The life of an overtaxed surface

by Till Maria Jürgens and Vitus Schuhwerk




@><#!!! is a surface of an arbitrary machine communicating on an emotional level with the humans. It tries to make internal processes visible by an alteration of its surface structure and to react on interaction. The result is a playful handling, starting with a cautious approach, smooth movements, checking out the possibilities. When the interaction gets more intense, the machine will get overtaxed and show stronger reactions. In the end: total refusal, plays dead, it needs a break; until the next user will interact with it.


To work and handle with machines we need an interface as a tool to communicate. We need it to say what the machine has to do and the machine need it to express the internal state. Our plan was to create a machine with emotional expression of its internal process or condition. We wanted to make it visible by an alteration of its shape and structure, to make an emotional communication between human and machine possible and that the machine is able to express: "Hey, I’m overtaxed. Please come down, give me a break."


This machine and its alteration of shape and structure to react on interaction has to be as simple and abstract as possible. So we decided to use just a metaphor of a machine, its surface, a two dimensional object. We use a metal coated foil, which crinkle strongly and results abstract, interesting and inorganic random structures. Simple motion patterns emphasize the abstraction. The golden color of the foil gains extra attention. The final result simulates a living object with feelings, action and reaction. The users treat it in many different ways and we could observe a broad spectrum of their reactions: cute thing, different kinds of an animal, ugly, frightened, strange, confusing, has to take care of it and sometimes the question: what does the reaction of the foil say about me, about my interaction with it, about my character and condition?


The heart of this object is an arduino board, which works with the data of a capacitive sensor and controls four servos. The capacitive sensor is a small piece of alu foil placed under the top plate of the white stele and is connected through some capacitors and resistors to the arduino. The four servos move four wheels to pull and push invisible threads, which are connected to the golden foil on the top. The result is an inverted parallel movement of two opposite points of the foil, eight points in total. The stele is 55 cm x 55 cm x 100 cm and needs just one energy plug. A light spot will complete the setting.

Thanks to

Professor Andreas Muxel

Previous Exhibitions

  • 23.10. – 26.10.2014
    lab.30 – lab30.de
    Kulturhaus abraxas, Augsburg, Germany
  • 25.08. – 05.10.2014
    File SP 2014 – file.org.br
    Art Gallery of SESI-SP, São Paulo, Brazil
  • 03.01. – 05.01.2014
    Techfest 2013-14 – techfest.org
    IIT Bombay, Mumbai, India
  • 16.11.2013
    CIAM-Soirée (private event) – ciam-koeln.de
    Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany
  • 09.11.2013
    Lange Nacht der Museen – museumsnacht-koeln.de (german only)
    Köln International School of Design, Cologne, Germany
  • 07.11. – 09.11.2013
    KIKK Festival 2013 – kikk.be
    Namur, Belgium
  • 30.09. – 03.10.2013
    Urban Media Festival Cologne 2013 – urbanmediafestival.de
    Cologne, Germany
  • 19.08. – 22.08.2013
    Platine Festival Köln – platine-cologne.de (german only)
    Cologne, Germany
  • 14.06.2013
    Lange Nacht der Technik – nacht-der-technik.de (german only)
    Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Cologne, Germany


Blogs and Online-Press


  • Weave Number 24
    No. 04.13 August/September; Page 17
  • Kölner Stadtanzeiger
    16. August 2013
    »Überforderte Folien und ein angestrahlter Heliosturm«
  • Kölnische Rundschau
    No. 189 , 16. August 2013; Page 13
    »Wo Faszination und Spieltrieb regieren«



About The Artists

Vitus Schuhwerk

Vitus works as a research assistant at the Köln International School of Design. He studied at the KISD and worked as a tutor in the development of a digital learning environment. After one year of abroad experience in Bolivia, he worked as a designer at the Rückenwind Group.

Till Maria Jürgens

Till writes his master thesis about Human-Machine-Communication. Before he worked as a research assistant at the Köln International School of Design. After a vocational training as a digital media designer and a regular employment at Pixelpark AG Cologne, he graduated from the Köln International School of Design with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Integrated Design with specialization in Interface Design. He spent a semester abroad at the Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan.

In their spare time they make and develop together interactive art with the view on the interface between objects, code and human.


Please don't hesitate to send us an e-mail to info@overtaxedsurface.de, if you have questions, comments or just want to say hello.

Legal info

Till Maria Jürgens – Vitus Schuhwerk / Brunostr 23 – 50677 Köln – Germany / Copyright of video, pictures (if not stated otherwise), text by Till Maria Jürgens