of the tank sculpture.


Aqua Children (est. 2021) is comprised of artists and designers who have a passion for creating physical experiences that focus on transforming perceptions of time and space through interactive media. Working across multiple disciplines and voices allows us to dive into the intersections of installation art and empathetic design practices.

Katharina Mei-fa Brinschwitz — Project Manager & Animator
Josephine Hartono — Lead Visual Designer & Copywriter
Brandon Mach — Documenter & Engineer
Justina Le — Marketing & Outreach
Kenneth Nguyen — UX Research Lead & Video Editor

Using empathetic research to define the problem.

The team explored means of generating empathy for non-charismatic creatures in order to generate interest in their habitat. Chief questions that arose were how do humans empathize with organisms with a vastly different ways of living to them? How do you create these connections in a physical environment?

Formative Interviews

Additional perspectives were brought in to inform the creation of the project through qualitative semi-structured interviews. Due to the multi-media interdisciplinary nature of ABYSSAL, interviewees varied in profession and included Washington-based artists Ginny Ruffner and Anida Yoeu Ali, marine life specialists, UX project managers, and entire project teams.

Institutional Empathy Practices

The team analyzed empathetic practices used by aquariums and zoos. The key method that ABYSSAL modeled was the practice of providing experiences, which involves simulating a habitat and a creature’s natural behaviors to give individuals the means to interact with unfamiliar organisms.


Ideation + development.

Initial Conceptualization

From the very start, Team Aqua Children was drawn to the idea of representing non-charismatic creatures using light as a primary medium. The team’s initial concept, Luminescence of the Reef, was composed of coral-like structures and projected images forming a deep-ocean habitat.

Through quantitative ethnographic research, the team learned about creating defined spaces and accessibility considerations that led to a change in scope and subject.

Continued Iteration

As Aqua Children defined the project’s scope, the team used a tank structure to be a projection surface, creating a digital aquarium. Inspired by an interview with retired oceanographer Melissa Ferguson, ABYSSAL’s used bioluminescent plankton as its main subject due to its status as a non-charismatic creature labeled as both flora and fauna. Ferguson noted its snow-like appearance illuminating the deep waters; this imagery was kept in mind for stylizing the habitat with circular-shaped lights.

Prototyping & Development of Space

With consideration for the environment, Aqua Children prominently featured recycled paper as sculptural material. To highlight ocean flora, the team studied the structure of kelp and sculpted the recycled material in their image.

In order to display the deep ocean’s biodiversity visually, layers of silhouettes were slowly added to the projection in the background of the plankton animation.

As the project developed, the team's goal of modeling the deep ocean experience meant increasing the number of sensory components to create an immersive environment with audio and motion sensors.

User Testing & Feedback

Throughout the development process, Aqua Children’s main means of user research was through open-ended, qualitative interviews with visitors alongside a qualitative survey. Visitor responses were supplemented by the team’s observational data of each participant’s exploration.

Analysis of verbal feedback was the foundation for the iterative development process of the installation itself and its marketing. Since ABYSSAL was created as an open experience, the team’s testing process prioritized framing the installation’s visitors as guests rather than users who would have an ideal takeaway.


Conceptual Presentation Samples

Select samples slides from the team's presentation deck for its concept presentation.



ABYSSAL’s first public showing took place on May 20-21, 2022. The open experience of the space itself worked to initiate conversation between the team and the steady stream of guests themselves, adding additional voices to the full list of contributors that made ABYSSAL possible in the first place.


Throughout this project, Aqua Children was able to learn how to balance working with multiple technologies in a single space while maintaining immersion. ABYSSAL also successfully mobilized a community of individuals working towards an artistic goal. This sparked interest from beyond our main team to not only create experiences with the ocean, but to generate new experiences with arts production.

If this concept were to be re-explored, the team would expand interactivity with the exhibit outside of the immersive space in order to strengthen engagement with the topic. Additionally Aqua Children would aim to collect a broader range of custom-made resources, including creating soundscapes in order to suit varied spaces. Through these changes the team believes that it would be able to model environments more effectively, which would create a clearer path to maintaining interest in these habitats.