Scott Snibbe

Boundary Functions

Interaktive Installation

Installationsansicht [link 01]




In der Installation "Boundary Functions" wird ein dynamisches Diagramm um Betrachter herum geschaffen, die auf einer großen Plattform stehen. Das Diagramm ist als Linienanordnung umgesetzt, die Linien werden von oben auf einen Boden projiziert, der den persönlichen Raum eines jeden Betrachters von dem eines jeden anderen trennt. Der Raum innerhalb einer genau abgezeichneten Region ist immer näher an der darin befindlichen Person als an jeder anderen. Mit der Bewegung der Personen auf dem Boden darunter, dem Betreten oder Verlassen der Plattform verändert sich dieses Diagramm dynamisch, wobei immer der persönliche Raum einer jeden Person beschrieben wird. Die Betrachter werden zu der Erkenntnis geführt, dass sie nur dann persönlichen Raum haben, wenn sie von weiteren Personen umgeben sind, und dass, allgemeiner gesehen, Realität eher ein gemeinschaftliches denn ein individuelles Gebilde ist. Analoge Strukturen zu diesen Diagrammen treten in der gesamten Natur 'von selbst' auf, wie zum Beispiel bei der Entstehung bestimmter Blasen, dem Einwirken der Sterne auf Materie, den Siedlungsmustern von Tieren und den Zellen unserer eigenen Körper.

KünstlerInnen / AutorInnen

  • Scott Snibbe


Vereinigte Staaten, 1998


Die Erfahrung dieses durch Computer-Improvisation dynamisch angezeigten persönlichen Raumes zeigt schlaglichtartig, dass persönlicher Raum nur durch unsere Beziehung zu anderen und Zufällen ohne unsere Kontrolle definiert wird. Auf diese Weise erkennen wir, dass – wie viele Aspekte unserer vermeintlichen Individualität - unser persönlicher Raum
in seiner Gesamtheit durch unsere soziale Umgebung konstruiert ist. Das Medium des Kunstwerks ist überwiegend in der technischen Bearbeitung der dynamischen, reaktiven Erfahrung durch Berechnungsprinzipien.
(Scott Snibbe)

Eingabe des Beitrags

, 01.03.2004


  • künstlerische Arbeit


  • Themen:
    • Kulturvermittlung |
    • Repräsentation |
    • Raum |
    • Körper |
    • Tracking |
    • Identität |
    • Interaktivität
  • Formate:
    • Installation |
    • Projektion |
    • interaktiv |
    • Computergraphik
  • Technik:
    • Optical Tracking

Ergänzungen zur Schlagwortliste

  • Visual Representation |
  • Voronoi Diagrams |
  • Computational Geometry


Inhaltliche Beschreibung

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)


  • › Workscope [PDF | 354 KB ] [link 02]
  • › Overhead camera and projector [JPEG | 177 KB ] [link 03]

Technische Beschreibung

The installation consists of an overhead camera and projector aimed at the floor through an intermediate mirror. The camera and projector are connected to a PC computer, which performs tracking of the moving people on the floor below by processing the video image using custom software. The software then generates the Voronoi diagram, which is projected back onto the floor.

To produce its result, "Boundary Functions" uses an algorithmic chain of cause-and-effect. Above the floor, a camera is connected to a computer, which is in turn connected to a projector. First, the camera captures an image of the people standing on the platform. Next, a morphological algorithm is applied to the image to get rid of small variations, and fill the holes in the noisy image of the people below. After that, the instructions specify how to trace the contour of each continuous shape in the image, and then how to find each region’s center. This process reduces the hundreds of thousands of pixels in the image to a few points, each of which represents the location of one person below. The process is one of abstraction and meaning making. Although there is now a hundred thousand times less information than there was in the original image, this information can be used to construct greater meaning in the minds of the viewers.

These points on the simplified image then become the input to the next computational step – the creation of the Voronoi diagram (the created patterns are referred to as Voronoi diagrams, after the Ukranian mathematician who precisely defined their construction). A particular class of algorithm called "divide-and-conquer" produces this diagram by subdividing all the points until the computer code is only examining two points at a time (this is done by sorting the points in some order, e.g. by x-position). The algorithm then chooses adjacent pairs and computes the line that divides them. This line is perpendicular to the line drawn between the two points and intersects the half-way point along the line between the two points. The algorithm computes the line that separates the first two points, and then moves on to two other points. This happens for twos, then fours, eights, etc. When all the pairs have been divided by lines, the algorithm merges the lines
- the intersection between two side-by-side lines is computed and the lines are truncated to start forming the diagram.
The resulting Voronoi diagram is then drawn into a memory buffer, using a technique called rasterization that translate from the geometric description of the lines into the pixels within the computer's memory. Finally, the digital projector converts the memory pixels into light, and then projects the entire image back onto the floor below. (Scott Snibbe)

Hardware / Software

Boundary Functions consists of two major components: a collection of equipment mounted approximately 5 meters overhead, and a 4 meter square constructed retro-reflective floor.



"Boundary Functions" uses an artifact of computation to create meaning outside the system of computation itself. The bulk of the expression of "Boundary Functions" is through computational processes. (...) Computation provides the means to translate the concept of the algorithm into a perceptual event, creating a dynamic, physical experience for the viewers. Secondary to these aspects, are the ancillary mechanical and physical aspects of the work. In this case, these are the reliable operation of camera, computer and projector, the construction of the floor and lighting of the space.
(Scott Snibbe: "Computation and Improvisation". In: ICC Journal. Tokyo, Japan. November, 2002.)

A majority of my work explores the countless ways that seemingly independent phenomena are, upon analysis, actually interdependent with their environments. Such interdependence may be understood in terms of the Buddhist notion of Emptiness, which holds that no object, physical or mental, exists independent from the rest of reality. The physical object to which a human being is most intimately connected is that person's body, and our body is closely associated with our sense of self. However, this body is entirely composed of "non-self" elements - originally small parts of our parents, which are gradually replaced by recycled parts of our environment that we continually absorb and emit. If we could track the experiences of all these parts, we would realize that we are each connected to all matter. Another way of understanding this interdependence is to imagine taking away parts of your body - if you remove an arm, are you still yourself? A leg? Parts of your brain? This analysis ultimately results in an inability to define the self that we regard as the basis of our identity.

A method used in a number of my works for portraying interdependence, is bodily interaction. Many of my works do not function unless the viewer actively engages with them - by touching, breathing, moving, etc. The works present systems in which the viewer is an essential component. Furthermore, although the works involve significant technological infrastructure, visitors' experiences more typically occur in the realm of human-to-human interaction. The pieces provoke communication among the viewers, which, more than merely a reaction to the work, becomes the very essence of the work.

In the same way that our bodies exist only as a collection of bits that are interchangeable with the larger material world, so are our minds a dependent, collective process rather than individual entities. Every bit of our mental processes emerges from interactions with other people, and our culture at large. Our languages, conceptual frameworks, and more mundane aspects of tastes and preferences all emerge from our interactions with other individuals and society. Even when we are alone, the memories and imprints of these interactions drive our mental processes. To express this condition, my installations sometimes fail to function unless more than one person is engaging with them and increase their compositional complexity, salience, and meaning as more and more viewers take part in them.

Through demonstrating how our bodies and consciousness are interdependent with other people and our environment, my work critiques a precept of the scientific rationalist tradition - that humans can exert unbounded control over their environment and other beings. In contrast to this view, my work and the cooperation it requires of its viewers suggests that it is not possible to control a system (human or technological), but only to take part in an emergent system that is collectively created. Such a view has gained widespread exposure in contemporary fields of complexity theory, social psychology, and chaos theory. Yet experiences with our collective consciousness and principles of co-creation have occurred to people throughout human history, particularly within the meditative and mystical practices of most faiths. It is in these realms that people have sought to understand their connection to the physical and non-physical worlds from which they emerge and then return.

Although the ideas that my works attempt to convey are complex, I have adopted a minimalist aesthetic. My working process is subtractive, removing elements until the most salient aspects of the concept remain. This approach is motivated by the principles of phenomenology - the philosophy of how the body "thinks" through unmediated perception, rather than through reason and language.

Interaction is by nature time-based, and my artistic process is rooted in lessons learned from the temporal media of experimental film and animation. The frame-by-frame creation of movement is based on an understanding that even a thirtieth of a second can change the perceptual and emotional impact of a cinematic moment. I apply a similar methodology to the time-based interaction between human and technology. Subtle changes in timing as a projection, screen or mechanical object reacts to the viewer are my primary techniques for creating meaning. These changes in timing are encoded not as frames of film, but embodied in computer-coded instructions that constantly reinterpret and update the temporal conditions of the work.

Participants construct the meaning of my works primarily with their bodies through a process of awareness that has been described by phenomenologists. Phenomenological perception contrasts with intellectual, reasoned, verbal and even metaphorical ways of knowing. Merleau-Ponty states that such perception "gives us at every moment a global, practical, and implicit notion of the relation between our body and things, of our hold on them." My work attempts to apply such direct perception to an interactive experience. With this approach, my pieces frequently give instantaneous and predictable reactions to actions that are felt viscerally. The immediate rewards of these situations often evoke pleasure and delight in viewers, yet simultaneously induce an understanding of the deeper meaning and a sense of the conceptual motivation behind the work.

My interest in phenomenology is reflected in several of my aesthetic influences. First is the tradition of experimental and abstract film, especially the work of the artist Len Lye, who used his body in the creation of direct cinema by scratching and marking celluloid film. Lye, along with other abstract film pioneers including Oskar Fischinger, Hans Richter and Moholy-Nagy, revealed that it was possible to create sophisticated time-based emotion and meaning-laden work without resorting to representation. Another field that has furnished lessons and inspiration is the minimalist environmental art of the 60's and 70's, most notably the work of Robert Irwin and James Turrell, who explored how subtle changes in an environment can make deep and even breathtaking impressions on the viewer. I hope to continue in these traditions by constructing environments that meaningfully react to the presence and engagement of the viewer.
(Scott Snibbe)

  • › Medienkunst und Forschung [link 04]

»…om/scott/bf/index.htm [link 05]

  • › Voronoi diagram [JPEG | 52 KB ] [link 06]
  • › Dispositiv (Diagramm) [JPEG | 53 KB ] [link 07]
  • › Video_Boundary Functions [RealMedia] [link 08]
  • › Video_Boundary Functions [Windows Media] [link 09]
  • › Workscope [PDF | 354 KB ] [link 10]
  • › Overhead camera and projector [JPEG | 177 KB ] [link 11]