SWARM LABORATORY was a cooperation project between the Berlin University of the Arts and the Bionics department of the Technical University focusing on swarm-like behavior as found in nature, society, and (online) communities. Aim of the project are products and concepts orientated toward swarm dynamics, intelligence and strategies. 

One of the most outstanding attributes of ants is their architectural competence. The level of sophistication in their colonies is remarkable, the complexity of their nest-building abilities and their organizational skills are striking. I wanted to take advantage of these qualities of a swarm’s behavior. Is it possible to make ants build for me? To instrumentalize them? 


Experiment 1 /  A lampshade built by ants

I started my own ant farm. Like the standard ones consisting out of two glass panes with sand in between, but in its shape based on an industrial lamp. Where tunnels are built, voids appear and a structure in the form of a lampshade has been created. While working on their nest the ants produce an ever-changing light installation. New tunnels create transparency – reflected in lighter areas when the bulb in the middle is switched on. The idea is to cast in the end the hollow space in a mold (of course after the ants moved out again) and receiving a real three dimensional, touchable object designed by nature – a lampshade, the counterpart of the tunnel structures. 


Experiment 2 /  Images drawn by ants

After making the ants build for me, I wanted them to draw for me. Ants are masters of communication, by leaving pheromone marks behind they interact with each other. I wanted to get to the bottom of this notorious ant trail. Film it, track it and break it into single digital pieces. To finally visualize it. Digital images should be generated, just designed by ants. An effort to make the invisible apparent. The ants run through a white box, filmed by a camera from above. A tracking program perceives every single animal as a dot. The coordinates of all the positions of their movements are saved. A Processing sketch combined with the track run can now visualize the ants action simultaneously as a live stream on a screen or the wall behind. The innumerable possibilities to visualize the animal‘s paths and their preferred places range from colorful lines to semitransparent bubbles. In a next step I transferred all the collected coordinates to the Rhinoceros Grasshopper application to generate digital 3D models. These data could be processed through digital fabrication technology such as CNC milling or 3D printing.

Installation with ant tracking box and simultaneous live stream drawing

Different visualizations in Processing: semitransparent lines show frequencies (top), pixelated( left), chaotic 9middle), with obstacle (right)


Screenshot: left the camera tracks the single ants, on the right side the images get generated.

Through  Rhino Grasshopper the ant trails become three dimensionally visible.