“Life Spacies” is an interaction and communication space, where visitors located at a distance from each other can interact through evolutionary forms and images. “Life Spacies” enables visitors to integrate themselves into a three-dimensional complex virtual world of artificial life organisms that react to the visitors’ body movements, motions, and gestures. The artificial life creatures also communicate with each other and thereby create an artificial universe, where real and artificial life are closely inter-related through interaction and exchange. A “Life Spacies” Web page allows people all over the world to interact with the system as well: by simply typing and sending an email message to the “Life Spacies” Web site, one can create one’s own artificial creature. The creature then starts to live in the “Life Spacies” environment at ICC, where on-site visitors can directly interact with it.
Artificial Life Species
The artificial creatures are created in two different ways:
1) By incoming international email messages, which are translated into a genetic code for the various creatures
– one message creates one creature
– complex messages create complex creatures
– different levels of complexity represent different species
2) By the creatures themselves through reproduction and genetic exchange
– reproduction helps the creatures propagate their genotype within the system and can help form groups of different species
“Life Spacies” is based upon the idea of evolutionary design, which means that the design of the creature really depends on the interaction of the visitors and the evolutionary process itself, rather than the artists’ pre-design. Messages sent from people all over the world and the reproduction and evolution of the creatures themselves decide the creatures’ appearance.
Thus, one can not really predict how the creatures will evolve and what kinds of creatures will appear in “Life Spacies.” It will all depend on how many people send messages, how complex these messages are, and how the creatures reproduce among themselves in the “Life Spacies” environment at ICC. As the exhibition will be held for one year, the commission of “Life Spacies” for ICC is therefore a great opportunity to see how the piece and the species will evolve over time.
Non-Deterministic and Multilayered Interaction
“Life Spacies” is a system where interaction, inter-relation, and exchange happens on a human-human, human-creature, creature-creature and human-environment, creature-environment, and life-artificial life level.
There are two types of human interaction involved in “Life Spacies.”
1) Creating creatures:
– users all over the world send email messages, which then build the genetic codes of the creatures
2) Interacting with the creatures at ICC:
– the on-site visitors’ gestures and body movements will be tracked and will influence the creatures’ behavior: the creatures may exhibit curiosity and come to the visitor; they may become frightened if the visitor is too aggressive; they may be killed if the visitor steps on them; or, the visitor may also help them reproduce.
As the interaction rules are non-deterministic and multilayered, an open system is created where each entity, whether a real life or an artificial life, whether present (at ICC) or virtually present (the users on the net, or the creatures as code), is regarded as an equally important entity of a complex life-like system.
Art as a Living System
The universe, according to BOHR is an indivisible dynamic whole with parts essentially inter-related on a subatomic level. Significant is the dual character of the subatomic particles; they are two complementary descriptions of reality, both of which are partly true. Based upon the insight that interaction and the inter-relation between entities are driving forces in the structuring of life, our work attempts to investigate interaction and the creative process as such. Creation is no longer understood as the expression of the artist’s inner creativity or “ingenium” (according to HEGEL), but becomes itself an intrinsically dynamic process, based upon the interaction between the human observer, his/her consciousness and the evolutionary dynamic and complex image processes of the work, which in turn are based upon principles of artificial life, evolution, and dynamic non-local inter-relations (= “Art As a Living System”).
(Christa SOMMERER & Laurent MIGNONNEAU)
On the Artists’ Works
Since attracting public attention for their 1993 work “Interactive Plant Growing”—created during their term as graduate students at Institute for New Media, Städelschule, Frankfurt—Christa SOMMERER and Laurent MIGNONNEAU have been recognized for their series of highly-acclaimed interactive art installations. These works, which have been presented one after another, thematize the mutual interactions of humans and other forms of life and their ecosystems, and the communication between humans that such systems evoke. Key concepts of SOMMERER and MIGNONNEAU’s works are interactivity, communication, virtual reality, and artificial life (A-Life).
The most striking characteristic of SOMMERER and MIGNONNEAU’s work is the depth of their inquiry into the relations between nature and human life; one might even call it the depth of their affections. Their works have cultivated a new A-Life art genre: not only by virtue of the works’ interfaces, which take the form of natural elements such as plants and water; but perhaps, even more through the way in which the development and growth of virtual life are brought about by the interaction of humans and nature; not to mention the artists’ ability to take into account unquantifiable elements—such as the emotions, moods, and capriciousness of humans and nature. Rather than being about the breeding of life inside a computer, SOMMERER and MIGNONNEAU’s approach concerns the act of realizing a natural form of communication (for example, that of touch) between humans and other living things (including virtual creatures), an act that inevitably takes the form of interactivity.
SOMMERER and MIGNONNEAU’s work “Interactive Plant Growing” will undoubtedly be inscribed as a major work within the history of interactive art. In this work, exhibition visitors stretch their hands out toward a group of potted plants, or touch the plants; images of virtual plants appear and grow on the projection screen in response. The special feature of this work is the high quality of the human interface design employed. It doesn’t make the exhibition visitor conscious of the fact that this interaction is mediated by a computer. The human interface design allows the work to maintain its thematic consistency from beginning to end and actualizes a real-time correspondence between actual and virtual space.
Another representative work of SOMMERER and MIGNONNEAU’s, “A-Volve” (1993–94), engages the imagination of the visitor in a more direct manner than “Interactive Plant Growing,” and at the same time, imposes a responsibility. Sketches drawn on a computer touch-screen are transformed into virtual life forms that swim out into a pool of water. In correspondence to the bio-force and velocities that originate within these creatures, struggles for continued existence unfold in the tank. By sticking a hand into the pool itself, the exhibition visitor can further interact with these virtual life forms by catching them or protecting them. Those forms of life that come to triumph produce offspring that inherit the traits of their parents. While bringing biological conformity to bear upon ecological as well as hereditary algorithms, SOMMERER and MIGNONNEAU’s works use high-level virtual reality technology to create a user-friendly interface. SOMMERER and MIGNONNEAU are especially skillful at coordinating in this work the sense of touch, an aspect of virtual reality that is hard to manipulate. Their 1994 work “Phototropy” uses an ordinary flashlight as an interface to provoke an interaction between the exhibition visitors and a group of virtual butterflies.
SOMMERER and MIGNONNEAU’s installation “Gemma,” which was shown at the Ars Electronica ’96, differs slightly from their earlier works in that it foregrounds the system by which exhibition visitors interactively design forms of life. By operating a menu, the visitor can design the features of various kinds of digital creatures. In the jet-black space of the screen, images of three-dimensional creatures are projected, creatures whose forms are imaginary, yet within the realm of imagination. These virtual living creatures are created by selecting attributes such as body segmentation, the number or position of their “feelers,” or color and pattern. These creatures then move according to the design choices made, which are combined with a series of calculations to create the dynamism of their movement. As can be said of almost all of SOMMERER and MIGNONNEAU’s work, this installation stunningly maintains a balance between its conceptual and empirical aspects.