»Database« is an installation on the subject of surveillance. It covers the invisible and unnoticed collection of data in both public as well as digital spaces and discusses the use of said information. The installation consists of a continuous printer, a paper shredder and two cameras, which detect the faces of people passing by. The faces are being printed together with a respective data entry that indicates date, time and number of the capture. They are then going to be processed by the shredder, while the digital image files are deleted immediately upon printing. This way the »Database« is gradually filling itself with huge amounts of paper and data.

»Database« is currently exhibited at the show »Extra Fantômes«, at La Gaîte lyrique in Paris. The installations first appearance was in Trier, Germany, from July to August 2014. It was also on display at VISUAL, in Carlow, Ireland, from May to October 2015.

Composite portraits of the detected visitors at La Gaîté lyrique are automatically created and uploaded every hour:

Composite Portraits



Background & Approach

The surveillance of the general public and the corollary collection of data is increasing rapidly with the further development of today’s technological possibilities. It stands in-between the promise of safety and the urge to control. More and more public spaces are being pre-emptively observed by surveillance cameras around the clock, just like data contents and consumer behavior in the digital world is saved, analyzed and evaluated.

Corporations and governments are able to achieve a market and information advantage, which results in a concentration of power. The population is especially threatened through its lack of knowledge of the exact goings-on. Whether on the internet or in public spaces it is often not distinguishable if and by whom surveillance and data collection is being practiced.

Information on face detection

To detect a face in a camera picture, computers need certain algorithms. In case of Database so called Haar-Cascades are being used. The algorithm uses a file (the Cascade) which contains typical characteristics of the human face, expressed in brightness differences. For example the forehead is brighter than the eye-area and the mouth darker than the cheeks. Various of these face features are being compared with the camera picture. If there are enough matches, the computer detects a face.

Realization & Sponsorship

The project is part of the university course Intermedia Design at the University of Applied Sciences Trier under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Gunnar Schmidt. The federal state Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany sponsored the project with its media fund.

Artists & Acknowledgement

The project was developed by David Ebner and Tobias Zimmer – With help and thanks to Jeong-Ho Park, Prof. Dr. Gunnar Schmidt, Christian Gwiozda, Julian Steffen, Adam Lorek, Simon Kürten, Konstantin Klein and Michael Zimmer. Further credits go to openFrameworks and to Kyle McDonald for the possibility to use his face detection library.