I am a Sensor


Aus dem Äther in den Körper

Since the 90ies many devices and machines have found their place between the artist and its audience. Communication happens in an controlled, planned, downsized way – in short: posthuman. In doing so we accept that every interface deflect the attention from our senses in favour of technical devices and data.

An experiment shows what happens when the body is given back its place as the ultimate instance of evaluation and the natural senses of humans and other living beings are brought into the center of consideration.

The video has been produced for the annual meeting of the german association of media sciences, Leuphana University Lüneburg 2013

Website der Veranstaltung

Interview über die Arbeit auf der Tagung
Sensordata measured at the toes



Trailer from the 1 hour video

For the work Transits, Ursula Damm filmed the Aeschenplatz in Basel during a period of 24 hours. Every day, thousands of cars, pedestrians and trams pass Basel’s most important traffic junction. “Transits” captures and alienates the recorded stream of motion with an intelligent algorithm that was developed by the artist and her team: It evaluates the audiovisual data and categorizes the patterns of movement and the color schemes. Based on the human memory structure and the visual system, the artificial neuronal network integrated in the software – where every pixel corresponds to one neuron – computes the visual flow. Various perceptional image layers overlap to generate an intriguing visual language in which stationary picture elements compete against the color scene. This begins at night and leads via dawn and noon to dusk; at the same time it is pervaded by arbitrary passersby, by cars, trams and people in the streets. The generative video interprets movements as atmospheres and eventually throws the viewer back to an individual perception of the city.

A detailed description of the algorithms and a further development of a interface for the installation you may find here

Transits has been produced for the exhibition sensing place of the  House of Electronic Arts Basel and is part of the collection of the museum.

close-up on the pedestrian level
People standing at the platform
top view on the Aeschenplatz

Screen print

Konzept der Installation:
Ursula Damm
Vorarbeiten: Matthias Weber
Software: Martin Schneider
Sound: Maximilian Netter

The outline of paradise (sustainable luminosity, video)


This artwork has initially been produced as a produkt provided from super-cell.org, a supermarket offering speculative products related to Synthetic Biology:

What would our cities look like if advertising messages were produced not from artificial lighting but
from swarming midges, glowing like fireflies? Would this natural light production not also be sensuously
much more appealing than the techno aesthetic of conventional advertising? The “Outline of
Paradise” explores the promises and capabilities of technoscience and develops an installation out of
these narratives. It sets the technology towards a natural, sensual aesthetic, which would be natural
and sustainable.
In order to implement this new technology, a natural light source, which has been produced by
nature, should be used and modified: from those animals that live in the dark which have formed
their own light organ. In the deep sea, it enables orientation – at night it helps a firefly in attracting
a mate. „Sustainable Luminosity“ takes up this suggestion of nature and makes use of this light emitting
Sustainable Luminosity should take as a model the form of a swarm of glow worms in the act of
wooing a partner, and develop new advertising media for cities. For the installation we would train
non-biting midges (Chironomidae) to fly in a way that their swarm takes the shape of advertisement
messages. The insects are genetically modified to glow in the dark and to alter their genetic make-up
according to the training and sound input we provide them. This initial training would be inherited
over generations and keeps the swarm in shape. In this manner breeding for larvae can be purchased
as an individual product and therefore introduced into the market.

With super-cell.org we founded in 2010 the first online supermarket of synthetic biology. It was
created by my students as a speculative design project within the iGEM competition, a student competition at MIT in Boston. The team was a collaboration of students of Prof. Roland Eils, Bioquant /
Ruprecht-Karls-University of Heidelberg, and staff and students of my chair at the Bauhaus University
As part of the super-cell, I developed the product „sustainable luminosity“ as a model for the subsequently
resulting products of my students.
Today I wish, unlike my students, to experience my work as an artist not only virtually – therefore I‘ve
started to breed mosquitoes, their larvae made available to me from the Senckenberg Institute, to
train them in a sound feedback Installation so that their swarms fly in formations. The installation
shall examine formally the material and installative realities the tasks that in everyday interactions
would occur when fantasies become real.
Today I wish, unlike my students, to experience my work as an artist not only virtually – therefore I‘ve
started to breed mosquitoes, their larvae made available to me from the Senckenberg Institute, to
train them in a sound feedback Installation so that their swarms fly in formations. The installation
shall examine formally the material and installative realities the tasks that in everyday interactions
would occur when fantasies become real.

Situation at ACC – a swarm looses its shape

Video edited by Thomas Hawranke

For our experiment, we pretend to train non-biting midges (Chironomidae) to fly in a way that their swarm takes the shape of advertisement messages. The insects are genetically modified to glow in the dark and alter their genetic make-up according to the training and sound input we provide. This initial training will be inherited over generations and keeps the swarm in shape.

How can letters be tought to insects? How can we teach the alphabet to midges?
As chironommidae are sensitive to sound, we use a real-time sound spatialisation system to teach the midges. Until now we are only able to produce clouds of midges forming a simple LED font

Natural midges (chironomidae) form swarms with the shape of a circulating sphere. The swarms consists of male adults congregating for courtship. They are organized through the sound of the wingbeats of the male midges. Our system uses the sensitivity of chironomidae for sound and organize them with synthetic wing beat sound.

Larvae, visit at a production facility in Poland
Selection facility
Training station for midges
Code assigned to letters


I see therefore I am


Exhibition at Haus-am-Horn, Weimar 2011

Zwei Kameras, mit einem Rechner verbunden.  Die Stelen, die die Kameras tragen, sind mit Rollen versehen, sind beweglich und von Besuchern  zu verschieben. An den Stelen sind Knöpfe, über die die Besucher das Bild der jeweiligen Kamera als Zuspieler für die Software aktivieren können.

Im Innern des „Haus am Horn“ – des historischen Bauhaus-Modellhauses – stehen zwei Kameras auf beweglichen Holzstativen. Eine Kamera schaut aus dem Fenster, eine ist auf das Innere des Gebäudes gerichtet. Besucher können diese Kameras bewegen und sie als Zuspieler für ein Bild auswählen, das im Wohnraum als Projektion entsteht: die erste Kamera sensibilisiert für einen Blick, das Bild der zweiten Kamera entsteht in den aktiven Bereichen des ersten Bildes. Sichtbar ist nur dort etwas, wo bereits zuvor etwas passiert ist.
Die Installation operiert mit den Mechanismen der Wahrnehmung und untersucht algorithmische Verfahren auf ihr assoziativ/künstlerischen Qualitäten. Wie wir Menschen nutzt points-of-view zwei „Augen“ um zu sehen. Allerdings „sehen“ diese Kameras nie gleichzeitig, sondern versetzt in Raum und in Zeit. Sie sind montiert auf zwei beweglichen, mit Rollen versehenen Steelen, betrachten den Raum, in welchem sie stehen, aus der Perspektive der Besucher der Ausstellung. Die Besucher können durch Knopfdruck an den Steelen die jeweilige Kamera aktivieren. Dadurch wird das Bild der Kamera zugespielt zu einer Videoprojektion. Diese berechnet ein Bild, das nicht nur die aktuelle Perspektive der aktiven Kamera abbildet, sondern
über ein programmiertes Gedächtnis (eine vereinfachte, neuronale Karte) das aktuelle Bild mit den vorherigen Perspektiven überblendet. Dabei erkennt die Software insbesondere in den Bildbereichen
etwas, in welchen zuvor bereits Bildveränderungen geschehen sind. Es entsteht eine Überblendung von lebendigen „Augenblicken“ und Perspektiven, ähnlich dem Vorgang, wie unsere Wahrnehmung Bilder erkennt – ohne Vorwissen – sondern das jeweils Neue aus dem Vorigen verstehend ableitend. Die Installation der zwei Steelen ermöglich, durch das Bewegen der Kameraständer im Raum und
das wiederholte Aktivieren der jeweils anderen Kamera die Eigenschaften der Software spielerisch zu erforschen. Dabei erlebt der Besucher, wie Technologie sind den Verständnis – und Wahrnehmungsprinzipien
des Menschen immer mehr annähert und die Bildästhetik vergangener Epochen (wie z.B. des Impressionismus oder des Kubismus) in Artefakten programmierter Bildwelten wieder
lebendig wird.

greenhouse converter


greenhouse converter, installation view

The greenhouse converter is an apparatus for algae, water fleas and people.
Water from a fountain, enriched with atmospheric gases, especially carbon dioxide, is pumped from beneath via an air supply into an aquarium.
This feeds an algal culture which, influenced by light, produces biomass and oxygen from the carbon dioxide.
The light is observed in the aquarium as the word “beloved”, in blue, made up from single LEDs which can be individually controlled.
“Beloved” is a reference to the endosymbiosis theories of Lynn Margulis. According to her, cells with a nucleus originate from symbiotic relationships between different types of bacteria.

User interface

Then water from the fountain is also added, so that, with increased carbon dioxide content, plant growth is stimulated.
Over time, the algae grow and grow. They also colonise the word, formed of LEDs, in the water, reducing its legibility.
If algal growth is excessive then although a lot of carbon dioxide is broken down, the ecological balance threatens to tip over if the water fleas do not dispose of the algae by vigorously consuming them. To compensate, the light supply is then reduced, since water fleas avoid the yellow daylight and recognize, in the blue light, deep water which protects them from their enemies.

daphnia attracted by different light colours
internal states of the LED’s, working as sensors and effectors

The status of the display of the word “beloved” serves then as the thermometer of this little ecosystem or rather of its relationship with the greater biosphere which exists outside it.
If the word can be clearly read, with a lot of points of light displaying as blue, then the system is in a state of balance. Distortions in the ecological system will be manifested in the word becoming increasingly hard to read.

experiments with different algae
pump mechanism
Interface to regulate Oxygen input

To operate the greenhouse converter there is, alongside the aquarium, a box for a pump, with which passers-by can control the exchange of water and gas using a lever. An LCD display shows the oxygen content of the water outside and inside the aquarium. The lever creates the illusion of being in control and is a concession to the desire to be able to use technology to control nature, which derives from a state of balance.

aquarium with sufficient algal growth
Diagrammatic drawing of input and output of the system

Documentation (long version)



won competition

  • Uni Cottbus (1999)
  • metro station Wehrhahnlinie Düsseldorf (2002)


  • Campus der Fachhochschule Regensburg (2004)
  • Landesvertretung Rheinland-Pfalz, Berlin (2003)
  • Vorraum der Uni-Mensa der Uni-Koblenz (2000)
  • Gestaltung des Ortszentrums Wörgl/Österreich (1999/2000)

documentation downloaden (PDF, 1 MB)



598 (teaching the ground)

Installation at “Springhornhof” as part of the exhibition “Landscape 2.0”

The video installation “598” comprises a high definition video installation, digitally manipulated sound and five mats made of unprocessed sheep’s wool (42′ video stream gained from a custom made software).

“598” shows a landscape of primitive heathland, filtered through computer software operating without our knowledge or powers of interpretation. As if in our mind’s eye, a kind of landscape of the perceived image builds up. In their movements sheep are oriented not just to the group, but also in relation to the supply of food beneath them. The movements of individual animals, as well as of flocks as a whole, thus tell us about the composition of the landscape. The image is in itself already an interpretive vision of the soil beneath their feet which, over the centuries, has been used as pasture in the same way.

The form of the Lüneburg Heath already shows the effects of grazing sheep. Their consumption of grass and young shoots protects the heath from afforestation and creates clearings and open, green spaces; in other words, a heath. The appearance of freely grazed areas has, over the centuries, allowed a landscape to develop whose form derives from this symbiosis. But it is possible to recognize other forms of co-operation as well, and the sheep, which lack a sense of will, are a rewarding example for illustrating the study of behavioural strategies that go beyond egotism.

It is now not enough for us humans simply to observe and to learn to understand. In the computer we have designed a tool which grazing sheep, and a calming landscape, analyse and categorize by means of a structure that is capable of learning. This software learns from the landscape and from the 598 sheep – recorded on a video camera mounted on a crane, as if we humans, looking down from the clouds, were omniscient.

A new, artificial landscape develops which allows the properties of the things observed to be perceived. Due to the movement of the sheep across the heath these properties can be recognised but as individual images they are not evident.

Trailer of the video

Die Lüneburger Heide zeigt in ihrer Gestalt bereits die Auswirkungen der Schafe. Ihr Fressen von Gras und Schößlingen bewahrt die Heide vor der “Verwaldung”, schafft Lichtungen und Grünflächen, eben eine “Heide”.
Das entstehen von freigefressenen Terrains hat so über die Jahrhunderte eine Landschaft entstehen lassen, die ihre Gestalt aus dieser Symbiose herleitet. Aber nicht nur dieses Zusammenspiel ist erkennbar, die willenlosen Schafe sind ein dankbares Anschauungsbeispiel, um kollektive Handlungstrategien jenseits von Egosimen zu studieren.

Nun reicht es uns Menschen ja nicht, einfach hinzuschauen und verstehen zu lernen. So haben wir im Rechner ein Werkzeug entworfen, die weidenden Schafe und die ruhende Landschaft durch eine lernfähige Struktur zu analysieren und kategorisieren. Diese Software lernt von der Landschaft und von 598 Schafen – aufgenommen von einer Videokamera auf einem Kran, so als wären wir Menschen allwissend aus einer Wolke schauend.

Es entsteht eine neue, künstliche Landschaft, die es ermöglicht, Eigenschaften des Gesehenen wahrzunehmen, die aufgrund der Bewegungen der Schafe durch die Heide erkennbar werden, aber im Einzelbild nicht offensichtlich sind.

Screenprint der Installation

zur Software:
Die bishergie Software berechnet Differenzbilder vom aktuellen Bild eines Videos zu einem Referenzbild, um so Bewegungen fest zu stellen. Sie enthält weiterhin eine Art neuronales Netz, dessen Neuronen sich einzeln an die Differenzwerte jedes einzelnen Bildpunktes anpassen. Jeder Bildpunkt entspricht einem Neuron. Diese Software soll weiter entwickelt werden, so dass jedes Neuron nicht nur einzeln für sich den ihm zugewiesenen Bildpunkt lernt. Es sollen zusätzlich die Nachbarschaftsbeziehungen sowohl der Bildpunkte als auch der Neuronen mit einfließen. Dadurch entsteht ein selbst organisierendes System, Neuronen, die schon bestimmte Differenzwerte gelernt haben, fühlen sich zu ähnlichen Werten stärker angezogen. Sie lernen diese stärker mit. Somit werden sich Bereiche innerhalb des neuronalen Netzes ausbilden, die einerseits ähnlichen Differenzwerten entsprechen andererseits aber auch immer noch an den Ort der jeweiligen Bildpunkte gebunden sind.
August 2009
Programmierung: Matthias Weber, Sebastian Stang
Sound: Maximilian Netter, Sebastian Stang

on the nature of things


on the nature of things, 2009
comprises five video projections which atmospherically depict and re-interpret our habitat.
In the exhibition space five projections are set up like a landscape. Each of these projections represents one aspect of the manifestation of nature as altered by civilization, so creating a space where a “third nature”‚ is experienced. The projections are always visible but need to be viewed from some distance so that an audio environment can evolve in front of each them. The areas can be experienced just by strolling through them.
Each projection consists of one video loop lasting between 90 seconds and six minutes. In these projections, weather and global energy balance phenomena are set to the sounds of social events such as football, Formula One racing or group laughter. In these, people develop their desires and visions with collective power.
The installations seek out people’s motivations in designing and running their civilization – sporting and event culture, energy management as the heartbeat of modern society. In the end the dream of cold technology sweeps temperature charts and climate change before it.
In his work On the nature of things Lucretius still pre-supposed a closed cosmos and the presence of natural deities. But in the age of On the Internet of things, the title of his work assumes a new flavour: human artefacts acquire their own nature while moving, once they have been created and located, into a self-explanatory state of existence. Here then, technology thus appears to acquire its own justification for existence, which like the creation of the world, is beyond dispute.
In this sense I now depict the first, original nature as a consequence of human behaviour, as it can certainly now be understood in this the era of climate change.
Social upheaval is exemplified not only climatically, or by way of natural disasters, but also by social phenomena and processes.

On 27 February 1990 I went to the Netherlands to film the sea. I had selected the period of spring tides in the hope of a moderate sea swell. Unexpectedly a storm of historic proportions developed. We had great difficulty keeping the tripod steady and not being blown away ourselves, camera and all. Nineteen years later climate change is on everyone’s lips. Our society has changed a great deal.
I set the surges of enthusiasm from crowds in football stadiums to the waves. With all the drama of the situation – high tides and a rising sea level – a sense of euphoria persisted, stemming as much from the power of the sea as from the naturally synchronised voices of thousands of spectators in a stadium.

Wind turbines, nothing but wind turbines in the landscape, rotating at slightly different speeds, but not with the local sound of the wind but with the sound of Formula One racing.
We are no longer used to believing that an element in motion does not move “by itself” or “naturally”, we instantly assume it to be driven mechanically, appropriating this with enthusiasm. In the video a sound space develops in which a car is allocated to each wind turbine, but differentiated by its close or distant location. A vision of a technically codified landscape emerges, in which artefacts of civilization appear to be causing natural phenomena such as the wind.

aerial photos [1993-1997]


Musterzeichnung über Luftphoto (Aachen) 1993


Luftbild von Mailand, mit geometrischen Zeichnungen als Interpretation von Bewegungsachsen und ihrem Verhältnis zu den Quartieren

Luftbild von Mailand

Installation aus Musterzeichnungen während und für das Programmieren von trace pattern, zusammen mit Fotos von Steinen und Felsen, E-Mail-Korrespondez mit Informatikern


Musterzeichnung über Felsen in der Finnmark (Nordnorwegen) 1997

Musterzeichnung über Felsen in der Finnmark

pattern drawings [1996]


als Beschreibung von Netzen, welche als Informationsüberträger fungieren, enstanden seit 1987 verschiedene Kompositionen, welche Möglichkeiten der Parkettierung austesten im Hinblick auf Ästhetik und Fortsetzbarkeit unter Beibehaltung eines Regelwerks.

Muster entstehen als Beschreibung von topographischer Raumbeschreibung: ein offenes Feld wird aufgeteilt in Durchgangsbereiche, Verbindungswege und Siedlungsbereiche. In den Mustern stehen Polygone für Orte des Verweilens und Reihungen von Vierecken oder Linien für Bewegungstrassen.
Sinn der Muster ist es, eine formale Beschreibung für ein möglichst vielgestaltig zu planendes, adaprives Netz von Orten zu finden.

63/3/7/9 (1996)


Bleistiftzeichnungen direkt auf die Wand stellen zwischen den gefundenen Mustern und der konkreten Architektur Bezüge her und überprüfen beide aneinander.

Raumzeichnung 20/5/4 (1989)
Raumzeichnung 63/9/7/4 (1999)
Detail der Raumzeichnung 63/9/7/4 (1999)


seit 1993 entwickelten sich die 2-dimensionalen Muster in den Raum. Dabei dienen die Muster als Grundriss für mögliche Gebäudekomplexe.

Hier erste Versuche, Muster mit Pflanzenwuchsformen zu kombinieren (2013)
Musterzeichnung über Aachen (1993)