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"Lunaticus": Visualization of A Lunar-Entrained Bipolar Mood Cycle

Special thanks to Honglin Cai as Video Photographer, Shanshan Bai as Performance Model, and Veritas Gassmann as Garment Model & Zhe Wang as Tracking Advisor.


Project Abstract

The Latin word “lunaticus,” meaning “of the moon” or “moon struck,” originally referred mainly to madness, as Romans believed that diseases were caused by the moon. However, the word later evolved into “lunatic,” a term considered insulting in serious contexts, referring to people who are considered mentally ill, dangerous, foolish, or unpredictable. Back since the time when philosophers such as Aristotle argued that the full moon induced insane individuals with bipolar disorder through sleep deprivation, the term “lunaticus” was an ancient currency codified in the psychiatric profession. A recent research study, which correlates the sleep records of a bipolar patient with the lunar and solar phases while the patient simultaneously documented his own mood swings, suggests an association between the bipolar mood cycle and the lunar phases, as well as the imagery quality of the word “lunaticus.”


I named this project after “Lunaticus” with quotation marks in order to strip the term of its negative derivative context. With over 46 million people around the globe suffering from bipolar disorder, this project, in the form of empathetic performance within an immersive surrounding context, attempts to encourage patients to actively seek effective intervention for their manic depression, and ease the debilitating stigma attached to bipolar disorder, and other mental diseases, in our society.


Intro to Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very “down,” sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). 


People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and uncharacteristic behaviours—often without recognizing their likely harmful or undesirable effects. These distinct periods are called “mood episodes.” Mood episodes are very different from the moods and behaviors that are typical for the person. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day. Episodes may also last for longer periods, such as several days or weeks.

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Although the symptoms may vary over time, bipolar disorder usually requires lifelong treatment. Following a prescribed treatment plan can help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Lunar-entrained Mood Cycle

According to a 2018 study by T. Wehr published in Translational Psychiatry, lunar cycles can entrain mood cycles in patients with bipolar depression by affecting their circadian rhythms. Based on the researcher’s previous findings that bipolar patients’ periodicities in their mood cycles shared similarities with their synchronization to multiples of bi-weekly lunar tidal cycles, in this 2018 study, a bipolar patient was allowed to sleep in his habitual manner, and his mood swings appeared to reflect the beats that occur as the solar 24h cycle and the 24.8h lunar cycle move in and out of phase, with a switch from depression to mania around the new moon, and the opposite switch at full moon. When the patient was allowed to sleep ad libitum, the 24.8h cycle in sleep/wake patterns became more prominent. Finally, when asked to sleep at night only, the lunar cycle in his sleep pattern disappeared and, remarkably, so did the mood swings.

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From the study: Bipolar mood cycles coincided with beat cycles that arose as wake-onsets entrained to the 24.8-h lunar tidal day went in and out of phase with sleep onsets entrained to the 24-h solar day.


From The Patient

Richard Dreyfuss is an award-winning American actor and bipolar disorder patient, who is well-versed in the downside of bipolar disorder: feelings of anxious dread that started in boyhood, and bouts of depression as he matured. Dreyfuss has frequently shared the story of how he realized early on that he felt things more intensely than the people around him. During his teen years, as he tells it, friends would joke about anchoring him with cables when his words started tumbling out with manic speed and intensity. During an interview with The Menninger Clinic, Dreyfuss described his bipolar experience as “that feeling you get on the night before a test when you haven’t studied. And you get a kind of anxiety that grows and grows and becomes untenable, which I had named: I called him old anticipatory dread, a pirate who kept climbing up to kill me.”


Since the age of 19, Dreyfuss has been in psychotherapy, through which he has learned a lot about himself as a person, which is not the case for all people. A lot of people are afraid of sharing their bipolar experience, and seek help due to the social context and the stigma attached to manic depression. Although Dreyfuss had long been clean and sober, and now takes tailored prescriptions instead, he still faced criticism and challenges toward his previous avid substance use in an attempt to escape the pandemonium inside his head. “It took me until I was in my late 40s and early 50s before I really understood what the phrase ‘medicating yourself’ meant,” he said in a Sarasota Herald-Tribune interview. “Until then, I had accepted all the phrases that came at me in the culture: you’re a drug addict, you’re drug-dependent, you’re drug-this, you’re drug-that.” After knowing that it wasn’t his soul but the structure of his body that caused the disorder, he felt a huge relief with the guilt lifted from this stigma.

Chatting with a reporter from the website Everyday Health after his speech, Dreyfuss attributed his persistence in finding psychiatrists and the right protocol as the key reasons for his recovery: “You have to have patience, and you have to have grace, and you have to be willing to forgive others and forgive yourself. That’s the goal.” Dreyfuss encourages people to work hard to shed old attitudes surrounding bipolar disorder, as many patients believe there is something shameful about depression or anxiety. “These are medical conditions, these are part of your body.” He believes that “no matter what you call it, this is an illness no different from, say, diabetes or asthma—and like those conditions, should be neither ignored nor stigmatized. Feeling ashamed would mean surrendering to someone else’s judgment—and ignorant judgment at that.”

Though bipolar could have been the antagonist in his life, Dreyfuss learned to treat it as an ally that helped propel his chosen career, and enjoys the bi-product of bipolar disorder – incandescent ecstasy of creation. It’s vital, Dreyfuss urges, that society talk more openly about bipolar disorder, manic depression, and mental health in general. Nobody is ever more than a few associations away from someone who experiences mental health challenges. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll understand that this is something that needs to be addressed properly. That is as true for individuals as for society, which is why Dreyfuss talks about liking his illness: “You can enjoy it or you can run from it and hide behind stigma and shame,” he explains. “Stigma is silly, stigma is stupid … ‘stigma’ is a word that should be kicked away—and ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’—because it’s a condition,” said Dreyfuss on NBC’s Today show.

From Psychiatry Specialists

Thomas Insel


During a TED Talk, Insel listed facts about how early detection and scientific treatment have significantly changed and saved people’s lives. While physical illness can be noticed at an early stage, mental illness and chronic disorders are, however, not easy to detect, as behaviors are the last thing to signal a mental disorder. Insel addressed the severity of the status quo that undetected mental disorders kill numerous people worldwide every year, and advocated for raising social awareness as well as providing broader interventions towards patients with mental disorders.

Jeffrey Lieberman


Lieberman pointed out the fact that even though 20% of the world’s population suffers from a mental disorder at some point in their lifetimes, many people are too ashamed to seek effective treatments for mental disorders due to lack of awareness, lack of access to care, and the stigma attached to mental disorders under social discourse.


He emphasized that the power of science leading to knowledge and awareness, as well as effective treatments, can help eliminate illness, prejudice, and stigma. Proposing his strategy of encouraging early intervention and providing community-based comprehensive care, Lieberman believes that proactive mental healthcare will reduce the cost of delivering healthcare. He advocates for people to show their concern for others to alleviate unnecessary suffering, and for people to demonstrate compassion to those who have mental illness.

Thomas Szasz


Szasz, professor of State University of New York, addressed that a medical model of mental illness imposes an inappropriate framework of concepts and practices on the lives of people who suffer various psychological problems. He argues that mental illness is a harmful myth, for it has nothing to do with brain disease, and is just “made by establishing a deviance in behavior from certain psychosocial, ethical, or legal norms.” Szasz claims that mental illness, similar to those values and beliefs that bond a community tighter and differentiate those who are inside and those who are outside, should refer to misbehavior of social norms that navigate social institutions to help “patients” attain necessary resources. Establishing a mental illness model may increase the tension between patients and mental health authorities, leading to individuals’ walking into medical frameworks being institutionalized against their will. Being labeled as a victim can also affect other people’s views of the individual. This might trigger helpful reactive attitudes from others, such as sympathy, which can lead to social support, while on the other hand, it can also lead to hatred. Once patients’ mental status are defined as “sick,” and society may have presumptions around those individuals, which may lead to mistreatment, or overwhelming attention to a person’s life. Szasz advocates that medical treatment should be tailored to achieve higher individuality in medical care. 

Motion graphic mock-ups of the environment.


Environmental Setup

Based on the research above, I fabricated a kinetic visual language that resembles the surging and receding bipolar mood cycles in the amplitude of moon tides, and tailored the narratives of the video in synchronicity with bipolar patients’ experiences according to Dreyfuss’ interview. In order to create an immersive environment, in addition to the wall in the center that amplifies the psychological phases of manic depression patients, I utilized projections on the sides as lighting sources to create an emotional ambience.

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Main Wall

Major display screen. The tracking graphics are projected on this wall only.

Side Walls

Serve as light boxes and the auxiliary display screens to introduce an extension of space when needed. The advantage of using projections as the light sources is that they can swiftly provide on-time strobe flash and breath light without any preset. 


Top Light

Provides a supplementary, soft spot light in the center.

Tracking Stand/Block

Helps ensure that the silhouette Kinect captures is not distorted by lifting the device above the floor. The block was used as a seat for the model at the beginning of the performance for the purpose of aligning the moon image and the back of the model from the camera angle.

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TouchDesigner is employed to develop real-time rendering of the interactive content in this project. By capturing the body movement, the tracking enabled by Kinect 2 mirrors the silhouette and leaves a trail of the performer, mimicking the dissociative self, with bipolar patients stripped from their struggles through treatment. To ensure the smooth operation of the shooting, as well as the interoperability between the device and the performance, multiple on-site experiments and space dimension measurements were conducted in advance.

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Motion Graphics

The design concept of the motion graphics for the projection content is the mental journey of bipolar patients. In addition to a set of dynamic audio spectra that respond to the rhythm and beats of the music, the glitch impulses and strobe flashes are included to show the manic episode and infinite entraining vortex, and the breathing gradient images are created to indicate the depression bipolar patients experience.

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Storyboard of the main screen

After Effects Procedure

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Graphics for the side walls.


Inspired by modern dance, the choreographic design aims to create a body movement flow that is cohesive to the rhythm of the music as well as the lunar-entrained bipolar mood cycles from the research context. Playing with the mirrored particle silhouette of the moving figure, the performance begins with the juxtaposition of the moon and the dancer to convey an autistic, helpless mental state. To show self-isolation, at the very beginning, the performer’s hands were enclosed in the sleeves, completing a full moon shape with the back of the garment. By stretching the cramped limbs and ripping off the garment’s flap in the front, the performance then entered a pandemonium stage, stimulated by the scattering radiation from the changing lunar phases, involving impetus turns, whisks, and flickers. In the tune of the beginning, the performance ends with a closed, foetal position to convey a dejected mood.

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On-site rehearsal


The music of this performance is fabricated with sounds collected from space by NASA, along with a remix of works from several avant-garde musicians.

Remix materials:

- Harris, Benjamin (Isolat Pattern). "BLK. Hse." Clinical Ambience, Kvitnu, April 10, 2015, B00W26G810

- Sakamoto, Ryuichi. Noto, Alva. "Naono (Live)." Live at Sydney Opera House, NOTON, May 11, 2020, B087V79TWL

- Lakker. "Mountain Divide EP - 12"." R&S Records, August 20, 2014, B00MNMD1W2

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Garment Design

The garment is inspired by the ever-changing lunar phases as well as artworks from Man Ray and Alphose Mucha. Using the wrinkles enabled by gathering techniques to resemble the texture of craters on the moon, as well as the removable flap in the front of the chest, I explored the interactive quality of the architecture of the human body form. 

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Garment as Performance Costume

For the performance costume, I took choreography into consideration when later revisiting this garment. I added strips on the sleeves with light-sensitive reflective material to enhance the dimensionality of this garment and its interaction with human body movement. The heavy duty fusing on the sleeves fortifying the structure also ensures the shapes remain the same. For the convenience of the model, I added a piece of translucent satin at the back of the skirt at the dropped waist to avoid accidental exposure during the performance.

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