Surface is a responsive virtual eco-system that occupies physical space. It uses the Ocean of Light hardware as a 3D canvas to visualise movement in physical space. The space is dominated by a surface – the boundary between two fluid virtual materials. The materials are affected by sound in the real world, whereby nearby noises create waves that ripple across the surface. These fluids are, however, unstable: the turbulence caused by physical sounds also triggers luminous blasts. Abstract autonomous agents, whose movement is inspired by dragonfly flight patterns, are aware of their surroundings as they navigate and negotiate the environment and the surface. They too make sounds that affect both physical virtual spaces. Thus, physical and virtual worlds are intertwined and interconnected; changes in either space affect both.

The paring down of the visuals to striking ultra-simple components (a fluid surface and one to four dragonfly agents) means that despite the resolution issues, the piece is instantly recognisable as an eco-system with specific and clear components. This is a significant departure from much other volumetric work using 3D grids, where abstract patterns, colour cycling and moving planes are the norm.

Surface was first exhibited at Kinetica Art Fair (London 2010) in a small (4m x 3.6m) space with black walls and a single access point, leaving less than a 1m corridor for visitors. This, combined with high visitor numbers, meant that people were in very close proximity to the work. The effect was highly immersive and visceral, with people becoming mesmerised and disoriented by the work; the boundaries of personal space [19,20] challenged, creating a very intimate setting where visitors are almost forcibly inserted into the environment, triggering strong phenomenological reactions to the conditions.

Subsequent exhibitions at the Ars Electronica festival and museum (September to December 2010, Linz, Austria), had a different ambience. The work was set in a much larger and calmer space, allowing visitors to experience the work in a manner more under their control. The experience (judging from responses) was not as viscerally powerful, but it had a contemplative edge that was still able to draw people in for extended viewing periods.

Die Zeit also made this video from the Ars Electronica Festival:

The work is part of the Ocean of Light project – an ongoing series of explorations into the creative and immersive possibilities of light-based real-time visualisation in physical space. At the heart of the project is a room-sized 3D grid of individually addressable points of light that is controllable in real time to simulate objects and movement in physical space. This bespoke hardware enables the creation of dynamic, interactive, three-dimensional sculptures from light. The resulting imagery has a presence, a location in physical space that allows the viewer to move around and experience the work from any angle.


Scapes is a Squidsoup project from 2011.

Created by Anthony Rowe, Gareth Bushell, Chris Bennewith, Liam Birtles and Ollie Bown

Comments are closed.