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A Glowing Orb Simulates Interactions Between Humans And Artificial Intelligence

Artists Nick Verstand and Frouke ten Velden unveil their interactive 'ANIMA 1 - iki' installation at the Volkshotel in Amsterdam.

This article originally appeared on The Creators Project Netherlands

ANIMA 1 - iki by Nick Verstand, onformative, Frouke ten Velden from Nick Verstand on Vimeo.

As a writer, I normally think it’s too easy to say that you can’t find the right words to describe something.

And yet, that’s exactly how I felt when I saw Nick VerstandFrouke ten Velden and onformative's ANIMA, an interactive installation that was revealed last weekend during the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) at Volkshotel.

For a good ten minutes, there I stood alongside some hundred others, gazing breathlessly at a mysterious, glowing planet. Suspended in the middle of a darkened space, ANIMA 1 - iki, the first in a series of works by the artists, consists of an inflated, plastic sphere called a PufferShere, that is projected from within. Produced by a projector and a hemispherical lens, the resulting visuals on the outer side of the sphere give the viewer the impression of a glowing gas planet, whose liquid surface is constantly flowing from left to right.

In a world where the relationship between humans and robots becomes increasingly tenuous with each passing moment, the ANIMA series is meant to help us better understand our future alongside artificial intelligence. The orb explores this by reacting subtly to the people in the space, portraying different ‘emotions’ and sounds via its modulating, liquid-like surface. When the movements of those around it are calm, for instance, ANIMA, too, will stay calm. Move too fast or come too close to the sphere, and it starts to spin out of control.

It was almost as if the sphere was alive or, rather, came to life. When, after a few minutes, four dancers started parading around the object as if it was an intergalactic totem, it very well might have well been alive.  I, for one, didn’t see anyone do anything other than stare into the mysterious light source floating in front of us. Mobile phones disappeared into pockets. Talking became whispers about how beautiful the experience was.  

“It felt as if we were building a space ship,” artist Nick Verstand tells me when I finally found him in the pitch-black space. “I’m constantly afraid this thing is going to melt down, there are so many software programs simultaneously running it.”

Having lost Nick again (did I mention it was dark?), I turned to the Facebook description of the event to look up what, exactly, ANIMA 1 - iki is meant to convey:

"ANIMA 1 ‘iki' explores the nature of living things. The interactive art installation investigates how humans emotionally relate to a digital being. Using video mapping, the visuals of the installation communicate with visitors by reacting to body movements and sounds. A generative being that comes to life through interaction."

For anyone who was unfortunate enough to have missed it: ANIMA 1 - iki will be on display from November 14-16 during the Kantor Art & Technology festival (LINK), and February 1-28 in the main hall of the Van Gogh Museum, both in Amsterdam. My advice: go and check it out. After all, it can be pretty satisfying to simply whisper about how beautiful something is, or to experience something that takes your words away.

The ANIMA team is: Nick Verstand, onformative, Frouke ten Velden, João Fonseca, Pufferfish, Geert Schaap, Marina Henao, Beamsystems, and is supported by AFK

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