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, 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 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)



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



Interactive furniture for public places

idea | Installation | concept | stools | game | authors | links


enliven public spaces bringing form and structure into the consciousness of the general public. As they are connected with each other, “Fernfuehler” can also play, and can influence the behaviour of these other “Fernfuehler” (or of the people sitting on them). The town-planning interest lies in enlivening urban spaces for passers-by and making these spaces able to be changed. Instead of providing seating in public spaces as permanently fixed architecture, mobile groups of seats are provided which communicate with each other, thereby discovering, through experimentation, the optimal arrangement of elements in the space. Planning from the bottom-up is brought to bear here, instead of planning from on high, so involving the user in the process of shaping public space.



all possible states of fernfuehlers
sensory system of fernfuehlers

“Fernfuehler” are seating options that can be moved around at will. The seats are modular. They can be brought together to form ensembles, or they can stand alone. By pulling out their backrests they can be transformed into spatial elements, or, with the backrest pushed in, they can just be seats.
“Fernfuehler” detect what other “Fernfuehler” (or the people sitting on them) are doing. And they can react to what the other ones are doing.
They are tough and unpretentious.
They like people’s company as they always move in their direction.
They can hear. When you call them, they come.

Everything that “Fernfuehler” do can be observed in a small computer game. A worm’s eye view displays the area where the “Fernfuehler” are located as a network of nodes.

The birds-eye view of the setting can be made publicly visible for anyone on a hand held computer by passers by who are in the area. The network structure’s nodes, which represent the local arrangement of “Fernfuehler”,
can be manipulated by people playing with the “Fernfuehler” on the handheld computers’ displays or on the projected video screen. In this way people can control the paths that the seats follow in the area where they are located.



Is software art a further stage of conceptual art? Works by Dan Graham (“Poem Schema”, 1966 – 1969) or Sol Lewitts Wall drawings, together with his ‚sentences on conceptual Art‘ support this understanding. Tilman Baumgaertel draws a line in his paper ‚EXPERIMENTAL SOFTWARE’ from the instruction of lewitts concepts (which are meant to be machines) to the computers from today. But the software we are writing today is not looking for a crafts man executing our will, but for users who have more degrees of freedom in their behavior. Software art today is more something inbetween the programmer and the user.

The installation „Fernfuehler“ refers with its aesthetics to Sol Lewitts “Serial Project #1″ oder “Serial Project ABCD“. A programmer today still needs formal systems to allow the computer to make comparisons, differentiations, decisions. As the world of the computer is much smaller than our every day life, we have to offer the computer a smaller version of the latter. The pedestrians, visitors and passengers will break up the initially ordered setting of the „Fernfuehler“. The visitors can move the stools around and extend their backrests. The position of the stools react to the neural network and organize themselves in a bottom-up process, according to the presence and usage of the visitors.

A moderate number of “Fernfuehler” occupy the area. “Fernfuehler” are intelligent. They are Items of furniture with rollers and a motor. They can therefore move on their own. As soon as people arrive in the area, they will move towards them, as they have microphones which listen for their voices.

Now people can take their places on the seats, they can form groups or remain alone. Because “Fernfuehler” make first for wherever people are, the arrangement of furniture elements in the area corresponds to the structure of the area, thereby strengthening it. Now you could just find a spot in the area and watch how the seats move around and how other people react to them. Anyone who finds just watching the seats operating automatically too boring, can get out a handheld computer, load the game over a wireless network and use it to activate the “Fernfuehler”. On the screen you see a network structure with dots at each node. Each “Fernfuehler” in the area represents one of the nodes on this network.

The network connects each “Fernfuehler” while at the same time acting as a skin lying over the area. At this point there will be several options for determining the behaviour of the “Fernfuehler” in the area by manipulating the graphical interface. The purpose of the installation is to make public space more attractive, especially to young people. By providing networked seating, they experience the area as a place that changes, one that has moved beyond stable architecture. In addition they can themselves try the role of director, either on the hand held computers or, if they prefer, on the big screen, as they can influence the behaviour of passers-by by re-arranging the positions of the items of furniture. They experience what it is like for computer games to have an effect directly on the surrounding physical space and on the other people there.


the stools

move on rollers. When you sit on them, they will be on their frames, which settle down onto the ground on springs. Each seat has two side pieces which can be pulled out and used as backrests or, with both extended, transform the seat into an item that divides physical space.

Each seat is at the same time a node in a virtual network, linking every seat together. The nodes in the network are “neurones”, they learn from the signals which the seats, as it were, receive.
The sounds in the public space, and the use made of the seats for sitting on, are the signals feeding the neuronal network. LEDs inside the seat display the seat’s state of activity within the neuronal network, (with a colour or white light).

Each seat has a controller to which a microphone and a pressure sensor are connected. The pressure sensor can detect whether anyone is sitting on the seat, while the microphone picks up surrounding sounds, filtering human voices. If these sensors detect activity, then the seat “learns” that position as “positive”.

Prototype of a stool with LED’s to indicate the inner state of the neuronal network
“fernfühler”, an interactive installation for the public space

the game

A game is available over a wireless LAN, representing the spatial arrangement
of the seats and making it possible to integrate them. In this way it is possible
to use the computer game to instantly intervene not only on the screen, but
also into the immediate surroundings and the situation of other players.

Variations of the spacial order:


Ursula Damm, Matthias Weber (dipl. information science)


Double helix swing


an installation for swarms of midges on the banks of lakes and other bodies of water

Swarm attractor at the border of river traun, Linz, Ars electronica Cyberarts 2006

the idea

double helix swing is an installation which investigates the swarms of midges that can be found on the banks of lakes and other bodies of water. Swarms of midges are intriguing entities: without any apparent logic theyform at irregular intervals along the bank: towers of midges flying in circles – although it seems that their flight path is in fact angular. It is as though they fly in one direction, then they suddenly stop and fly off in another. Each swarm develops its own speed and rhythm. And each swarm formsitself into an axis which is circled by the midges in both directions: a flying double-helix.
The swarms are made up of male midges aiming to attract females for mating.Attraction and courtshipoccurs by wing beat which differs between the male and female insects. Based on these characteristics a video and sound installation is to be developed.

In order to observethe swarms they will be attracted by sounds of the female wing beat. Various sound sources (loud speakers) will be distributed at intervals in shallow water. At a suitable distance from the sound source a video camera will be located on the bank to record any swarms which may form. The camera is set up on a platform which can be accessed from the bank.Passers-by can approach thecamera and look for the swarms in the viewfinder. If a camera detects a formation it then remains still, a video image is recorded and is sent to a central computer.

screen prints of the indoor installation:

“double helix swing”, interactive instalallation
installation view at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum Cologne, October 2006:
Installation at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum Cologne


The swarm attractor

the set up

a series of loudspeakers were placed on a platform situated over shallow water to emit the sounds of the beating of a female mosquitos wings. A video camera, located at a certain distance from the source of the loudspeakers, records images of the swarms that are produced. These images are sent to a computer that analyses the movements and visualises them on the screen in the form of traces.

Outdoor setting with swarm attractor, louspeakers and camera

The camera ist build to be used by passers-by, they can locate possible swarms by adjusting the camera (turning, zooming etc.).

The loudspeakers around the camera emit the sounds of various insects’ wing beats. Using the switch, passers-by can try attracting insects using the wing beat sounds of the females of different species.

the software

The virtual world consists of three layers:

  1. the video of the midges, which runs in the background.
  2. the tracks of the midges, which are signified as nutrition (these are green tracks).
  3. the virtual creatures searching for and eating the tracks of the midges

The creatures, survival depends primarily on the video, coming from the outdoor camera.
The form of the tracks generates a structure which serves as “food” to a number of virtual creatures. These virtual creatures are capable of evolving, so adapting better and better to the tracks generated by the movements of the real mosquitoes. The behaviour of the virtual creatures depends, therefore, on the real environment, but is also conditioned internally by a virtual “genetic code” of programming and behaviour. This code can in turn be manipulated by the user of the installation.

Double Helix Swing

The intake of nutrition is regulated by a buffer, which stores all the food (that is the tracks) of the midges. The creatures have a variable food search radius. This radius depends on the velocity of the creatures. If they move fast, the search radius doesn’t have to be so big as when they are more or less immobile.
The creatures never eat all the food at once. As they eat only a certain percentage of the food found, they are able to remember where nutrition is located. The amount of food depends on the number of things moving on the video, coming from the camera. Using the sound, a feedback loop is produced: if there is too much food on the screen, the sound from the loudspeakers is muted or just changed, so that the midges are no longer attracted.

The creatures develop different forms. Every animal has a virtual gene, which defines its movement and its form. The form comprises the number of legs, the density of cells and the density of branches per node.
In the beginning there are three different types of creatures, but later on visitors can define new ones. If a creatures is replicated, a random operation defines whether the animal will be changed or not. Then, another random operation partially changes the animal’s code. While the creature is young, it will only have a few cells. But as it grows, it follows the form which is predefined in the gene. It grows until a certain, adjustable energy level is reached. Then it gives birth to several new creatures.

If the creature becomes big, it is possible that the cells will pull in different directions. Then the creature breaks in two. Both parts survive, one of them with the original code, the other with the new small form gene.



The installation can be shown as an indoor installation with or without the camera. The camera can be shown outdoor during summer closed to rivers or lakes. But it can also be shown indoor. Then, a virtual world is shown on the screen in which the visitors can search for swarms of midges.

For the installation without the camera you need:

  • 1 Linux-PC 3,2 GHz, 1 GB Ram, 3D-accelerated graphic card, soundcard (has to be shiped)
  • 1 stand (has to be shiped)
  • 1 Video Projectore
  • 2 Soundboxes (activ)

For the camera the following material is needed:

  • Camera (special design, has to be shiped)
  • 1 Linux-PC 3,2 GHz, approx. 1 GB Ram, mp2-encoder videocard, receiver
  • Switcher for loudspeakers
  • 5 loudspeakers



Concept: Ursula Damm
Programming: Christian Kessler
Sound: Yunchul Kim

A detailed description of the installation can be found in “The systemic image” by Inge Hinterwaldner, MIT Press 2017



Timescape (51° 13.66 north, 6° 46.523 east)
Kunstsammlung NRW K20, Düsseldorf exhibition at the fountain wall
9.9.-9.10. 2005

Installation | concept | interface | data processing | neural network | isosurface
sound | architectural context | video | outlook | staff


Installation setting

The ‘Zeitraum’ Installation is the most recent “inoutside”-installation in the series of video tracking installations for public spaces.

One perceives a virtual sculpture space-envelope come into being and vanish. This everchanging sculpture is controlled by the occurrences on Grabbeplatz. Like a naturally grown architecture this form is embedded into the contours of the immediate environment of the current location of the viewer. The positions of the people on Grabbeplatz as well as the position of the viewer of the picture are marked with red crosses. Connecting lines point from marked people approximately onto the place of the space-envelope where the people influence the generated form.
The installation is made up of nightly projections onto the fountain wall in the passageway of K20. On the roof of the art collection two infrared emitters and an infrared camera are installed. The emitters make up for the missing daylight, so that the camera may pick up the motions on the site. The regular light is an important prerequisite to be able to deduct the motions of the people. This is done by a video tracking program. It is determined where on the site movement takes place by comparing the current video image with a previously taken image of the empty site. The results are then sorted by “blobs”. “Blob” signifies a “Binary Large Object” and denotes a field of non-structured coordinates which moves equably. These animated data-fields are passed on to a graphic- and sound program that calculates the virtual sculpture from the abstracted traces. In this the motion traces are interpreted. As in earlier installations such as “memory space” (2002), “trace pattern II” (1998) or “inoutside I” (1998) and “inoutside II” (1999), the supplied video image is visible on the basis of a video texture so that the people who see this image may recognize themselves in the virtual image. So it becomes clear how the virtual forms, the clouds and arrows are calculated.



The installation deals with architectural and city-planning concepts. A new, different design technique should be attempted, that is aimed at observing the behaviour of people towards architecture. The goal is to depict the city or architecture as a dynamic organism. To show city and people as something collective, something in constant transformation, is what the installation wishes to convey.


The system, the way we used it in the six “inoutside”-installations does not allow for humans to be apprehended in their individuality. It is not about recognizing what makes up each person per surveillance system (for this we humans are still better at than machines), but about perceiving the quality specific to the site and to test it on humans and human behaviour. It’s about the cognition of behavioural patterns, but not about a description of the individual. Moreover the site should be individualized to ascertain its character.

data processing

With the recording of traces it is so, that the means of computation that is being done in the installation aims to characterise the site, whereby the collecting of the different individual traces becomes essential. The early installations such as “trace pattern II” (1998) are obviously geared towards the interaction amongst the people. The behaviour of the people is recorded, amplified and interpreted: Do they walk close to one another? Are they walking away from each other? Are there “Tracks” – several people walking in step? These observations become part of the interpretation. In the current installation in K20 the space is represented in form of one or multiple bodies. These bodies have entrances and exits, openings and closures, they are being bundled from small units or melt into a large whole or divide. They swell or make holes that enlarge until the bodies dissolve. All these spatial elements are determined by the behaviour of the people. We also map the traces of the visitors of the site according to their different walking-pace and according to their frequency of presence on site onto a mathematical shape-the Isosurface that changes according to behaviour.


the neural network

The neural network, here the Kohonen map learns through self-organization. This is a method of learning based on the neighbourhood relations of neurons amongst each other. A network is constructed which depicts that which is on the site. Beyond this the classical SOM is modified in order to solve the problem, which is created when the monitored space is a limited area. For at the edge different conditions for calculation apply than in the middle, because the condition of a site is also rooted in its neighbourhood. In the simulation of physical processes one defines the monitored area simply as a torus or a sphere, whereby that, which for example disappears on the right image border, re-appears on the left. This doesn’t make sense for a real site however, which is why we modified the procedure: in the regions with too great an impulse density we let the neurons descend into a second plane that disperses the neurons onto the nearest places that lack neurons. Through this we created a compact cyclical energy evaluation that prevents that only a cluster of the SOM would stay in the middle of the space (see graphics). This would be nothing other than too high of an information density that could provide no information whatsoever (almost a black “data hole”). For me as an artist the application of neural networks in very exciting, because they demand of me that I restrain my artistic and visual desires for the sake of processes which happen with the help of this camera eye – in reality not by the camera but by the people that are the focus of the camera, so by the image of the site. Since the computer-internal data processing apparatus imitates the human perception apparatus, it demands of me that I be concerned about the limits of perception and the possibilities and impossibilities of projection of knowledge.

the isosurface

Isosurface in action

As already mentioned the Grabbeplatz is being reproduced in a virtual image through video texture. It marks the area recorded by the tracking-program, over which the calculations generate an abstract space. The nodes of the SOM form trajectories in this space, nurtured by impulses that refer to speed, direction and length of stay of the passers-by. So the level tracking plane is expanded by another dimension. To visualize the relationships of the nodes not only as points in the room but also in relation to one another, we let an imagined potential energy function reign in the surrounding of every which node. This function is represented as a surface in space. This follows the path of every node and adapts its shape to its current role in the SOM. Such surfaces are called Isosurfaces. They are used to represent the homogeneity of energy states (here: potential energy states) within a continuum. All points of this surface represent an equivocal condition. The potential energy functions- one for each node- overlap or avoid another, amplify or cancel each other out. This event visualizes surfaces which comparable to soapy skin melt into or drip off each other or lose themselves in infinitely minute units. In the arithmetic sum of all the individual potentials lies the key to these surfaces. All points in the room are determined whose potential energy function reach a certain numerical value (decided upon by us). The entirety of these countless points (and thereby the virtual sculpture-shape) appears as a smooth or rugged, porous or compact shape whose constantly moving surface proffers a new way of seeing the development of the SOM. In relation to Grabbeplatz the SOM represents the time-space distortion of the site when it is not seen as a continuous space-shape but as a sum of single “Weltenlinien” (world-lines) of the passers-by, so of the paths of the individual people that cross each other here by chance. The SOM also dissolves time, because paths meet that were temporally offset. In this way the SOM is a memory of personal times that give the Grabbeplatz its individual shape. The ISO-surfaces have the function to discern the areas that are much used and walked upon from those that are scarcely used. Bulges mark the frequent presence of people, holes their absence. The dynamism of the ISO-surfaces follows the dynamism of the accumulation of humans, who, when f. ex. they reach a certain density, fall over and dissolve in turn, to avoid too great of a density.

The Sound

The sound is a sort of “monitoring” that references the current position of people on the site and that references this position calculated into a long-term organism. Both are graphically represented as positions in the fields which is a visual memory form in a virtual image. The sound will also relate to the current position; a change of position of the viewer consequently changes the sound. When one walks something else is audible on the site than when no one there. On the other hand the sound- and this is the actual quality of noise- transmits information about that, which takes place on the site. And through language it should carry out a categorization.

architectural context

Architecture as we know it can’t meet the needs of its users, because it is made of properties, of immobile, modern, maybe 70- or 100-year-old buildings. A flexible building is not imaginable yet. But the lifetimes of buildings are diminishing, if one looks at the results of conferences such as “shrinking cities” the trend is towards planning houses that are construct- and de-constructible, that are transferable and flexible in their functions. This is not only my demand, but also the city planner’s. My approach is to get away from the forms of buildings that set statutes as in the past sculptors have done; but that are thought of as a body, in the way that I experience myself; as a sign, that is aesthetically pleasing to me. Of course the new buildings to be designed have to integrate functionally in the devised use zoning plan. But these buildings should observe their surrounding during their use, to determine if they are fulfilling their purpose. The question arises how such a concept could be formulated if it is not only developed based on the idea of one person or a committee of experts, but if it would be submitted to the evaluation by the public. It is not new to claim that architecture has changed with the introduction of the computer, because the methods of design changed with tools or CAD-programs, etc. “Blob architecture” denotes a young architecture that designs more than builds. Most of the time biomorphous building-forms develop in 3D programs. Forms are developed through for example the observation of environmental factors, that become manifest. In this respect one could see the installation at Grabbeplatz as a representative of this form of architecture. The goal of my projects however is not to merely find a different form of buildings, which in turn will only become static monuments, but to test interactive structures , to see which perceptible traces create sensible structures for buildings. “Blob architecture” will have to prove itself by the meaningfulness of the data exploration to be carried out on the blobs. These methods of processing imply a view of humanity that will possibly be the basis of the future architecture.




In the next project of the “inoutside” series the return to real space will be targeted. Today a return to static form and to the sculptural would be too early because we haven’t advanced far enough with the evaluation of the interaction to know what to build, especially as long as the building materials aren’t flexible yet. Also more complex interfaces are necessary that could evaluate a greater spectrum of perceptible human expressions. In the virtual today one is much more flexible and less damaging as long as one leaves it at not building yet and checking the results in the visual and acoustic through users. One can cross over to the formation of real space when architecture is as changeable as the interactive system requires.



Matthias Weber, Freiberg
Peter Serocka, Shanghai
Yunchul Kim, Köln
Ursula Damm, Düsseldorf