Timescape (51° 13.66 north, 6° 46.523 east)
Kunstsammlung NRW K20, Düsseldorf exhibition at the fountain wall
Installation | concept | interface | data processing | neural network | isosurface
sound | architectural context | video | outlook | staff
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.
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.
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 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.
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