A R T I F A C T S    O F   T H E   P R E S E N C E   E R A
COPYRIGHT 2003-2005 MIT Media Lab
Fernanda Viégas
Ethan Perry
Ethan Howe
Sociable Media Group

E X H I B I T    P H O T O S

This piece ran at the ICA gallery in Boston from January 22nd to April 27th of 2003. During that time, a camera and a microphone captured the myriad of images and sounds produced during the exhibition.

Like the visible layers of a canyon, witnesses to sedimentary accumulation over time, the layers in Artifacts of the Presence Era tell us a story of past events. Here, the images and sounds produced in the ICA gallery are captured and then visualized as a growing, organic landscape that serves as a historical record. Like its natural counterpart, this process reveals long-term patterns (the rhythm of night and day, periods of great activity or empty silence), while retaining occasionally serendipitous, but often mundane, samples of the passage of life.

The project visualized the accumulating layers of data and allowed  visitors to navigate the captured images and ambient sounds, peeking back into the history of the gallery.




A Web camera continuously captured images from the gallery. At the same time, a microphone captured the ambient audio in the space. Every five minutes a new layer was produced that merged the images and the audio. 

The shape of each layer was based on the audio captured during those five minutes, with peaks showing large amounts of noise and valleys representing low ambient noise. The variance in color depicted the changes in ambient light and the movement of visitors in the gallery. As more information accumulated at the top, earlier layers became compressed and less distinct.  

Present (real time) display
This display showed, in real time, the images and sounds captured by the camera and microphone in the gallery. The yellow curve at the bottom represented the volume level of the audio in the gallery. Every five minutes a new curve was drawn. The curve shape was used to cut out a piece of an image captured in the previous five minutes, producing a layer that merged image and audio. This new layer was added to the History Display.

History Display
Each layer rendered in the Present Display was passed to the History Display, where it was added to the top of the stack of layers, producing a geological representation of the images and sounds in the gallery. As more information accumulated at the top, earlier (bottom) layers were compressed, becoming smaller and blending together.

Visitors used a knob controller to navigate up and down the stack of layers. As each layer became highlighted, the image from that layer and the time the layer was created were shown on the right side of the display.

Artifacts of the Presence Era is a collaboration between the ICA Media Department and the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Laboratory
COPYRIGHT 2003 MIT Media Lab