Vincent Gössler, Merz Akademie

Documentary palaces

While the visualization of (scientific) data and information has become a well-developed part of any graphic and media designer’s repertoire, the design of a comprehensible documentation and representation of a whole field of knowledge is often the result of individual and complex standalone solutions. That is why a semester course at the Merz Akademie hosted by Joost Bottema, Mario Doulis, and Jörg Frohnmayer focused on this aspect. Like in the project Re-shaping nature, the art students worked, once again, with data from the CASCB and the MPI AB. This time, Blair Costelloe shared her knowledge and research data from her Herd Hover project. The project results were displayed in the exhibition Herds & Hovering at the University of Konstanz.

Blair Costelloe speaks about the Herd Hover Project.

Goal and approach of the project

The goal was to develop artistic approaches for the design of knowledge spaces within the field of animal behaviour science. Besides the visualization of the related scientific data and documents, the course leaders and students curated the arrangement of the content, revealing the “big picture” and/or a unique substory line. The title “Documentary Palaces” refers to the terms “documentary theatre” (using pre-existing material as source material for stories about real events) and “memory palace” (a memory enhancement strategy using visualizations of familiar spatial environments to enhance the recall of information) which serve as the design base for this project.

Animail Trailfont & Turning Movements into Chrome

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“I have really enjoyed the collaboration with the Merz Akademie and been impressed by the creativity and professionalism of the students,” says Blair Costelloe. “It has been very gratifying to share my work with this group and see my project anew through their eyes. Our meetings have sparked fascinating discussions on diverse topics, including the ethics of developing novel data collection methods, the emotional experiences of animals, and what we can and cannot learn about our own species from observing animal behaviour. I am happy that my research has been able to inspire such interesting projects and hope that the projects in turn inspire others to explore the overlap between science and art.”

Project Results

© Isabel Kohlhagen

Predator-prey interactions by Isabel Kohlhagen

A Thomson Gazelle’s most important task in life is probably not to become dinner. My project deals with the topic Predator-Prey Interactions: Anti-Predator behaviour.
I want to playfully educate our little ones with a puzzle card game where they have to place illustrated cards in the right order to understand the whole story. The game contains three main stories about a gazelle encountering different predators like cheetahs, jackals, and wild dogs. When placed in a different order the story may end sooner with a lucky outcome or you play through a whole chase which has two potential endings.

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Copyright: Vincent Gössler

Explanatory Animation by Vincent Gössler

The first part of the animation is designed to look like a small exhibition, with a diorama of the Kenyan landscape. It shows how the drone captures the footage from the herd and then transfers it onto the computer, for further processing. The colours of the first part are sup- posed to resemble the colours of the reddish Kenyan soil. The  atmosphere is as calming as being in nature is, where the scientists spend a lot of their time. The second part illustrates, in an abstract way, how a computer handles the data which it receives. Then he compiles them and analyzes them individually. Out of the GPS, landscape, and individual animal data, the scientists can reconstruct how an individual of the herd moved through the terrain and interacted with its group. The reconstruction is symbolized by the abstract landscape you see at the end.

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© Niclas Rüdiger

A week of a zebra: how can animal data be incorporated into an artistic design? by Niclas Rüdiger

For my approach to this question, I illustrated different groups of zebras moving. I extracted movement from a project called Satellite-Stories where you can follow different groups of zebras in Kenya over a timespan of a week. After I had tracked these groups, I pictured them in an animation that you can see by scanning the QR code. If you take a look at the poster, you can see eight groups in the right lower corner. Every dot of the group symbolizes a zebra that follows the one in front. Where did they start and where did they end up? Scan the QR code and see for yourself!

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© Normantas Matonis

Chaotic workflow of Normantas: VR Experience by Normantas Matonis

During the process my thoughts were revolving around Blair Costelloeʼs Herd Hover project. The idea of Blairʼs project made me consider human and animal collective behaviour. Taking her concept into consideration, I am presenting individual solutions to expose ideas in the basic level of animal and human behaviour. For the presentation of my project, I decided to make a VR space. In this space one is literally able to flow through the information that I have gathered as well as witness works of art. The idea is to expose a chronological path of information and chaotic workflow of Normantas.

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© Luis Lavadinho and Luis Weiler

Trail textiles: ethnic inspired fashion and functional safari wear by Luis Lavadinho and Luis Weiler

Trails in the Kenyan savanna serve as a collective memory of efficient escape routes for prey animals in a herd. For humans, fashion preserves the memory of a culture. This two-piece outfit can be can be worn inside out. Either as functional clothing for safari trips that will help you blend into your environment or as a colourful and striking everyday outfit inspired by Kenyan fashion trends. When do we as humans behave like predators and when do we belong to the herd? When do we want to stand out and when do we want to blend in?

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© Tim Fritzsche

Collective Memory: animal trail font & turning movements into chrome by Tim Fritzsche

For my project, I extracted the trails animals leave in nature from drone footage and turned them into a font whose form is significantly influenced by nature. The initial idea was to work with the traces that animals leave in the wild. For me, they are a collective memory, i.e. they communicate to the herd, where the nearest water source can be found. I am relating this thought to the role that typography plays for humans. The second part of the project is a brief digression through the different realities that data can take during the course of a design process. Starting with the recording of a movement in nature, through a virtual environment, to an abstract 3D model in printed form.

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© Aleyna Arslan

To become a zebra: is it black with white stripes, or white with black stripes? by Aleyna Arslan

Everyone of us has experienced this at least once in their life: you are in your bed, trying to sleep and suddenly your brain reminds you of something you did five years ago when you were younger. Right at that moment, so many thoughts are flowing into your mind. You feel sadness, anger, or even depression. These are emotions that we carry with us for many years to come. It may sound silly but zebras can teach us a little lesson with how they behave in their natural habitat. This is a story of how I became a zebra. A storytelling website based on “Why Zebras Donʼt Get Ulcers” by Robert Saplosky and the Herd Hover project.

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The project started with a kick-off visit at the CASCB in Konstanz and the MPI AB in Möggingen in April 2022. In May, initial project outlines were discussed on a return visit to the Merz Akademie in Stuttgart. The result were exhibited on 6 July in Stuttgart, Merz Akademie and on 2 December we showed the project results in the exhibition Herds & Hovering at the University of Konstanz in the Foyer, A 5, 12-16.

Involved People

Course leader: Prof Joost Bottema, Prof Mario Doulis and Jörg Frohnmayer, Merz Akademie
Researcher: Dr Blair Costelloe, MPI AB/CASCB
Students from Merz Akademie: Aleyna Arslan, Tim Fritzsche, Vincent Gössler, Isabel Carolin Kohlhagen, Luis Lavadinho, Normantas Matonis, Niclas Rüdiger, Marie Weilacher, Luis Weiler
Organization and communication: Dr Elisabeth Böker, Bhargav Solanki, CASCB