“Godbox” — Can algorithms be art?

Students, faculty, and staff:

Check out godbox, an original work of art by Champlain professor Christopher Thompson.

Godbox_900Where and when: Miller Information Commons, first floor. Take a hard right turn two steps inside the MIC, and walk all the way to the south wall. You can’t miss it. The exhibit will run until Thanksgiving break.

Then consider posting comments to this blog page on these or other questions:

Q: Can algorithms be art?

Q: How have recent discoveries in neurology changed our concept of freewill?

Q: Can the vernacular of video games and data-visualization be used as an artistic medium?

Q: What is the difference between an artwork and a scientific experiment?


Touch the table surface to squash flies or spawn new ones.  The markers beneath the cocktail glasses generate colored “spheres of belief” which alter individual flies behavior.  Move the glasses to change the spheres location and rotate them to expand or contract their diameter. Observe the relationships between the interactions on the table top and the representation on the data-visualization screen. Watch for the Jesus fly.


godbox, a hybrid artwork-scientific experiment, examines how recent discoveries in neurology are changing our notion of free will.  It uses software algorithms to evoke involuntary reactions in viewers by stimulating three distinct levels of cognitive perception. The artificial swarming flies ability to cause a sense of revulsion, relies on subconscious pattern recognition processes occurring in the reptilian portion of the brain.  Likewise, when patterns of social interaction between flies emerge from the complexity activity occurring on the table— groupings, attraction, sex, birth, death—our limbic system’s obsession with social behavior is stimulated.  Finally, if individual flies appear to exhibit unusual behavior, venture beyond their environment and encounter and overcome obstacles  it could be our cerebral cortex’s desire to organize patterns of behavior into structured narratives.

Employing artificial intelligence algorithms, and complex systems theory, godbox, probes the “hyperactive pattern recognition machine” that is the human mind. Like the evolutionary neurology research that inspired it, godbox challenges fundamental beliefs including our notions of love, religion, culture and individuality.

The Technology

godbox is a custom hardware and software simulation written in the Java based, Processing programming framework, using ReactiVision’s multi-touch, fiducial object recognition software libraries.  It is based upon the same technology as Microsoft’s $10,000 Surface touch table, but much, much cheaper. It employs infrared led light sources and a hacked PS2 camera to capture reflections of objects on the table surface invisible to the human eye, through a technique known as Frustrated Total Internal Reflection (FTIR).

Christopher Thompson is a second year graduate student in Champlain College’s Emergent Media MFA program. Previously he was curator of Burlington’s BCA Contemporary Art Center. Prior to that he served as Chief Technology Officer at Gardener Supply Corp and Advanced Technology Director at Jager Di Paola Kemp Design.

Thanks to Burlington City Arts for their generosity and for making this exhibition possible. The exhibit’s installation in the Miller Information Commons (MIC) is funded jointly by the Core division and the MIC.


One Response to “Godbox” — Can algorithms be art?

  1. Mary Braden says:

    I believe that art is extremely subjective to a creator and to a viewer. So because Thompson used algorithms to make his piece of art, it is art. That’s what he wanted to use to create his piece, so it works.

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