Arts and Culture / Technology

Where does a body end?

Arts and Culture / Technology
Vienna Design Week

By singular things I understand things that are finite and have a determinate existence. And if a number of individuals so concur in one action that together they are all the cause of one effect, I consider them all, to that extent, as one singular thing.

— Baruch Spinoza


Bleed was invited to participate in the Vienna Design Week 2016, Austria´s largest design festival, with a variety of locations and events in Vienna. Opening up creative processes and giving scope for experimentation on site are core elements of the festival concept. During the Vienna Design Week, the city becomes a platform and showcase of design.

Design is more than just a designed object, design can also be a shared experience.

This pushed us to create an interactive installation in the exhibition area, where all visitors of the Vienna Design Week can participate in real time. With only a few days available to execute the project, we collaborated electronically between the Oslo and the Vienna office, wanting to make something which was simple in execution and intuitively understandable, but also conceptually ambitious.

Fig 1.

Our installation is a light-weight web application which allows users to input personal information with an iPad remote control, and have it displayed on the wall in real time, creating the BLEED BODY. Every dot in the bleed body graphics is one person who participated on that specific day.


Our basic concept derives from the philosophical ideas of Spinoza, which he defines in The Ethics. Spinoza states that a body is defined not by some fixed shape or function, but by the relations of speed and slowness, motion and rest, and the affects that occupies it at a given moment. Following this, a thing will be called singular only insofar as it can be the cause of some effect:

By singular things I understand things that are finite and have a determinate existence. And if a number of individuals so concur in one action that together they are all the cause of one effect, I consider them all, to that extent, as one singular thing.

If we are Spinozists, according to Gilles Deleuze, we will not define a thing by its form, nor by its organs and it functions, nor as a substance or a subject. In a world that increasingly puts focus on individual achievements and self-branding, we wanted to use this theory to challenge this attitude. Our installation only grows and lives when a lot of people interact, and it only becomes one body through many singular entities.

Each visitor who participates, influences the other participants in the bleed body. In this way we wanted to show that your actions might not start where you think they do, and what may seem like a voluntary movement might in fact be caused by collective exterior forces.

Similarly, we drew inspiration from the lovely drawings of William Heath Robinson and Rube Goldberg, who played with the idea of what can constitute a machine—illustrating absurdly complicated processes in social and technical aggregates to achieve very simple and specific things. When something can be achieved by undeniably simpler means, over-complication could hint towards an initial motivation quite distinct from the perceived objective—posing challenging questions about our understanding of process, movement and duration.

Men think themselves free, Spinoza says, inasmuch as they are conscious of their volitions and desires, and never even dream, in their ignorance, of the causes which have disposed them so to wish and desire. Following in this direction, we then asked the visitors two fundamental questions: Where does a body end? Where does an action begin? The final output was a collective, singular shape that alters itself based on continuous movement, where everyone is, to a smaller or larger degree a contributor.

<p>© The Jewish Museum</p>
Fig 1.

© The Jewish Museum

<p>By William Heath Robinson.</p>
Fig 2.

By William Heath Robinson.

<p>© University of Massachusetts Boston</p>
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© University of Massachusetts Boston

<p>© kvond.wordpress.com</p>
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© kvond.wordpress.com

<p>The new multi-movement machine for gathering easter eggs. By William Heath Robinson.</p>
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The new multi-movement machine for gathering easter eggs. By William Heath Robinson.

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<p>The professor's invention for peeling potatoes. By William Heath Robinson.</p>
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The professor's invention for peeling potatoes. By William Heath Robinson.

To give the visitors a strong feeling of participation we defined a few personal criteria that they would have to input. Gender, age and mood were obvious enough—but we wanted to add a bit of a twist by not letting them input any 'exact' information. Instead we presented them with three sliders where they would have to give approximations; How feminine or masculine are you? How young or old? How happy or angry?

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Deciding on how to develop the application presented us with some rather big challenges. Although our ideal solution was to write it as a native application in openFrameworks for optimal performance, testing, iterating, compiling and sending new versions to Vienna was too time consuming to manage over a three-day span. We therefore ended up using JavaScript together with the THREE.js, and created a web application that would be easy to tweak and refine without having to ship new packages for every modification. The obvious trade-off was performance, and a considerable amount of time would have to go to optimising the animations for browser rendering and speed. Anticipating around 150 users, more than double that amount ended up participating, and tweaks had to be made continuously throughout the exhibition.

Fig 12.

Early prototype of the triangular calculations and the animation of added users.

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<p>Setting up and testing</p>
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Setting up and testing

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I saw you kneeling on a desert plateau
Your eyes were melting from inside your skull
The wind was burning holes into my skin
Where does a body end?

Your voice is drifting through the stratosphere
My mouth is drinking from your pool of tears
I saw your heartbeat in the radium screen
What does a body mean?

The air is black and has no oxygen 
The bodies in the river float beneath the sun 
Transparent skin it shines a light from deep within 
Where does your body begin?

Michael Gira

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<p>Timeline of the bleed body developing during the day</p>
Fig 31.

Timeline of the bleed body developing during the day


The result was a social infographics structure which developed throughout the day. It attracted more than three hundred participants, and triggered a lot of interesting conversations around the topics of modern society and collective behaviour, from technology, art and philosophy enthusiasts alike. We included the full list of participants below, and we thank you all very for much for sharing this moment at the Vienna Design Week with us!


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