A Fish Swims In A Tank, Carving A Sculpture As It Goes

Caution, artists. The fish are coming to take your jobs.

A fish swims around in a tank, just being its normal fish self. But all the while, its path is being plotted in 3-D space. Each point stacks on the next, evolving into a twisting knot of tubes, so simultaneously random and inevitable, so simple and intricate, that only nature could have made it.


Float is an installation by the media artist collective panGenerator. It’s a fish tank, surrounded by cameras, that translates a fish’s movements into a 3-D printed sculpture. Yet as sci-fi as that may all sound, the creators believe it’s remarkably traditional.

“It is common for artist to use nature as a source of inspiration. In the Renaissance, science began to be considered as a bridge between nature and art,” Float co-creator Krzysztof Goliński counters. “New digital media give us an opportunity to interface different worlds that have never been connected before. We have new ways for interpreting reality and we try to get the best out of them.”

Now, maybe Goliński misspoke by saying that technology was interfacing different “worlds.” After all, fish have long been part of our world. But I understand his point. Technology allows a level of granular exploration of the environment. Much like microscopes enabled scientists to discover that life was teeming in a single drop of water, 3-D cameras and software enables us all to appreciate the previously hidden aesthetic of a simple fish swimming around its tank.

There is, of course, a level of inquisitive overlap here, between the scientist and the artist. Goliński likes the idea that a “piece of art can also be a scientific experiment,” wondering if there could be something hidden within this data stream they’ve collected, a natural pattern or rule that no one had considered before, in addition to pretty aesthetics. These questions will only become more common in art as our cleverest technologies continue to become commoditized–cameras, AI, movement sensors and even GPS–giving artists continually more access to sharper eyes, more sensitive ears, and upgraded attention spans with gigabytes of allocated storage.

Data doesn’t need to be placed into a separate pile from art, just like a pair of beautiful eyes would never be disassociated from their blueness, because art is just stylized data. As data becomes more important to our day-to-day world, that can only mean great things for art–and science.

[Hat tip: Triangulation]


[Images: Maciej Jedrzejewsk]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.