Despondency Index

Natalie Jermijenko created “Despondency Index” in 2003 as part of the Bureau of Inverse Technology (BIT). The piece is a ten-year graph which indexes the Dow Jones Industrial Average to the number of suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge.

The piece was created as a follow up to a 1996 BIT piece entitled “Suicide Box”, in which a camera faced towards the Golden Gate Bridge automatically recorded vertical movement. Although the Port Authority only reported 13 incidents of suicide during the 100 day period the system was installed, seventeen incidents were recorded on tape. These recordings were then exhibited as a continuous stream of footage.

The graph, among other data, was briefly displayed on the LED displays of New York cabs as part of the “BIT cab” project, before it was shut down.

The lack of correlation between the two figures is meant to draw attention to the way in which the Dow and NASDAQ indexes are used as measurements of the health of the nation by news media. This relationship was particularly evident in the reporting during the days following September 11th, 2001, as if the figures represented the losses sustained.

Suicide Box by Bureau of Inverse Technology (B.I.T.)



Natural History of the Enigma

Eduardo & Eduina

Eduardo Kac’s unique style blends art with science, specifically genetics. For his project “Natural History of the Enigma,” Kac created a new life form by extracting his own DNA and merging it with the DNA of a petunia which he named “Eduina.”

Working with a professor of Biology he was able to segregate his contribution to the plant DNA strictly in the veins of the plant. The result is a beautiful pink flower with bright red veins which are an expression of his genes.

The function of the genes which Kac chose for the plant is to identify foreign bodies in the bloodstream. This deliberate choice compliments the visual choices Kac made regarding the plant’s red veins, which he describes as “[bringing] forth the realization of the contiguity of life between different species.”

Seed PacksLithograph

In addition the plant experiment, Kac used other forms of media to enhance the artistic sensibilities of the Natural History of the Enigma project. He offered Eduina seed packs which could be used to grow identical Eduina plants. He also made lithographs, photos and watercolor paintings of the plant as well.



Off The Wall III


Alan Rath’s work tends towards a simultaneously playful and erotic sensibility, often combining traditionally sexual imagery with electronic or robotic installations. His 1995 work, “Off The Wall III,” which “consists of silently pulsating speaker cones suspended from the ceiling by wires to create the appearance of a living, breathing organism–an electronic jungle controlled by an unseen intelligence [1].” A graduate of MIT, Rath is well aware of the subtle implications of his work, and says of a separate piece (Thumper V), “I want to make them look like they’re alive. It’s a compliment if people find it to be sexual. That’s a pretty interesting leap to make from a stack of aluminum and electronic parts [2].” The idea that a simple piece of machinery could be construed in such an organic context is a common theme in Rath’s work, and often the subtle movement of the piece– such as the constant pulsing of “Off The Wall III,” might elude a casual viewer who does not linger in their observation. Indeed, even the movement of the speakers themselves is not dissimilar to how a speaker playing music at full volume would react, but the rhythm of the piece itself, namely different wave forms that eventually decay over time, is designed to give it the appearance of life, or a simulation thereof.

Artist website

Off The Wall

Homage to New York

Jean-Tinguely-Homage-to-New-York-1960.jpIn 1960, German-born art historian Peter Selz, then chief curator of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, invited Swiss artist Jean Tinguely to construct Homage to New York, a mechanical work of art that self-destructed in the museum’s sculpture garden on March 17, 1960.  Swedish engineer Billy Klüver, a laser researcher at Bell Labs in nearby Murray Hill, New Jersey, collaborated with Tinguely on the technical aspects of the work, and American artist Robert Rauschenberg contributed an artistic component to it – a money-throwing machine – as well.

Image source:!Large.jpg

Life Dress

Artist Elizabeth Fuller has designed Life Dress, a garment constructed of tiled squares of dragon skin silicone with LEDs embedded inside. The tiles are then linked together in a grid which can serve as a cylindrical screen platform for countless interactive pattern displays and animations.

Fuller states, “It is a challenge to find the right interactive balance within groups of people. We can be overwhelmed if we stretch ourselves too thin. Yet, we have a fundamental need for interaction just to survive.” [1] This statement is reflected in the way the LEDs function in the dress.

Fuller, Life Dress

The dress has been constructed according to the grid layout and rules of John Conway’s Game of Life, where an algorithm allows a collection of cells to live, die or multiply and form various patterns. The LEDs in Fuller’s Life Dress act as cells in Conway’s cellular automaton so that the dress becomes a board that envelopes the wearer. The lights are controlled by a variety of algorithms loaded onto the Arduino microcontroller. They turn on if the cells they represent are “alive” and turn themselves off it they “die.” This is a tricky process, as a lone cell cannot survive by itself. Similarly, too many companions can overwhelm a cell. Hence, the algorithm which controls the lives of these “cells” expresses the interdependence of organisms.  Other artistic applications of the theory of “cellular autonoma” include Norman White’s First Tighten Up On the Drums (1969) and the work of boredom research.

The artist also points out that while the LEDs remain unlit, the dress is semi-transparent. Depending on what tiles are on and what tiles are off, the Life Dress can be considered an exercise in public indecency. In this context, Fuller’s dress recalls Atsuko Tanaka’s Electric Dress from 1956, a garment constructed of wires and flashing multi-coloured light bulbs. When Tanaka wore her dress at the time, it was a particularly outspoken ‘indecent’ act for a Japanese woman who was expected to avoid attracting attention. Tanaka’s Electric Dress is a daring combination of the female body and technology, a trait which Fuller’s dress shares, albeit over fifty years later.

Life Dress would seem to be a typically female garment, yet it is stripped of its feminine character. It is no longer a garment made to adorn or seduce, it is a display of technology and how it both shields and reveals the female body. Programmed according to Conway’s cellular automaton, a biological process, the garment’s construction addresses “the changing political, economic and personal conditions of women’s lives due to new digital technologies.” [2] These conditions, much like the algorithm which controls the ‘lives’ of the LEDs in Fuller’s Life Dress, are also responsible for the very fragile system of the empowerment of women.


[1] Elizabeth Fuller’s website

[2] sub.ROSA, Tactical Cyberfeminism: An Art and Technology of Social Relations, 2003, In: Edward Shanken, red. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009, p. 253

From Drips to ZOOBs: The Cosmology of Artist/Inventor Michael Grey

Edward A. Shanken

Art Byte 1:3 , August-September, 1998



Michael Joaquin Grey’s work possesses a conceptual grandeur that draws together the complexity of genetic theory, the prospect of artificial life, and the awesome beauty of nature. His art explores the transitions between various states of energy, matter and meaning. The sculptor highlights the recapitulation of such phenomena in divergent forms and functions, while questioning the processes by which those forms and functions gain scientific or aesthetic significance.


Due to the increasing conceptual and technical complexity of his sculpture however, Grey progressively felt a greater need to share the underlying experience of world-building in an intuitive way that would engage people in creating and manipulating form in space, rather than observing and analyzing
it as a fait accompli in a fully-determined work of art. This impulse has resulted in the production of objects that extend the boundaries of art and science, cross-pollinating their way into popular consciousness through the “advanced 3-D operating system” of the ZOOB.


Grey’s creation myth challenges instrumental reason and encourages a ludic approach to art, science, and natural phenomena, drawing parallels between them, suggesting multiple levels of recapitulation, and encouraging young people of all ages to question second-hand knowledge and construct their own cosmologies based on direct experience.

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