Web of Life

2002 Karlsruhe, Germany
Coauthors: Jeffrey Shaw, Torsten Belschner, Michael Gleich, Bernd Lintermann, Lawrence Wallen, Manfred Wolff-Plottegg

Software: Bernd Lintermann

The Web of Life is an interactive artwork configured by a distributed network of installations – one was permanently situated at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, and the four others travelled to various locations worldwide over a period of two years. This network of installations allows people to jointly influence a shared audiovisual experience. 

Manfred Wolff-Plottegg’s design of the ZKM installation is a curvilinear black cavity where the usually planar and orthogonal surfaces of walls, floor, and ceiling are substituted by an amorphous environment in which the the Web of Life’s 3-D projected formations emerge into foreground of the visitors’ experience. Entering the space, the viewers face a large 3.35m x 7m screen, onto which two high-resolution video projectors present a dynamic flow of sterescopic images. At the center of this room is the user input device, which offers the visitor a defined surface to put their hand where it is photographed through a glass plate. On an adjacent monitor, the video image of this hand is shown and digitally processed to reveal the main palm lines. These lines then appear on the large projection screen where they have a direct effect on the behavior and contents of the projected imagery, as well as on the sound environment. 

The Web of Life is an immersive conjunction of computer graphics, video images, a 70.1 channel surround sound experience, and specially designed architectures. Its algorithmic and emergent tapestry of audiovisual and thematic correspondences is activated and modulated by the patterns derived from the palms of visitors’ hands that are scanned and entered into the system from both local and remote input terminals. These varied and uniquely individual palm lines appear on the installation screen with a caption indicating the global location where that person’s hand was scanned. These lines then merge, and activate a singular sequence of transformations on the screen and in the musical score. In this way each visitor connects with and breathes new life into this networked artwork; with a ritual handshake they become protagonists of the Web of Life.

The projected panoramic 3-D imagery computes in real time and continually creates manifold structures and patterns that evoke an organic network of pictorial and thematic relations. This cellular lattice integrates processed video clips that are dynamically selected from a large database of archival footage, illustrating various types of networks: the urban lattice of streets, the tracery of a printed circuit board, the fan of waterways at a river delta, or the filigree of arteries in the human body, etc.. Custom software, based on the concept of the network, provides a coded environment in which the visual network acts as a self-organizing system, utilizing biology-derived metaphors such as neuronal growth. And by scanning their palm lines, participants contribute an attribute of their identities to its changing artistically constituted formations.

The Web of Life project also encompassed the publication of a book by Michael Gleich, and a dedicated website ( Besides the permanent installation at the ZKM Karlsruhe, the four specially designed remote Web of Life terminals travelled around the world over a two-year period, and were installed and connected with one another at various exhibitions and cultural festivals in New York, Tokyo, Berlin, Melbourne, Sao Paolo and other places. Manfred Wolff-Plotteggg designed a unique tensegrity structure embodying another network, of cables and tubes, for these touring installations. 

Exhibition Record

2002/03/22 - 2004/01/03 : Intermedium 2, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany

2002/03/24 - 08/11 : Das Netz, Sinn und Sinnlichkeit vernetzter Systeme, Museum of Communication Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

2002/05/01 - 05/07 : New Media Culture Week Zagreb, Multimedia Institute Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia

2002/06/15 - 07/28 : Earth 2.0, Messe Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany

2002/06/24 - 07/19 : Aventis S.A., Strassburg, France

2002/08/11 - 10/13 : Emoção Art.Ficial, Itaú Cultural, São Paulo, Brazil

2002/08/26 - 09/05 : World Summit for Sustainable Development, Environment Center, IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Johannesburg, South Africa

2002/10/27 - 10/31 : ISEA2002 Orai, Nagoya Port, Nagoya, Japan

2002/10/30 - 11/03 : Moist: Multimedia Art Asia Pacific Festival 2002, Art Museum of the Millennium Monument, Beijing, China

2002/12/19 - 2003/03/28 : NTT InterCommunication Center, Tokyo, Japan

2003/02/25 - 03/09 : Data Knitting, Dutch Electronic Art Festival, Las Palmas, Rotterdam, Netherlands

2003/05/30 - 06/26 : Center of Advanced European Studies And Research, Bonn, Germany

2003/09/22 - 10/11 : mind(21)house, University of Technology, Bratislava, Slovakia

2004/04/03 - 05/16 : Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, Australia

2004/04/07 - 05/16 : Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

2006/05/18 - 06/15 : Algorithmic Revolution, Casa dell'Architettura, Rome, Italy

2009/10/10 - 2011/05/08 : IMAGINING [email protected], ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany