Map Critique: EfectoMariposa

Map Critique: EfectoMariposa

EfectoMariposa by Patrício Gonzales Vivo
Critique by Laura Salaberry

In the winter of 2011 the multimedia digital artist Patrício Gonzales Vivo had to face a difficult problem: he could not find cat litter anywhere in Buenos Aires (Argentine), where he lived then. Soon, he found out that what was happening was because the volcano Puyehue-Cordón Caulle – in Chile – had had a huge eruption, ejecting tons of ashes in the atmosphere. That ash made it impossible to get the litter collected and distributed. Patrício then realized how any action in our planet has some sort of consequence elsewhere. With that concept in mind, Patricio created the project Efecto Mariposa or Butterfly Effect. This project consists of an real-time interactive map where people can simulate their own ecosystem by shaping ashes.

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The project is made possible by these four components: 1. ashes from the 2011 eruption simulate terrain of the ecosystem; 2. a Kinect tracks the shapes, or topographies, of the ashes; 3. a computer processes the information collected by the Kinect and transforms it into visual information; 4. a projector projects images of the ecosystem onto the ashes. To built a system that simulates reality Patrício overlaid 8 different layers, each one containing one physical element of the ecosystem. Three are topological elements: depth, shape and noise. And the other five are climate components: geosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere (animal +vegetal) and atmosphere. The result is an interactive piece where the user can simulate any kind of climate and topographic reality by shaping the ashes in different ways. In Patrício’s own words, “EfectoMariposa is an interactive installation that provides the opportunity to explore destruction and creation, which are combined in an infinite fractal dance, demonstrating the ability of life to cut through the face of adversity.” After the user shapes the ashes, that world is created and continues to grow. The user, than, can observe his own created world developing.

I had a conversation with Patrício – he lives in New York now – about the project. He told me that his main goal was to make users interact with the piece not individually, but as a group. He wanted people to understand that if one person moves a hand in one side of the system, the other side will be affected. It’s a kind of game where people can play God. Patrício was surprised by how many users enjoyed creating scenarios of complete destruction of the world. That happens because the installation is so responsive that if one user creates, for example, a plain terrain with water only in the borders, it will create a desert, with no animal or vegetal life.

This project was the result of a workshop made in collaboration with the Centro Cultural Espanã en Buenos Aires. It was a success in Buenos Aires, and it traveled around a couple of cities in Latin América. Later on, Patrício was invited to recreate versions of Effecto Mariposa in private companies like oil and coal producers. He denied the invitations because of ideology discrepancies. Patrício also created an Open Source library with the codes of most of the effects he created for this project. That way, anyone who wants to use those effects in their own projects can have free access. Here’s a gallery of some other sand box interactive maps.

ProjectoMariposa is a powerful piece that teaches users notions of geography and creates awareness of the consequences of climate change on earth. The fact that the map is interactive and 3D makes the experience even more pleasurable and complete. It also has a great potential to be used in schools to teach students how ecosystems works.


For my creative prototype, I’ve decided to create an interactive map also using a tactile material: playing dough. This material allows the user to customize his own map, shaping different elements, like the ashes in EffectoMariposa. The dough has different colors, so the user can emulate the colors of nature in his map, for example, blue for water, yellow for sand, green for vegetation, white for snow.


Of course there’s no projection simulating climate changes in my prototype. But, using dough instead of projection can highlight one more aspect of the consequences of our decisions on earth. In Patrício’s model, the user always has a second chance to build a new balanced world. If at one moment all there is left is desert, the user can reshape the ashes and create rivers, oceans and consequently, vegetation and life. However, with the playing dough it’s different. For instance, the resources are limited. The user only has a finite amount of blue, green and yellow dough. I simulated a World map precisely to emulate natural resources existent on planet Earth. In addition, once different colors of dough touch each other, they live a trace of their interaction; the colors will never be pure and perfect again. If the user keeps messing with the map, all the colorful doughs will mix together, resulting in a gray unified mass of dough. Like a planet with no diversity, and thus no life.