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Vanitas Machine – The transience and extension of life

Created by Verena Friedrich, Vanitas Machine explores the desire for eternal life and the potential of life-prolonging measures. Vanitas Machine uses a candle placed in the centre of glass tank to represent human breathing process, consuming oxygen and producing carbon dioxide and water. The higher the oxygen and energy turnover, the shorter the burning time of the candle. By controlling the supply of oxygen, the life span of the candle can be extended.

Being one of the classical vanitas symbols, a burning candle recalls the futility of the moment, the transience of human life and the certainty of the end of all existence. But is this end really still inevitable? In the course of the last two centuries, average human life expectancy has increased significantly in the industrialised countries. Moreover, in the context of scientific research the biological causes of ageing are being explored. Numerous theories of ageing have already been developed pointing both towards physiological as well as environmental factors. One of the first theories of ageing was the so-called »rate-of-living theory«, which claims that the lifespan of organisms is reciprocally related to energy turnover and therefore connected to calorie intake, oxygen consumption and heart rate: The higher the metabolic rate, the shorter the lifespan of the organism. More..

Vanitas Machine has been specifically developed to keep a candle “alive” under controlled conditions. As the candle burns down, sensors and the air outlet port follow the position of the flame. The system protects it from environmental factors and by precisely regulating the oxygen supply the “metabolism” of the candle and thus its “lifespan” is extended.

Project PageVerena Friedrich

Editor’s note: Vanitas Machine is among this year’s entries for Prix Ars Electronica – Hybrid Art category (of which I was a jury member). For more information about the category and submissions, see here.