Scott Snibbe

Boundary Functions

Interactive Installation



Content Description

We think of personal space as something that belongs solely to ourselves. However, "Boundary Functions" shows us that personal space exists only in relation to others. Our personal space changes dynamically in relation to those around us.
"Boundary Functions" is realized as a set of lines projected from overhead onto the floor which divide each person in the gallery from one another. With one person in the gallery there is no response. When two are present, there is a single line drawn halfway between them segmenting the room into two regions. As each person moves, this line dynamically changes, maintaining an even distance between the two. With more than two people, the floor becomes divided into cellular regions, each with the mathematical quality that all space within the region is closer to the person inside than any other.
The regions which surround each person are mathematically referred to as Voronoi diagrams or Dirichlet tessellations. These diagrams are widely used in diverse fields, spontaneously occurring at all scales of nature. In anthropology and geography they are used to describe patterns of human settlement; in biology, the patterns of animal dominance and plant competition; in chemistry the packing of atoms into crystalline structures; in astronomy the influence of gravity on stars and star clusters; in marketing the strategic placement of chain stores; in robotics path planning; and in computer science the solution to closest-point and triangulation problems. The diagrams represent as strong a connection between mathematics and nature as the constants e or <pi>.
By projecting the diagram, these invisible relationships between individuals and the space between them are made visible and dynamic. The intangible notion of personal space and the line that always exists between you and another becomes concrete. The installation is non-functioning with one person, as a physical relation to others must be present. In this way the piece is a reversal of the often lonely self-reflection of virtual reality - here we are given a virtual space which can only exist with more than one person.
The title of the piece, "Boundary Functions", refers to Theodore Kaczynski's 1967 Phd thesis at the University of Michigan. Better known as the Unabomber, Kaczynski is a pathological example of the conflict between the individual and society - the conflict and compromise of engaging in society versus solitude and individuality uncompromised by the thoughts or presence of others. The thesis itself is an example of the implicit antisocial quality of some scientific discourse, mired in language and symbols impenetrable to the vast majority of society. In this installation, a mathematical abstraction is made instantly knowable by dynamic visual representation.
(Scott Snibbe)