My Big Idea

ecosystems; emergent behaviours; contingency; non-human interaction; inadvertent human interaction.

I am interested in the ways information flows through a system and the ways in which different parts of an open system interact with each other and with neighbouring systems. For this project, I would like to focus on non-human interactions within an artificial ecosystem and between the artificial ecosystem and a real-world ecosystem, and on inadvertent or non-deliberate human interaction with the real-world ecosystem.

The starting point for the project is a piece called ambient_light, which I made for my final undergraduate project. ambient_light consists of an artificial ecosystem with six different species of screen-based organisms, connected to the gallery via a set of pressure sensors, concealed in seating units which formed part of the installation. Different patterns of chair occupancy changed several variables in the ecosystem, affecting the behaviour of different species. Interactions between individual creatures and species, and between the gallery visitors and the ecosystem, created complex behaviours such as flocking, population cycles and symbiosis.

For my MA project I would like to make a new ecosystem, this time taking data from a real-life ecosystem as well as data generated by visitor interactions. Variables such as light levels, humidity, temperature and wind speed could be used to affect the functioning of the different species. Visitors would produce data inadvertently by moving around, or just being in the real-world environment.

I made ambient_light using Processing and Wiring, and I would like to use these again, although I am also looking at Arduino as a possibility for the hardware element. I would like to experiment with the overall look of the screen-based ecosystem, perhaps by using 3D modelling. However, I would like to keep the appearance of individual creatures fairly simple, relying on patterns within the system as a whole to generate visual interest.

Additionally, I would like to create some tangible outputs from the system, using electronic devices to alter the real-world environment, for example by controlling a sprinkler or lighting system, which would create a feedback loop with the screen-based ecosystem.

I am looking at the work of artists Sommerer & Mignonneau, Julie Freeman, Jane Prophet and Jon McCormack among others, as well as various scientific papers and online software projects. The work stems in part from a reading of Richard Dawkins, Manuel DeLanda and Deleuze & Guattari.

On a practical level, I will need to research different ways of collecting environmental data and getting the information into the programme. I will also need to spend time in the college grounds choosing and getting to know a small area from which I can generate useful / interesting data. For a project with this theme it is also important to make an assessment of environmental impact.

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