Project Review 3

Sketch of tower sprouting grass

At the heart of the project is a simple idea – an a.i. expresses its interpreted reality by building a tower of mud and seeds.

The structure of the artefact can be divided into 2 visible parts, and 4 concealed mechanical parts:

  • The tower of dried substrate rings
  • The base comprised of 3 large rubber tubes filled with liquid substrate

The substrate mix was developed through a series of experiments which explored how the final material was affected by different quantities of gelatin, starch, pulped plant fibre, peat, live seeds, sand, soil and clay. One rule that guided this experimental stage was the need for base ingredients to be natural and unprocessed (or one degree from source).

After moving through several distinct incarnations (undulating horizontal grid, vertical stacks of cubes, horizontal production-line of cubes), I finally decided on the tower shape.

The programming behind the machine’s decisions uses a Markov chain to avoid simply transmuting one set of data parrot-fashion into another set of data. Two rules underlying the design and build of the machine parts were also set in the Minifesto document from Spring 2012 – 1: the materials should be natural (so I have opted to build the machine from wood); 2: the technology must never take centre-stage (all mechanised and computerised parts are concealed within the base of the tower).

When the artefact is in place, it listens to its surroundings using sensors in the tip and base of the tower. The surroundings that it detects are interpreted by the programming and result in a reaction which is expressed by colour, texture, smell and presence of life – a happy experience will result in a rich dark sweet-smelling seeded material being used, while an anxious experience will result in a sour-smelling, chalky, sterile ring. It will be possible to read the moods of the machine through its tower – but this need not be a mirror-image of how we would have experienced the same environment as the personality of the tower is set digitally prior to growth beginning.

Andy Goldsworthy's Strangler Cairn in Australia's Conondale National Park

There are several inspirations for this piece which I have found in the natural world – termite mounds, saguaro cacti, caddis fly cases, and marine tube worms to name but a few. There are some fascinating images in these galleries, all the natural forms appear to have been extruded in one way or another.

Art practitioners whose work has been helpful conceptually and visually to this project include: Tony Cragg, Andy Goldsworthy, Theo Jansen, and Desmond Paul Henry.



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