XeThru Respiration Sensors Spawn Art Installation in New York

Oscar Wilde famously said, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life"* and it was this thought that came to mind when I considered how a new art installation was inspired by technology that detects life signs.

What Wilde was postulating was that we recognise things in life because we have been made more aware of them through artistic interpretation. Breathing is certainly an essential human activity, with respiration being a vital sign of life, but the new interactive light installation at New York’s Fridman Gallery helps visitors appreciate their own breathing in a whole new way. The PRANA exhibit, recently unveiled by creative studio B-Reel, features a sphere constructed from over 13,000 suspended LEDs that viewers enter one at a time. Then, as they breathe, the lights fade up and down around them, triggering reactive animations that provide a meditative experience, the quality of which is further enhanced by sound design from One Thousand Birds.

Underlying the interaction provided by this artwork is a radar technology that was developed for a much more serious purpose. The XeThru respiration sensor from Novelda is intended to serve a number of health applications that range from personal wellbeing through to more critical uses such as care of the elderly and the diagnosis of medical conditions like sleep apnea. However it is the versatility of the XeThru sensor with its ability to detect both the rate and depth of breathing at a distance that also suits it to B-Reel’s more novel application.

Mike Potter, B-Reel art director and creator of PRANA, commented, “As with most of our work, the challenge was to use technology to create something simple and magical,” adding, “The installation is powered by cutting-edge hardware and software, but it’s activated by something as fundamental as breathing. And the fact that we’re sensing viewers’ breathing with a radar technology similar to what has been used to locate survivors in disaster situations adds another layer to the experience.”

* From his 1889 essay “The Decay of Lying"