Scott Snibbe is a pioneering digital artist and entrepreneur whose work includes apps, video, and interactive installations.
The purpose of my work is to bring meaning and joy to people’s lives. My work is frequently interactive, requiring viewers to physically engage with diverse media that include mobile devices, digital projections, and electromechanical sculpture. By using interactivity, I hope to promote an understanding of the world as interdependent; destroying the illusion that each of us, or any phenomenon, exists in isolation from the rest of reality.
Humans often think of themselves as embodied beings acting separately from their environment and other people. However, when we examine the object most of us take to be “me”—the body—we find it composed entirely of non-self elements: skin, cells, our parents’ genes, food, water, atoms originating from ancient stellar explosions, and these, as far as we know today, made up of pure energy. Furthermore, our bodies’ parts are in constant exchange with our environment and with others’ bodies through eating, respiration, immunology, and genetics. Similarly, the contents of our human minds are dependent: language, thoughts, memories, and preferences only emerge from our interactions with others. Even while alone, the imprints of our lifetime’s interactions propel our thoughts and memories. Such a view of interdependence has long been central to Buddhist philosophy, and has recently gained widespread validation from neuroscientists, social psychologists, and philosophers of emergence, chaos, and complexity theories.
We think of personal space as something that belongs entirely to ourselves. However, Boundary Functions shows us that personal space exists only in relation to others and changes without our control.
Boundary Functions is a set of lines projected from overhead onto the floor, dividing people in the gallery from one another. When there is one person on its floor, there is no response. When two are present, a single line cuts between them bisecting the floor, and dynamically changing as they move. With more than two people, the floor divides into cellular regions, each with the quality that all space within it is closer to the person inside than any one else.
The regions surrounding each person are referred to as Voronoi diagrams. These diagrams are widely used in diverse fields and spontaneously occur at all scales of nature. In anthropology and geography they describe patterns of human settlement; in biology, the patterns of animal dominance and plant competition; in chemistry the packing of atoms into crystals; in astronomy the influence of gravity on stars; in marketing the strategic placement of chain stores; in robotics path planning; and in computer science the solution to closest-point problems. The diagrams represent as strong a connection between mathematics and nature as the constants e or pi.
By projecting the diagram, the invisible relationships between individuals and the space between them become visible and dynamic. The intangible notion of personal space and the line that always exists between you and another becomes concrete. The installation doesn’t function at all with one person, as it requires a physical relationship to someone else. In this way Boundary Functions is a reversal of the lonely self-reflection of virtual reality, or the frustration of virtual communities: here is a virtual space that can only exist with more than one person, and in physical space.
The title, Boundary Functions, refers to Theodore Kaczynski’s 1967 University of Michigan PhD thesis. Better known as the Unabomber, Kaczynski is a pathological example of the conflict between the individual and society: engaging with an imperfect world versus an individual solitude uncompromised by the presence of others. The thesis itself is an example of the implicit antisocial quality of some scientific discourse, mired in language and symbols that are impenetrable to the vast majority of society. In this installation, a mathematical abstraction is made instantly knowable by dynamic visual representation.