“Proteus 3.5” – interactive installation at the Copernicus Science Centre

It is a project by Maria Smigielska and CompMonks. “Proteus 3.5 is an interactive and generative installation that is part of the permanent exhibition ‘The Future is Today, Man 2.0’, which focuses on future medicine and cyborgisation. It is an installation that allows visitors to interact with a digital image of a ferromaterial using their brain activity.

A brain-computer interface device measures the visitors’ neural activity and adjusts the resolution of the ferromaterial according to it, thus building an interaction between human and material. The visual experience is enhanced by the reflections and refractions of the image inside a room-scale immersive chamber, which connects visitors to the light of the image and its visual reflections.

The design is based on the complex behaviour of the ferrofluid material. Through the invisible force of magnetic fields, its shape constantly changes from dots to meandering bands and areas. Like the Greek god Proteus, it is capable of taking many forms, in this project ferrolfuid is the unifying element of a series of interactive and generative artworks from 2018. The behaviour of the material is difficult to control or simulate, and as such is considered an added value in the process of generating ephemeral and unique patterns. The observation of such dynamic graphic patterns in white and black is used as a catalyst for the human visual-spatial intelligence’s ongoing search for meaning in them. Ferrofluid is a maintenance-intensive material, and as such, the large-scale display was made possible by digitising the material using a surrogate in the form of a diffusion reaction algorithm.

The Proteus portal takes the form of a 2.5 x 2.5 x 1.5 m architectural niche. It was designed with reference to the architecture of small and primitive chapels, intended for contemplation and spiritual introspection. Like a section of a chapel cut out of a cathedral, Proteus is characterised from the outside by a simple container-like geometry, while the inside shimmers with metallic mirrored planes. Stepping inside, visitors are immersed in an all-pervading animated and organic image. The omnipresent effect is achieved through a frontally placed human-scale digital screen and its reflections on the surrounding mirror-like metal surfaces. The cladding panels are smoothly deformed like waves of water, further enhancing the immersive effect.

Proteus as a series

Proteus 3.5 is the next project in a series of interactive mixed media installations that began in 2018. The basis of this project is a combination of human as well as machine intelligence. The project was part of an art research at the Creative Robotics department at UfG Linz, an artist residency ‘Intelligent Museum’ at ZKM Karlsruhe in 2021, a residency at Kontejner in Zagreb (EMAP/EMARE) in Croatia in 2023. The project has been exhibited several times in Europe, including at the Festival Ars Electronica in Linz, the Biennale Art and Technology in Trondheim and ZKM Karlsruhe. Each installation is based on three main elements: visual interaction with matter (in particular related to ferrofluid), building tension between analogue and digital reality and the relationship between human and machine intelligence. Proteus evolved iteratively, using newly proposed forms of displaying ferrofluid materials (in Petri dishes on a grid or in larger shallow dishes) and modes of generating magnetic fields (a grid of static magnets mechanically displaced or electromagnets) or a fully digitised ferrofluid substitute using a diffusion reaction algorithm. Most importantly, new interaction modes based on both behavioural and physiological mechanisms were also explored.

Project data:

Architects, researchers: Maria Smigielska ( @maria_sni ), CompMonks ( @compmonks)

CNK team: Niko Krawczyk Zieliński, Barbara Malinowska Pohoryles, Michal Grzymała

BCI support: Muse

Videography: Thierry Serbeto, Alpha Leonis Productions

Metal panels: Emboss

Location: Copernicus Science Centre, Warsaw

Area: 4 sq m

Link to exhibition

source: architects’ materials

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