Project Description

“What alchemical transformations occur when you connect everything to everything?” (Kevin Kelly in Sadie Plant: The Virtual Complexity of Culture, FutureNatural, London: Routledge, 1996)

For my main project I would like to make an interactive art installation based around a programmed ecosystem and a real-life ecosystem. A variety of virtual organisms will inhabit a screen-based environment, where they will form a complex adaptive system. The screen, or a projection, will be installed outdoors in a real-life ecosystem, such as a patch of woodland. The balance of the programmed system as a whole will be affected by a variety of data sources:

  • data from environmental weather sensors in the real-life ecosystem, such as light levels, temperature, humidity and wind speed
  • data from inadvertent visitor interactions - from sensors in the real-life ecosystem
  • data from the web, such as RSS feeds of economic statistics

This incoming data will form a sort of weather system for the interacting creatures. The programmed ecosystem will be calibrated in such a way that very subtle changes in data will be capable of producing dramatic effects throughout the system.
While the appearance of individual creatures will be fairly simple, visual interest will be generated by populations of species and by interactions between species, producing emergent effects such as flocking, population cycles and symbiotic relationships.
My aim is to produce something that will be visually interesting regardless of knowledge or understanding of the processes at work, while at the same time providing enough information for those who wish to explore its workings more deeply. My target audience ranges from babies to biological scientists.
Contextually, this project inhabits the intersection between interactive art, a-life science and data visualisation. In common with other artworks using artificial life, such as those of Sommerer & Mignonneau and Karl Sims, this project seeks to explore the nature of life and of life-like processes as a source of creativity, along with notions of authorship: to make an a-life artwork is to highlight the paradox of “playing god” (the ultimate in authorship) by inventing virtual lifeforms, while simultaneously stepping back and allowing a system, over which one has only partial control, to author the work.
In contrast to the majority of a-life artworks I have looked at, this project is more focussed on populations of creatures than on individuals, and also on the possibilities engendered by being an open system, connected up to other open systems (the economy, the weather etc.), rather than a model which is more or less closed, except for a certain amount of direct user-control.
Although this is an art project, there is historically a large overlap between a-life art and a-life science. It is therefore likely that the work will have an appeal to both of these disciplines. In addition, this project is linked to the area of data visualisation design through many of its programming techniques. In particular, the research phase of this project, when I will be exploring ways of visually representing a range of sources of data, is likely to generate some practical applications in this area.

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