Laser Cutting ~ Ark of Questions

In the Jewish religion, the holy ark is the cabinet at the center of the synagogue that contains the Torah – a handwritten scroll that documents the teachings that are the foundation of the faith. Included in the Torah are the Ten Commandments – or the core ethical principles in both Judaism and Christianity.

This is my ark. At least that is what I had intended it to be. But, as I was constructing it, it occurred to me that in many ways it resembled one of those old-fashioned mechanical fortune-telling devices in which you inserted a coin, and it presented you with a glimpse of what's to come.

In all actuality, though, I'm not on board with either commandments or fortunes. So instead, my ark simply poses questions that you are invited to ponder.

Constructed out of flat sheets of laser-cut acrylic, the Ark of Questions measures approximately 7.5" x 10.75" x 17.5" and is embellished with resin-filled etchings reminiscent of Middle Eastern designs. The Ark's doors are decorated with an inlaid pattern of tiles that resemble the stained glass of church windows. The bottom portion of the Ark is a storage drawer that contains a book entitled, "Questions from the Ark."

The Ark plugs into household mains and inside there are a number of electronic components powered by an Arduino computer. When first turned on, the Ark's screen provides the prompt: "Slide ring to open doors." To the left of the screen is a small finger-sized hole. Beneath the hole is a pressure-sensitive switch. Inserting your finger into the hole and sliding downward causes the Ark's two doors to swing open and illuminate its contents.

Inside the Ark are twelve coins or tokens, each measuring approximately 2.5" in diameter. The token's front sides each depict an illustration from one chapter of the book. These illustrations are created from smoothly polished inlaid acrylic tiles. The back of the tokens are laser-etched acrylic that resemble currency and depict an image and chapter title from the book.

When the Ark's doors are opened, the screen displays the message: "Place Coin on Reader." To the screen's right is a circular indentation with a small notch. Each token has a corresponding notch to ensure proper placement. Using a series of magnetic switches, the reader decodes which token is placed on the reader, and a corresponding question is displayed on the screen. Each question is designed neither to instruct the users what to do, nor to tell them what will happen in the future, but rather encourage them to ponder an issue - much like a Zen master will do with his students.

Switches on the side of the Ark control the main power, the screen power, the screen contrast, and the night lights. The two circular emblems at the top of the Ark are actually night lights that cast a soothing blue glow. And when they're on, so is a light that illuminates the Ark's drawer. The drawer pull is a cast resin blue dome. Finally, at the front center of the Ark's shelf is an incense burner that is encircled with a glowing blue ring to enable the incense's smoke to be seen in the dark.

Ark in Action

Additional Views

The Book

I hand-bound this book using cloth from the boards of an old book. It measures approximately 6.5" x 4.5" and has a pictorial paste-down on the embossed cover.

The text is a work of fiction about a boy who meets a mysterious old man who works at the zoo. During their summer together, they have a number of conversations, documented in each "chapter" of the book. Each "token" in the ark contains an illustration from one of the chapters. As bound, the book is 76 pages long, but is 36 standard-sized pages; approximately 7,000 words.

Here is the complete text

The Tokens

1. What do you intend to do?

2. What can you do?

3. Who are you thinking about?

4. What do you really need?

5. What are you thinking about?

6. How do you choose to feel?

7. What do you have to do?

8. What if it all turns out wrong?

9. Why aren't you laughing now?

10. When can you make a change?

11. How do you know what is true?

12. Who do you want to be?