Ken Lum: Pi

permanent media installation

Location: Westpassage Karlsplatz / Friedrichstraße, 1010 Vienna

Realization period: January 2005 to November 2006
Opening: 1 Dezember, 2006


Pi - work details

Ken Lum, Pi, Media Installation, 2005–2006
7 Mirastar half-mirror elements, size 1,500/2,490 to 2,800 mm
7 Mirastar half-mirror elements, size 1,500/2,000 to 2,400 mm
15 LED panels with a red 7- to 15-digit display and figures 75 mm high
1 LED panel with a red 10-digit display and figures 150 mm high
Etched texts and figures
1 room showcase made of glass, size 3.2 x 1.3 m
(Books, brochures, printed material 1880 –2006)

The number pi (π)

The number pi, after which the project is named, refers to the circle and stands symbolically for the world and its constantly changing appearance. Pi is the ratio of circle perimeter and
circumference. The resulting number is written with the Greek letter π (pi), as it cannot be represented as the relation of two integers, i.e. as a fraction. Pi is an irrational and transcendent number with infinitely many decimal places which do not show a repetitive pattern. Since decimal places cannot be counted, pi is of greater mathematical infinity than rational numbers and thus stands allegorically for the entire world. Just as countable numbers contain non-countable numbers such as pi, the world contains the infinitely dense space of the symbolic. Even though the number pi is central for calculating the circle and sphere it has also pervaded statistics through the Gaussian normal distribution. In physics pi plays a role in addition to the movement of circles, mainly in waves, since it is integrated there in the calculations through the sinus and cosine functions. In quantum mechanics, the formula of the Heisenberg uncertainty relation contains the circle number.
The number pi, the over-arching element of the installation, has been etched onto a multi-piece glass wall as a fixed sequence of numbers with 478 places after the comma. The last ten places calculated by the computer appear on a LED display.

14 Factoids

Factoid 1: Malnourished Children in the World
Malnourishment interacts in a complex way with resources and health care. Here it describes the number of malnourished children worldwide. This figure shows a slight decrease but there are still more than 120 million malnourished children worldwide.

Factoid 2: Viennese in Love Today
The Canadian sociologist John Alan Lee describes six styles of love of which one shows the greatest converges with the everyday understanding of being in love. This style of love (“eros“) was also tested in the Marburg Inventory of Attitudes. The results could be applied to the Viennese population to predict the number of persons in love.

Factoid 3: People Killed in War since January 1
The number of people killed in war has been retrospectively calculated by the Peace Research Institute at the University of Uppsala. A prediction for the coming years was made on the basis of the values of the past five years.

Factoid 4: Paid Hours Worked by Austrians since January 1
More than 5.5 billion hours worked are paid yearly in Austria. This amount refers to the hours worked by employed persons in their main job.

Factoid 5: HIV Infections Worldwide since January 1
The number of persons who are becoming infected with HIV every year is on the rise. UNAIDS has predicted 4.3 million new infections for 2006.

Factoid 6: Amount of Garbage Produced in Vienna since January 1 (in Tons)
The predictions for the amount of garbage produced are based on data provided by the Viennese Environmental Department (MA 22) which is accessible to the public at

Factoid 7: People Dissatisfied with their Jobs in Austria
The working climate index does quarterly assessments of the job satisfaction of Austrian employees. It constitutes the basis of these calculations.

Factoid 8: World Population
Statistically, the world population is growing by 2,566 per second. The data necessary for the prediction were provided by the German Foundation for World Population and are based on the analyses of the Population Reference Bureau (USA).

Factoid 9: Growth in the Sahara Desert (in Hectares) since January 1
The extent of land degradation in the area surrounding the Sahara was taken into account in the scientific data on the desertification process. This information is used to describe the growth of the Sahara.

Factoid 10: Books Borrowed in Vienna since January 1
In Vienna more than 8 million books are borrowed a year in public libraries and university libraries. The opening hours were taken into consideration in the calculation.

Factoid 11: People Killed or Maimed in Landmines since January 1
Since 2003 the “Landmine Monitor”, published by the international campaign for the ban of landmines, has reported an annual 15,000 to 20,000 landmine victims per year.

Factoid 12: Schnitzels Eaten in Vienna since January 1
The AMA questioned persons living in Austria on the number of schnitzels eaten. To obtain a realistic figure, the schnitzels eaten by tourists had to be included in the results.

Factoid 13: Days until Chernobyl is Considered Safe for Human Habitation
The half-value time of the alpha-radioactive element Americium-241 – which amounts to about 432 years and 73 days – was used to measure the days until Chernobyl is considered for human habitation.

Factoid 14: Amount of Money Spent on Military Armament since January 1 (in Euro)
Predictions were made on the amount of money that will be spent on armament in the coming years on the basis of data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Room Showcase

Books / Brochures / Printed Material from 1888 to 2006
The design of the showcase reflects a working situation on a library table. Books are arranged in blocks or piles, some of them are open or marked and closed. Archimedes’ theory on, which the number pi is based, appears here in the form of a book and as a reference to the historical dilemma of “squaring the circle”. Recent standard books on the calculation of statistical and demographic values lead to the more general theme of the showcase. The focal point of the simulated scientific number and data research is the theme of migration. A cross-section of publications from statistics institutes, international inter- and non-governmental institutions suggest reading on studies and demographic surveys for Vienna and Austria and further to Europe and the entire world. Loans of the City of Vienna’s Office for Analysis and Statistics lead from the 19th century to the present day. The “International Migration Outlook Annual Report 2006” of the OECD and “World Migration 2005. Costs and Benefits of International Migration” of the IOM are some of the most important international reports presented here.

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