Last Saturday, Stanford Complexity Group brought an art installation to a Chi Theta Chi all-campus party. The installation, “Between Dimensions” creates hypnotic projections of fractal-like video feedback looping.
Party attendees interacting with “Between Dimensions”
“Between Dimensions” is a collaboration between Nathan Kandus, David Wright, Joel Thompson, Luke Wilson, Evan Glantz, and the Envelope Engineers. The project was originally created for Burning Man 2014 and is now being shown throughout the Bay Area. The installation was shown at the Exploratorium and will soon be shown at the California Academy of Sciences. One of the collaborators on the project, Joel Thompson, is a member of the Stanford Complexity Group who is on leave from his PhD to make art in Detroit, Michigan full time. Joel and Nathan’s vision for “Between Dimensions” is to make the understanding of complex systems accessible to everyone through the experience of observing them.
A video feedback loop system, like “Between Dimensions”, is created by facing a camera at its monitor. Small visual noise introduced by the camera and the display becomes magnified and distorted over the iterative mapping from input to output. Video feedback loops can create colorful, intricate, moving patterns that appear mandala-like in their detail. The “Between Dimensions” projection also adds mirroring and can change the colorization. In addition, the installation has an interactive component that allows observers to rotate the camera or create shadows that multiply and twist with the rest of the image.
The title for the project, “Between Dimensions” refers to the fractional dimension of complex systems. The Cantor Set, an example of a fractal, is a set of intervals on (0,1) that is created by iteratively subsetting this interval into thirds and removing the center subset. It has a fractional dimension that is less than one but greater than zero. The Lorenz attractor has a fractional dimension between one and two. It appears two dimensional because the butterfly-like sides of the attractor are made up of infinitely close one dimensional curves. This fractional dimension is what defines fractal-like systems as somewhere between deterministic and stochastic.
“But why isn’t it deterministic? Couldn’t you know where any point would map to if you did the math?” asked one party-goer. Other students asked questions such as, “How does the system produce different colors?” or, “Why does it look like a kaleidoscope?”
Others simply marvelled at the psychedelic quality of the art.
This is the beauty of complex systems- that even without explanation, the patterns somehow fix our attention. The system both seems predictable at times, and isn’t. The understanding of the underlying intricacies seem just beyond our fingertips. It feels both ethereal and life-like. The experience leaves us awestruck.
Overall, Stanford Complexity Group believes this endeavor was extremely successful. We were happy to see many students interested to know more about complex systems and what the Stanford Complexity Group does. Almost all seemed to appreciate the art and many took stickers or wanted to join the listserv. We thank Nathan Kandus and his colleagues for bringing us Between Dimensions, and Chi Theta Chi for hosting the installation at their event, especially Matt Simon and Jonathan Colen for coordinating with us. We hope to do more events like this in the future.