Life of a stream, learned and imagined in the hallways of a water research institute.

A collaborative work with artist Ursula Damm commissioned by EAWAG Switzerland, Kontinuum is a permanent generative live projection based on live sensor data and camera footage from a small stream in front of a water research institute.

Live images depicting the stream and its inhabitants are passed through a graphics shader based on classical neural network learning rules that “remembers” colors in areas of high activity, resulting in a collage of combined aspects of the stream from different times and viewing angles. Shapes and movements become heavily abstracted, but the seasonal and diurnal variations of color and light are effectively transported onto the bare concrete surfaces of the hallway.

Around the corner, the mathematical imagination of a fluid meandering through a rock-strewn valley and carrying an ecosystem of nutrients, primary producers and grazing microorganisms reveals itself as a hypnotizing whirl of slowly evolving eddies and complex organic patterns.

Held in pure black and white to contrast with the colors of nature, the live-simulation uses mathematical models of fluid-flow, diffusion and biochemical reactions to create a digital manifestation of ‘how the world would look like, if nature followed these rules’.

The formulas that govern the shape of the landscape, the dynamics of flow, and the evolution of life in the simulation are parameterized with values derived from actual real-time measurements of physical water properties taken by a station operated by the research institute just a few meters from where the cameras look into the stream.

The correspondences between measurements and model parameters are chosen so that seasonal changes (in temperature), daily rhythms (in oxygen saturation from photosynthesis) and occasional events (turbidity caused by thunderstorms and construction work) leave their traces in the graphics, by transitioning from a few large boulders to a river-bed with many small pebbles, from one emergent biological pattern into another, or from a slowly meandering flow into a violent gusher.

At the borders of each of the projections, there is a zone where collection of color-data and ab-initio generation of patterns intersect: Here, moderate motion in the camera sows nutrients into the simulation, while strong contrasts locally wipe out life, leaving scratches of current events being pulled into the organic eddies of the simulation.

Cameras looking into the Chriesbach
Data of the sensors

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