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Artificial Hell is an interactive art piece documenting the exhibition as it unfolds. The work uses live camera data from the installation in order to generate abstracted forms archiving the exhibition through the lens of the machine.

produced by: Tate Smith


Artificial Hell is an interactive art piece documenting the exhibition as it unfolds. The work uses live camera data from the installation in order to generate abstracted forms archiving the exhibition through the lens of the machine.




Concept and background research

Artificial Hell is an interactive art piece documenting the exhibition as it unfolds. The work explores the phenomenological by exploiting the lacuna of machine-human interaction, as well as truth-making by virtue of its “unbiased” lens. The work is politically motivated while appearing apolitical and non-judgemental; it is a work that at its core is anarchist. This is to say to use the term in its purest philosophical form which is that anarchy is not chaos in the streets as it is colloquially used today but rather anarchy is about the removal of hierarchy in its broadest sense. This is applied to the artwork through the interaction--the viewer is not less than the artwork as some may feel when experiencing a deified artwork in the broadly domineering environment of the gallery or museum.

 Live imagery is filtered through the machine and transformed to create rough maps and outlines of interlocutors into the space creating vague references and phantasmagoria. Artificial Hell is motivated specifically by the mid 60’s French artist group GRAV’s manifesto Assez Des Mystifications wherein they state that states “If there is a social preoccupation in today’s art, then it must take into account this very social reality: the viewer...we want to make [them] participate. We want to place [them] in a situation [they] trigger and transform.” As world famous provocateur and artist Maurizio Cattelan famously said to a friend “The meaning is not for the artist to decide,” similarly I share an interest in no longer working within this framework of an objectivity of meaning of an art. Art therefore needs to be emancipatory from these art historical bindings and shackles of the canon, it is a deep and important truth that the viewer must be free to make the meaning for themselves. 

Artificial Hell situates the viewer outside of the traditional hierarchy of the “white cube” gallery space, wherein the viewer becomes the art and the act of looking becomes the art-making; passive consumption of the spectacle is put into direct contrast with the constant memory-banking activity which forces the viewer directly to take part in the art and not accept its inanities carte blanche. 


    My initial project idea for the exhibition was unfortunately canned due to COVID concerns. The first project idea was to have a participatory performance wherein the audience would act as a computer, decoding a message in teams to reveal the artwork which would be accessible with the decoded message as a key to unlocking it. However, planning for this to work digitally was daunting and frankly was impossible with my skill set. Thus this project was  born, still interactive but not completely dependent on a large number of people in the space at one time. 

    This project started out with the plotter which I had from earlier in the year as part of a growing interest in computer assisted and controlled drawing practices. I generated a reaction-diffusion pattern--commonly used in the sciences to model cell growth and the spread of pandemics among many other things--then saved the figures out to vector files and passed it to the laser cutter for engraving, with each of the 4 panels requiring about 3 hours to make. The final touches of the project was to get it to run successfully on a Raspberry Pi. Furthermore I 3D printed some housing and stands for the Pi and Camera to be more appropriately situated on the plinth in the exhibition.

    As per my talk with Rachel she noted that the setup was quite voyeuristic as the camera and Raspberry Pi blended in with the plinth and the wiring was relatively discrete in the relationship between camera and object. This was by design, and if possible I would have preferred to have the camera be invisible, and while a product like this does exist now it was both unattainable and likely out of my price range.  



I wrote this project’s code in python, so that it was most easily transferred onto a raspberry pi. Writing in python also allowed me to learn a bit of a new programming language as well as the fact that the plotter had a prebuilt api written in python meaning I did not have to spend days translating the code from language to another. The reaction-diffusion pattern was also modeled in python with matplotlib being used to save the figures. 

    To create the images that were drawn there was a simple pipeline: First, the CCTV camera lens was continuously feeding a live feed to the Raspberry Pi (via a type of while loop), then the captured imagery was run through OpenCV to have Canny edge detection performed on it, these edge detected images were saved onto the Pi and then run through a separate script to turn these images into a vector file type (SVG) so that the plotter could then draw them. More specifically, the live images were turned into arrays of their pixel data and then reshaped into the appropriate size and then passed into the edge detection, this part was done with numpy and had the added benefit of allowing a more efficient program as it could directly write the pixel data into a PNG file. 

    The script which “vectorized” the images first is thresholded into distinct black and white sections, then with the clear contrast established the script looks for completed shapes and defines those regions as distinct. With the borders clearly established and defined as distinct and separate from each other, retraces the borders between the distinct zones as a vector type. The result is then output as a unique SVG file. This file was passed through the plotter’s API which allowed for command line level passing of files to the plotter, as opposed to the manual way involving a free vector editing program called Inkscape.

Future development

In order to further develop this project I want to place it in various situations outside of the traditional exhibition space. The work responds to the contexts its placed in, thus I think a juxtaposition with nature would a fruitful place for further development. I plan on taking this out into the woods with an extrenal power supply and letting it run "wild" so to speak. Other possibilites are more mundane but, I believe it would also be interesting to leave this in an alleyway or similiarly disregarded space and to archive the experiences there.

Self evaluation

Overall I think the project was successful, it worked as intended and performed its objectives well. Looking back on it, I wish I had made the whole thing much much larger. During the viva examinations Rachel had asked me if I thought it was too contained by being on the wall which is a very poignant observation. I agree with her observation here, and that is what lead to my thinking of potential future development for the piece as placing it in a strongly contrasting space but also, I believe that if it were to be larger, say 5 meters squared then this would no longer be a limiting factor as it had the gravitas to hold the space as its own rather than being something so contained within the blank space of the white wall.


Bishop, C. (2012). Artificial hells participatory art and the politics of spectatorship. London Verso.

Debord, G. (2016). Society of the spectacle. Detroit, Michigan: Black & Red.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (2017). A thousand plateaus : capitalism and schizophrenia. London [U.A.] Bloomsbury.

Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back. (2016). [DVD/Stream] Dogwoof Sales.

Stirner, M. and Wolfi Landstreicher (2018). The unique and its property. Berkeley, California: Ardent Press.

Vilém Flusser (2011). Into the universe of technical images. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.