Data Manipulation and Technology Artistically Applied

When you view contemporary art do you sometimes feel like there’s something that you’re missing? It’s probably all of the background information on the concept, the development of the idea, the process of installation, and access to the pay someone to do your assignment artist’s brain. Here at MASS MoCA, we’re dedicated to providing you with all the tools to get the most out of your viewing experience. If you’re coming to the opening of Federico Díaz’s Geometric Death Frequency 141 this Saturday, October 23, or plan on visiting the museum in the near future, here are some things you should know before you come face-to-face with the long-term installation located in the museum’s entrance courtyard.

In brief, the site-specific data sculpture is an extremely abstract and complex technological breakdown of the transformation of matter to energy and back to matter again. DĂ­az used the principle of reverse transcription, working off of a photograph of the MASS MoCA courtyard. The 2D image was broken down into digital bits and pixels that were then robotically and technologically reconstructed as 3D black spheres to create a densely sculpted black wave form that while static, seems to contain a reverberating internal energy that simulates fluid movement.


One of the phenomenons that DĂ­az considered in the early stages of this project was the evolution of the communication landscape and how society has come to rely on the transfer of information. In the not-so-far past information was transferred verbally, but in modernity communication rituals have shifted. DĂ­az applies these contemporary technological methods in his approach to gathering and presenting data to viewers.

“When you look at a photograph, it is flat. In the same way, when you start off with a sculpture, it is flat. Here we are reconstituting a 3D space from a 2D surface according to an algorithm: the intensity of light of a pixel defines the position and velocity of a point, a “voxel”, which is then represented by a small black sphere in the sculpture. The assembled spheres create a wave. At least that was the first idea, but I thought that was too simple, that there would be too much of the photograph still visible in it; so I decided to add in more turbulence, more fluid movement: our world is created from turbulence and is full of fluid movement. To do that, I applied to the photographic data a simulated model of fluid motion. Each light particle, as represented by sphere, was treated as if it were a water molecule, and then “shaken“. I added this fluid dynamic action one bit at a time, interpolated, frame by frame, second by second. It was in frame 141 of the simulation that the photograph disappeared in the wave, and that’s the moment I froze it.”

Also central to Díaz’s project is the idea of death and resurrection. The moment that has been documented via photograph is dead in time and space. By using recorded data to recreate that moment anew in the form of sculpture, Díaz gives it a second life. He rediscovers the original molecular energy that existed and allows it to subsist once again, almost paralleling the Law of Conservation of Energy, which states that “energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can change its form.”


According to Díaz, “every space sends out some geometric parameters”. In his sculpture, he extracts data (from the site) that is intangible without the use of computer technology and reinterprets it as a material object using CAD software for which he composed specialized codes and simulations. The procedure, described by the artist below, reconstructs the 2D information as a 3D form based on particle physics.

“Using this software I created a code that converted pixels which describe the lighter parts of the photographs into “fast” spheres; they bounce higher and move faster when stimulated by energy. The darker elements of the photograph are slower, less reactive, and therefore remain lower in the sculpture. Through another computer simulation, these pixels-turned-3D spheres (“voxels” or “volumetric picture elements”) can be energized like a wave. The entire simulation is driven by a code. It is actually the code that makes it possible for a living form to be born again from something that was dead.”

Because of the precise nature of the project, DĂ­az employed the use of robots, which best understand pure data, to assemble the sculpture. Check out a video of the robots here.


The 420,000 black balls used in the 50-feet long by 20-feet high sculpture are sphere of ABS, or a light polymer (also used in the production of LEGO blocks). In his consideration of material, Díaz was not only interested in simulated fluid movement, but also wanted to allow a visible movement of light. Because motion is a fundamental concept in the piece, he incorporated the way the human eye processes velocity. When something is faster, visibility is lessened. Theoretically, “velocity drains color”, which led Díaz to use the color black in his representation of the particles of light.

“Light is something that enables us to see. Light is made of particles. In the sculpture, light particles were replaced by black spheres. So they represent the fluid movement of light, like a wave, as much as they represent the motion of fluids. There is a parallel between light and water; the turbulent movement of light is similar to the movement of the particles of water. They are basically molecules that move in the same way as light does.”

This long-term installation opens to the public Saturday, October 23. Of his installation, artist Federico DĂ­az comments, “Creating a unique object, which transformed the museum into a new form of algorithmic architecture was a fascinating journey full of unforgettable emotions.”

Posted October 22, 2010 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Openings
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