“When we explain it to people we get a lot of doubt,” Matt Parker says of Lumarca, his volumetric display installation, which renders graphics in 3D and has been in the works for several years. What puts that doubt in people’s heads is not necessarily how brilliant it looks, but instead how it works — Lumarca is composed of little more than a computer, a projector, and some string. Projected images turn hanging bits of string into dazzling beams of light, which can create 3D objects that appear to be suspended midair. It’s this contrast between the futuristic-looking display and the low-tech construction that makes people wonder. “Part of me, every time we build one, expects it not to work this time,” he says. “So I guess I’m not surprised when other people don’t believe it when they see it.”

Lumarca isn’t the only project to experiment with string and light, and it was originally built off of another project called Wiremap. Created by Albert Hwang, Wiremap worked in much the same way as Lumarca, using a projector to display graphics on a series of vertical wires and manipulating those images to create 3D objects. The similarities aren’t accidental: Parker was so inspired by Wiremap that he decided to create his own version for a thesis project at NYU. “I sort of reworked the construction technique that he had done, and reworked the programming side of it, and sort of made a much more robust library and construction technique that’s allowed us to push the project much further,” Parker says. “And that was the first Lumarca.” The two eventually joined forces to continue developing the idea.