Droga5 Created a Biometric-Tracking Art Installation for a Health Supplements Company

Activation for Thorne prompts viewers to ponder 'the inner self'

The experience tracks visitors' heart rates, breathing and galvanic skin response and artistically displays it all on a massive screen.
Droga5

“How well do you really know yourself?”

It’s a question we might answer differently depending who’s asking. Is a family member? A friend? A stranger? What if we’re asking it to ourselves?

What if the person asking was part of a promotion for a health supplement company?

Regardless of who’s asking, many of us probably haven’t spent much time thinking about the parts of us we can’t see—our lungs, our hearts, our brains—unless they for some reason stop functioning as they should.

To get people thinking about their “inner self,” the supplement company Thorne created an interactive experience this past weekend challenging visitors to learn more about their vital signs—and of course what supplements they should consider taking to make sure they’re functioning properly. The experience, created by Droga5 and the digital arts group Marshmallow Laser Feast, was in New York City this past weekend, coinciding with the launch of Thorne’s new website designed by the Accenture-owned advertising agency.

Inside the gallery space in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, visitors stood in front of a massive projection while a computer turned each person’s vital signs into artistic digital displays. As a person breathed in and out, the particles on the screen became brighter. Next, a monitor connected to their ear detected their heart rate while a backpack created haptic feedback to match the rhythm. Meanwhile, a galvanic skin response, similar to a lie detector, measured their skin glands, with on-screen visuals changing color in response. All of these signals fed into a computer, which then created a massive image that at times felt more like a monolithic mirror of a shadow or soul.

Justin Durazzo, Droga5’s co-director of experiential production, said Thorne and its partners wanted wanted a concept that “feels like it’s grounded in data but is also an abstraction of that data.” The result was a concept and aesthetic inspired by the recent interest in space exploration.

“There is a frontier inside of you,” Durazzo said. “And we don’t normally pay attention to that as much, because the only representations of that we see are diagnostic images, and that feels very clinical, and you only get that when something is wrong or you’re getting an MRI or something. So we basically wanted to create a new visual system for people to think and change their perception to how they think about their body.”

The market for products like Thorne’s is continuing to grow. According to a report released last month by Grand View Research, the global dietary supplements market could reach $194.63 billion by 2025, expanding at a rate of nearly 8% per year, thanks to the increased health awareness of consumers in every age group. The consulting and research firm found that over-the-counter products accounted for about 74% of the market’s revenue in 2018, with vitamins making up the largest segment.

According to Michael Anthony, interactive director at Active Theory—the company that designed the computer rendering for the experience and the website—the artistic representation of biometric data is meant to illustrate how complex our body systems truly are even without us thinking about it.

“You’re looking into something,” Anthony said. “There’s dimension to it. “You’re looking inward in yourself by looking at this, and also sort of looking back on this…But at the end of the day, it’s a giant screen with cool colors.”

So where does that question—“How well do you really know yourself?”—come in? As a person stands in front of the large screen, a child narrates a script played into headphones that drown out external sounds. It provides a childlike wonder and curiosity to about how our hearts, our minds, our entire selves, work. But how much do we actually understand?

On Friday, while visiting the space, I got a chance to learn a bit more about my own self. According to Thorne, I’ve had 813 million thoughts since I was born. Since then, my blood has circulated my body 50,198,400 times, which the company equated to being “enough to climb Mount Everest 202,899 times.” I’ve also taken 116,200,000 breaths—“enough to fill 53 hot air balloons.”

On Tuesday, I decided to also try the website version of “The Frontier Within,” which detected my heart rate by using the front-facing camera to somehow detect the BPM in my forehead. My heartbeat in that moment showed up as 78 BPM. (I compared it with my Apple Watch for accuracy, and sure enough it was only off by a beat.) And apparently, in a five-minute span, my brain received up to 3.3 billion bits of information from my senses, or “about the same as 2,151 copies of Hamlet.”

Obviously, data from the experience isn’t going to compete with the diagnostics of an actual doctor’s office, and it’s scientifically impossible to know how many thoughts a person has had. Most of the data points provided to each person were simply based on age. However, the website version elicits some curiosity, and the in-person experience did indeed provide a glimmer of grandeur into the human existence. Standing in front of my digital self, I couldn’t help but wonder: How well do I truly know myself?

“That scale is important because we wanted you go feel how grand you are,” Durazzo said. “You know what I mean? Especially when everything inside of you is so invisible and microscopic. It’s really putting yourself on a pedestal and giving you this moment of grandeur.”

In a room adjacent to the main screen, several of Thorne’s products were encased in small glass boxes that felt like a room at an art museum than a a wellness trade trade show. On the walls were digital displays that visually represented our respiratory, nervous and circulatory system. It made the human body seem more like a temple.

“In an age where we’re self-obsessed with our image and what we look like, there’s not enough attention paid to the spirituality of who we are,” Durazzo said.

Is it enough to start pondering if we take care of ourselves well enough? Potentially.

Is that enough to make someone want to buy supplements? That’s harder to say.