Web of LifeZKM Karlsruhe / The Web of Life (2002) / Michael Gleich & Jeffrey Shaw


ZKM Karlsruhe / The Web of Life (2002) / Michael Gleich & Jeffrey Shaw

The architecture of the ZKM installation is a curvilinear black cavity where the usually planar and orthogonal surfaces of walls, floor, and ceiling are substituted by an amorphous environment in which the dislocated audio-visual virtuality of the Web of Life’s projected formations are maneuvered into the foreground of the visitors’ experience. The exterior treatment of this enclosure, with its web of wires and strongly angled projected images of net-like geome-tries, presents the visitor with a further extension of the artwork’s thematics.

Entering the space, the viewers face a large 3.35m x 7m screen, onto which two high-resolution video projectors present a dynamic flow of three-dimensional images that are viewed with the aid of Polaroid stereo glasses. At the center of this room is the user input device, which offers the visitor a defined surface to put their hand where it is photographed through a glass plate from below. Then on an adjacent monitor, the video image of this hand is shown and digitally processed to reveal the main palm lines. These lines then appear on the large projection screen where they have a specific effect on the behavior and contents of the projected imagery, as well as on the sound environment.



“Web of Life”
Michael GLEICH + Jeffrey SHAW + Bernd LINTERMANN + Lawrence WALLEN + Torsten BELSCHNER + Manfred WOLFF-PLOTTEGG + Andreas KRATKY + Fabian NICOLAY

Photo: OTAKA Takashi

The artwork’s algorithmic emergent tapestry of audiovisual and thematic correspondences is activated and modulated by the patterns derived from the palms of visitors’ hands that are being scanned and entered into the system from the local and remote input terminals. These varied and always uniquely individual palm lines appear on the installation’s screen, with a caption indicating the name of the location where that person’s hand was scanned, e.g., New York, Tokyo, Berlin, Melbourne, etc. These lines then merge into and activate a singular sequence of transformations on the screen, and also in the musical score that accompanies the imagery. In this way each visitor connects with and breathes new life into this networked artwork – with a ritual handshake they awaken a fascinating world of visual and thematic correlations and make themselves protagonists of the Web of Life. The projected imagery, which is computed in real time, is continually creating manifold structures and patterns that evoke an organic network of pictorial and thematic relations, such as the neuronal circuits of the human brain, the urban lattice of streets, the leads on a printed circuit board, the fan of waterways at a river delta, or the filigree of arteries in the human body. This iconographic articulation of network structures and processes is further enhanced by the combinatory integration of video sequences that are dynamically selected from a large database of creatively processed archival footage.

The Web of Life’s projections are implemented with custom software, the basic underlying concept of which is that of the network. It is an interactive and extensible coded environment in which special programs – known as nodes – are connected and communicatively generate changing visual networks in real time. Single program nodes process special tasks such as the control of the user interface, the selection and playing of movies, the modification of the visual network, and communication over the Internet. The visual network is programmed as a self-organizing system, utilizing biology-derived metaphors such as neuronal growth.

The audio rendering environment enables the user to experience soundfield movements in three dimensions by means of true multi-channel audio projection. The aesthetic aim behind this approach is to create dynamic webs of sound vectors all around the visitors, and to imprint this sound image as a gestalt onto their perception. These three-dimensional sound gestalts move within their virtual sound spaces in varying relationships with the graphics.
The sound engine is laid out in a twofold manner. One layer is constructed as a network of sound streams that interlock with each other in various ways in relationship to the content structures of the imagery. A second layer projects these streams into the installation room as the hand lines dynamically evolve and fill the installation space over time. Various links between the imagery and the soundscape control its levels of complexity and spatial distribution. The audio environment inside the ZKM installation is connected (via the Internet) to those at the four traveling installations, so that when a new hand is scanned at any one of these sites, a new soundscape (relating to the new image sequence) is triggered at all locations.


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