Ruben van de Ven

digital artist / researcher of software culture reach me at

Sustaining Gazes

2018 In analytics and statistics, data visualisations, such as the heatmap, are used as tools bring forward patterns in data. These data visualisations, are often presented as objective tools of knowledge: data supposedly do not lie. What is often neglected however, are the subjective and political intricacies embedded within the datasets, and its method of visualisation. In collaboration with Cristina Cochior I am exploring the concept of data dramatisations, as an opposite to data visualisations. Rather than aiming for the objective, we explore the affective & performative aspects of data gathering and processing.

Sustaining Gazes is a data dramatisation which looks at the role between the visualisation and its subject. A heatmap is generated by looking at it, which directly influences the looking. Areas which are looked at turn into interesting shapes, inviting even more observation. The pattern of looking is reinforced though its visualisation. This cycle reveals both a hierarchy of power between algorithm and subject, as well as a point for intervention.

This work was commissioned by, and exhibited at, Route du Nord 2018.

Choose how you feel; you have seven options

2016 What does it mean to feel 47% happy and 21% surprised? "Choose how you feel; you have seven options" is a video work that revolves around this question as it looks at software that derives emotional parameters from facial expressions. It combines human accounts and algorithmic processing to examine the intersection of highly cognitive procedures and ambiguous experiences. Born from a fascination with the technological achievements, the work interrogates the discursive apparatus the software is embedded in.

This work builds on my research into the workings of expression analysis technologies and the assumptions that underlie it, scrutinising the claims that are made by the companies developing the software.

It was part of the graduation show for Media Design & Communication Fuzzy Logic and was selected for Test_Lab: the Graduation Edition at V2_, Rotterdam.

The research is published as a longform by The Institute of Network Cultures.

3 projections, 9′09″ (∞ loop).

EYE Without A Face Cristina Cochior

2016 Whether the video frames are ordered by time or by emotion will not make a difference to a computer. For it, both orderings are just as logical. However, for the human spectator the reordered display of frames becomes a disruptive process. The human is positioned as a required agent for meaning making in an algorithmic procedure.

In collaboration with Cristina Cochior I went manually through the Eye's public collection, and catalogued faces by surrendering them to an emotion detection algorithm. Cutting from one face to another,its uncritical selection produced a new portrait of emotional gradients moving in-between anger and happiness.

This project was part of the Piet Zwart Institute ResearchLab at the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam and was exhibited there from 12th April - 24th April. The exhibition focussed on the boundaries of the archive. Studying the structures and cultural impacts of our media technologies, it concentrated on the intricate and usually hidden aspects of EYE's extensive archive.

Single projection, 11′32″ (∞ loop).

Emotion Hero


Emotion recognition software is being used both as a tool for ‘objective’ measurements as well as a tool for training one’s facial expressions, eg. for job interviews. Emotion Hero is a literal translation of the paradoxical relation between these applications of the technology.

Emotion Hero is a two-part artwork. On the one hand is a video-game that is freely downloadable for everybody with an Android device (see Google Play). Inspired by Guitar Hero, the user scores points by following given cues. It provides detailed feedback on the mechanics of the face (eg. “You showed on 10% Joy when you had to show 100%, smile 99.32% more.”), revealing that rather than being a window into the brain, the face is a controllable surface.

The second part is a projection that shows the aggregated scores of the game. In order to substantiate their discourse, companies in facial expression measurement employ a huge amount of data collection and processing. The results are displayed in a fixed grid, recalling historical practices that, trough extensive measurement and administration, also aimed to delineate something which is conceptually undelineated: think of Duchenne de Boulogne, Lombroso, and Charcot.

Emotion Hero is a playful invitation to open up the box of expression analysis to reveal the assumptions that underlie this technology.

The game's emotional intelligence is powered by Affectiva (I was also interviewed by them). This project is produced as part of the Summer Sessions Network for Talent Development in a co-production of Arquivo 237 and V2_ Lab for the Unstable Media, with support of the Creative Industries Fund NL.

It has been exhibited at the State Festival 2016 (Berlin, DE) and Digital <Dis>orders (Frankfurt, DE).

The Spectacular Times Ward Goes

2013 — ongoing

Originally initiated as a graduation project (cum laude) by Ward Goes, The Spectacular Times is an ongoing visual inquiry into the presentation of news. It investigates how news, rather than being subjective, is representational of its social, cultural, (geo)political and ideological contexts. The project sets out to lay bare these representations in currently circulating news.

By layering and contrasting different news elements The Spectacular Times re-contextualises news and makes explicit the intangible notions that lie beyond an increasingly universal guise of news reporting. Not in an effort to tell apart true from false, left from right, or right from wrong, but in order to accentuate a variety of articulations of news.

This web based project uses user defined variables to animate news headers, texts and images, which are directly sourced from different news websites world wide. By adjusting these parameters (among which region, scope and speed) the spectator actively perceives how news content is de- and reformed through its aesthetics.

Fragments of reality

2015 In western society, images are generally perceived as objective traces of events. As evidence that things happened as how they are captured in the frame.

As Susan Sontag elaborates, this counts for photographic images in particular. They are seen, not as subjective statements about the world, but rather as pieces of it —as fragments of a reality. Photographic images are often seen as unbiased; they carry in them the "burden of truth". We use them to give meaning, to asses and to judge. It exactly is in this passivity of the image, that its aggression lurks.

Fragments of Reality is a newspaper that assembles descriptions of five images of one event: a press conference with Jeroen Dijsselbloem and Yanis Varoufakis. Each interviewee was shown one of the images, in an attempt to highlight how we read events trough photographs.

It considers an event not as a single factual moment, but as the cumulative of subjective experiences, inherently proposing that an image is always lacking in its representation of that which it presents.

We know how you feel

2015 A two-part artwork and my first work on software that derives emotional parameters from facial expressions. The first part displays the Mind Reading Emotions Library, an interactive collection of videos, audio fragments and scenes depicting 412 distinct emotions —ranging from `angry' to `unsure'— grouped in 24 categories. The second part of the project is a tablet with a modified demo app by Affectiva, a major player in the field of emotion analysis software. This app acts as an interactive mirror which displays the various parameters that the Affectiva software derives from someone's facial expression, while a voice over reads a text extracted from the Dutch classic Beyond Sleep by W.F. Hermans (1966), concerning the impact of the mirror, photography and video on the human self-image.

It was part of the exhibition Encyclopedia Of Media Objects, organised by the Piet Zwart Institute and held at the V2_ Institute for unstable media in June 2015.


2013 Adam is security guard at a nursing home with comatose patients. During his night shifts he has unsettling visions of someone drowning. He seeks his comfort in the company of his pregnant girlfriend. Days of Water is a story on guilt and shame; and on a longing for hope.

I wrote and directed this film for my graduation as film director for fiction at the Utrecht School of the Arts.

It was accompanied by research on spectatorial emotion and the influence of emotions on the spectator's sympathy for the protagonist.



2012 For the visitors of the Crossing Border festival in The Hague we desgined an installation to collaboratively contribute to a poem.

Based on the input of the user, a sentence is added to the poem, originating from digitalised texts of artists participating in the festival.

The text was combined with an audiovisual presentation that changed depending on the user's input.

More info is available at the project website.

Rangi Ya Samwati

2012 The Colour of Blue. A diptych about two Tanzanians: a miner and a lobster fisher. How do they live, work and survive; and how do they see their own future? Each of the two men is in his own way depending on nature, everyday gambling for a good catch.

This documentary was shot complementary to our work at the Kilimanjaro Film Institute in Arusha.

Documentary, 14′42″. The full film is available on Youtube.

Virtual Afterlife

2010 A short HKU project on the future of social media, when it was still an upcomming phenomenon. It is made in two weeks for a series of shorts with a given start and ending image.

We asked ourselves: what happens if our online identity lives on after we die? Do we still live on if a part of our online identity does? How can this virtual identity be shaped?

2′10″, available on on YouTube.