Eco/Bio Art: Moving Toward Analog/Digital Convergence

Technology has begun to change our species’ long-standing experiences with nature. Now we have technological nature— technologies that in various ways mediate, augment, or simulate the natural world.[1] Within the framework of New Media Art, it is the role of creative practitioners to confront the challenge of designing interactive interfaces that bridge the gap between vegetal and device-related systems, or more broadly between man and machine.[2] This convergence of these often disparate fields are seen in the interactive works of Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, Interactive Plant Growing, Ken Goldberg’s work The Telegarden, and Haines and Hinterding’s work Electromagnetique composition for building plants and stars (pictured below).[3]

Creating intelligent, meaningful, and adaptive feedback for people within both natural and artificial environments remains an important challenge. Here I will be examining several works that reveal underlying morphologies and complex interrelationships between analog and digital environments.

Our “organic” interface is extraordinarily complex and massively parallel. Our sensing system involves an enormous number of simultaneously active sensors, and the way that we interact with our surroundings depends on these complex, multifaceted natural sensors. In contrast, the technological environment is quite narrow and serial. [6] Like us, our urban environment is also full of sensors: it possesses a human and technological sensory apparatus, simultaneously perceiving the conditions of, and providing feedback to its environment.[7] What if there was a way to converge the digital and analog to provide more opportune feedback, or more adaptive environments?

“Natural” interaction with physical spaces defines new trends that merge digital content and real spaces. [8] If users in public spaces may spontaneously interact with the designed artefacts, there is no feeling of being the user of a computer application, but manipulating a reality itself.[9] Such is evidenced in David Benque’s work, ‘Acoustic Botany’, proposing a lyrical transformation of the landscape where plants are genetically modified to achieve a post- natural, advanced musicality.

Similarly, electronic media artist Jon McCormack was commissioned to create Bloom – a large-scale digital image (45m long and 9m tall) that shows mutated and crossbred representations of native Australian flora. He used a software developed by himself. The project focus on the fact that synthesised natures are becoming replacements for the real nature lost in urban environments through human development and progress. Isolated on black background with a clinical eye on them, these images are digital interpretations of native plant species local to the Kelvin Grove area – Melaleuca, Banksia, Hakea, Eucalyptus, Callistemon, Eremaa, Araucaria, and Dryandra.

Hinterding and Haines’ are another collaborative duo that emphasize the mixing of disparate paradigm and forms, that which Whitehead decried as the “bifurcation of nature.”4

This is the false division of nature into the mind/perception on the one hand, and the object perceived on the other. In Hinterding and Haines’ work, there is no easy inside from which to “perceive” or outside to be perceived.

For example, in their recent award-winning work, The Outlands (2011), Haines and Hinterding used a game engine to construct environments that are navigated, in a darkened room, with a joystick made from a large tree twig. Navigating the alien landscapes, many of the normal activities of gameplay are stripped away. The result is a contemplative if deliberately bewildering experience, a “dream architecture” in which divisions break down. Even the “borders between light and structure start to become […] ambiguous.”5 There is no real escape, no finish, no complete aim or objective.

In such work, the technical world—both old (analog) and new (digital)—is returned to the world at large. There is no longer a bifurcation between artifical and natural. This gives us a different understanding of the situatedness not only of media art, but all media events.6

After visiting the New Romance exhibition at the MCA, I found myself feeling despondent about the fate of our world and the impending Blade Runner-esque dystopian nightmare. I think work’s like Hayden Fowler’s Dark Ecology, and Moon & Jeon’s El Fin Del Mundo for example are ubiquitous nowadays, with their cautionary foreboding motives.

“…the emergence of a ‘next nature’ sheds new  light on our position on our planet. Rather than perceiving ourselves as the anti-natural species that merely threatens and eliminates nature, we’d better understand ourselves as catalysts of evolution” – Dr Koert Van Mensvoort 

I myself would like to see a paradigm shift in Media Arts, a field that plays a vital role in the visualisation of our future and our place within it. We must learn to embrace complexity and develop fitting design methodologies to support the convergence of nature and technology in the fields of art, design, science, architecture and more.

Can system designers learn from farmers, who have centuries of experience in dealing with the uncertainty of climates? Could we have eased the latest financial crisis 
if we perceived the financial system as a ferociously growing ecology, rather than
 a human institution governed by rational thought? Could we contain traffic jams and the pressure to endlessly construct more highways if we treat the highway system as an organism that must be balanced within a larger ecology? Possibly. — Dr Koert Van Mensvoort

In conclusion, I argue we are living in 
a time in which our notion of nature is radically changing. The traditional view
 of nature as a phenomenon that is born, static, harmonic and threatened is naïve and incomplete. The most wild, ferocious and threatening nature is the nature caused by people. The boundaries between natural and synthetic, digital and analog should be dissolved to reveal complex and exciting interrelationships, helping to move toward a more holistic natural/synthetic environment.

[1] Kahn, P.H., Severson, R.L. and Ruckert, J.H., 2009. The human relation with nature and technological nature. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(1), pp.37-42.

[2] Medien Kunst Netz. 2000. Sommerer/Mignonneau, The Interactive Plant Growing. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/the-interactive-plant-growing. [Accessed 12 August 2016]

[3] Haines & Hinterding. 2016. Electromagnetique Composition for Building Plants and Stars — Haines & Hinterding. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.haineshinterding.net/2006/05/06/electromagnetic-composition-for-building-plants-stars/. [Accessed 14 August 2016].

[4] Holland, J.H., 1995. Hidden order: How adaptation builds complexity. Basic Books.

[5] Zari, M.P., 2007. Biomimetic approaches to architectural design for increased sustainability. Auckland, New Zealand.

[6] Rokeby, D., 1998. The construction of experience: Interface as content. Digital Illusion: Entertaining the future with high technology, pp.27-48.

[7] Barker, H.R., 2016. Adaptive Environmental Interfaces: Biomimetic Morphologies and Tactical Urbanism. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences216, p.2.

[8] F. Sparacino (2002) Narrative Spaces: Bridging Architecture and Entertainment Via Interactive Technology. Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Generative Art, pp. 1–15. Milan, Italy.

[9] Alves Lino, J., Salem, B. and Rauterberg, M., 2010. Responsive environments: User experiences for ambient intelligence. Journal of ambient intelligence and smart environments2(4), pp.347-367.

 

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