Driessens & Verstappen: Pareidolia


Driessens & Verstappen
[ The Netherlands ]

Pareidolia is a form of illusion in which someone perceives something recognizable in something it is not. The name comes from the Greek para (next to) and eidolon (image).

This everyday phenomenon arises because our brains have a tendency to make connections between different elements, even if they are not really there. Well-known examples of pareidolia are seeing faces or animals in clouds or the face in the moon. We are fascinated by the idea that all the faces of all people who have ever lived and will live can be found within the vast amount of grains of sand that exist on Earth. Finding a face in a grain of sand takes a long search. But even though it is very rare to find one, it is easy to imagine that there are countless faces hidden there, if you just search long enough in that almost inexhaustible quantity of grains of sand.

The artwork Pareidolia contains a fully automatic robotic search engine that examines grains of sand on the spot and looks for faces in the shape of the grains. We apply a self-developed face-detection system to every grain of sand that appears under the microscope lens. If a face is discovered in one of the grains, the portrait is captured photographically. The growing collection of faces is shown on a round screen or on a round projection screen.

The project starts from an artistic question regarding our troubled relationship with the world. Most people have little knowledge of the morphology of the world’s most basic material: sand. By viewing the grains through an anthropocentric lens, the viewer gains insight into the enormous diversity of appearances of the grains, but is also confronted with a biased way of perceiving them. We deliberately allow the computer to make the same kinds of “mistakes” that we humans make by accident. In this way, the work provides a critical commentary on a far-reaching anthropocentric worldview, in which everything revolves around man, who wants to see his own image in even the most insignificant grain of sand.

Questioning our anthropocentric worldview is an important step in reestablishing our dysfunctional relationship with the world and with other kinds of intelligence. Direct confrontation with our role in climate change and the loss of biodiversity is one way to achieve insight and awareness, but in this work we have chosen not to approach it with an accusatory tone, but in a more playful way. This makes the work very accessible for all ages, and also understandable for people who are not familiar with art or AI.

Primary Project Website: https://notnot.home.xs4all.nl/pareidolia/pareidolia.html

  • Medium: Electronics, microscope, camera, perspex, wood, metal, sea sand, screen 50 inch, black coated metal housing
  • Techniques: Mechanics, robotics, machine learning, face detection software
  • Year produced: 2019

Erwin Driessens & Maria Verstappen

Independent Artists

The Amsterdam based artist couple Erwin Driessens (1963 Wessem) and Maria Verstappen (1964 Someren) have worked together since 1990. After their study at the Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts and the Rijksakademie Amsterdam, they jointly developed a multifaceted oeuvre of software, machines and objects. Their research focuses on the possibilities that physical, biological and computer algorithms can offer for the development of image generating processes. They strive for an art in which spontaneous phenomena are generated systematically. Art that is not entirely determined by the subjective choices of a human being, but instead, is created by autonomously operating processes. A major source of inspiration are the self-organising processes in nature, especially the decentralised processes, the bottom-up processes, have their attention. In addition to working with natural processes, they use the computer to program digital processes that generate fictional worlds.

Driessens & Verstappen participated in numerous exhibitions a.o. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen Rotterdam, Centre Pompidou Paris, Garage Museum Moscow, IVAM Institute Valencia, Museum Kröller-Müller Arnhem, Neue Pinakothek München, Les Abattoirs Toulouse, Eyebeam New York, Science Gallery Dublin. The couple gives lectures and presentations at universities, art academies, festivals and conferences, a.o. SIGGRAPH Los Angeles, Sonic Acts Amsterdam, Second Iteration Melbourne. In 1999 and 2001 their Tickle robot projects have been awarded first prize at VIDA, an international competition for Art & Artificial Life. In 2013 the couple received the Witteveen+Bos Art+technology Award for their entire oeuvre. The artists are represented by gallery DAM in Berlin.

Artists’ website: www.driessensverstappen.nl


Commissioner: SEA Science Encounters Art
Support: Creative Industries Fund NL