Dezeen Magazine

Digital installation seemingly turns selfies into gravel

Warsaw-based art collective Pangenerator has created an installation that invites observers to take a selfie, which is then projected onto a screen before vanishing into nothingness.

Commissioned by the National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw, Pangenerator was asked to create a work that would examine an aspect of teenage life.

The designers chose to examine selfie culture by creating a visual representation of the ephemeral nature of technology – in particular, the fear of losing our digital lives to technical failure or old, incompatible file formats.

They also looked to digital applications like Snapchat or Instagram stories that only display images for a limited amount of time.

"We naturally thought of selfie culture and played with this idea of preserving our images compulsively, contrasted with the fragility of data in a long run," the designers told Dezeen.

"That all the photos from our youth that we treat quite carelessly, assuming that they are safe somewhere 'in the cloud' might vanish in the future, due to technical failures, obsolescence of data formats or the fall of current tech giants," they continued.

The installation begins with the participant sending a selfie through a mobile web page, which is then transferred onto a large display screen.

A face detection algorithm crops the image and translates its pixels into "virtual particles", which begin to fall and disperse using through a computer simulation.

Using computer mapping software, which tracks the movement of digital particles, the dispersing particles are mapped so that they trigger a system that releases pieces of black gravel to collect at the bottom of the installation.

"Even with such compulsive overproduction of the images of ourselves, we might end up with nothing but blank memories of our past," said the designers.  "Even the data on ourselves will eventually fade away."

"Apart from creating engaging and intriguing experience for the visitors, we hope that they might ponder a bit about the impermanence of both life and the data," they said.

Social media is becoming an increasingly explored topic in design. Other projects looking at its effects and influences include an installation that uses real-time tweets from people expressing suicidal thoughts and a photobooth that examines selfie culture.