Text from a well-known play, sorted in order but with many omissions, flits by repeatedly until someone holds down a button. As long as pressure is maintained, the screen displays one particular selection of one character’s already-degraded lines. This allows visitors to read of forgetting and the loss of bodily form, and also to trace some material efforts that have been made to enhance memory, reaching from the dim history of the book into computing.
Everything is Made of Atoms is an interactive new media installation that explores the entangled and ever-changing relationship between the body and technology. It draws on previous works created by artists such as Simon Penny's Traces (1999). The piece draws parallels between participants and their digitally-mediated images, expressing both as a whole and at the same time as a flow of constituent parts, the lifetimes of which, as philosopher Karen Barad (2003) argues, is not an attribute but the ongoing reconfigurings of the world.
Everything is Made of Atoms has two major software components: methods to access the stream of image, depth, and skeleton data from the Microsoft Kinect sensor, and routines to perform a high-performance computation of three-dimensional vortex dynamics. These methods are connected by an extensible framework of the artists own design.
Swarm is an interactive, real-time artwork that puts the viewer in an ever-changing autumn forest full of falling leaves. Normally, leaves will simply wobble slightly as they fall and cover the ground. When a viewer comes close to the screen, or passes by quickly, a whirlwind will pick up and swirl the leaves in complex, never-repeated patterns. The dense texture of motion and shape can be calming or torrential. In addition to the constantly-changing wind and turbulence, the piece exhibits a day/night cycle, subtle longer-term changes in the leaf colors, and other details.
The piece is physically composed of a flatscreen monitor for display, and a small desktop computer to run the simulation. To compute the motions of the thousands of leaves, a creative and lesser-known fluid dynamics algorithm is applied to the particles. Both the rendering and this special computation are performed on the GPU. The title, "Swarm," refers to the fact that the essential algorithm used for the wind flow is a relative of the swarming algorithms that were among the first to provide evidence in support of self-organization in complex systems. Viewing Swarm, you could be forgiven for thinking that the leaves had a global plan.
Shanghai Traces was a response to the massive beautification campaign that the city underwent in preparation for hosting the World Expo in 2010. New buildings were constructed, new subway lines were dug, and everything got a fresh coat of paint, while elements deemed unsightly were suppressed. The falling objects in my video are the wares of street vendors who were evicted from the city center during the Expo.
Perhaps to a greater extent than most cities, many of Shanghai’s residents are just passing through. From the poorest migrant worker to the flushest CEO, people come from all over seeking opportunity, adventure, and fortune. Shanghai Traces is a meditation on the manner in which these passing inhabitants leave their mark on the city. The tumbling images are collaged together algorithmically in real-time, mirroring the interactions of city dwellers in ever-changing patterns and configurations. Some stay, many move on, but every life leaves a trace, however fleeting.
For a complete presentation of the piece, visit http://www.benhouge.com/shanghaitraces.html
Personas is a component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit, recently on display at the MIT Museum by the Sociable Media Group from the MIT Media Lab. It uses sophisticated natural language processing and the Internet to create a data portrait of one's aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you.
Enter your name, and Personas scours the web for information and attempts to characterize the person - to fit them to a predetermined set of categories that an algorithmic process created from a massive corpus of data. The computational process is visualized with each stage of the analysis, finally resulting in the presentation of a seemingly authoritative personal profile.
In a world where fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, the computer is our indispensable but far from infallible assistant. Personas demonstrates the computer's uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant.