We think of our interactive artworks as creatures
Many of them can be shown in a range of ways. The projections can be big or small, typically 2 to 3 metres across. We can make the creatures interactive; responding either to people’s actions or to ambient conditions, such as light or sound; or we can set them to be generative and ever-changing.
The great thing about digital art is its flexibility, enabling us to program our creatures to perfectly suit different spaces and support group interaction.
an encounter with an alien being
Starfish was our first interactive creature – a chimera, reconfiguring human flesh into starfish form. It is composed of animating photographs of our bodies (mainly female). Starfish is partly self portrait and partly a comment on the representation of the female form, but mainly, a bizarre fantastical hybrid creature which responds to the audience with a range of life-like actions. It creates a tension between attraction to sexual parts and repulsion to their unfamiliar organisation or, is it the other way around, an attraction to the starfish form and a repulsion to the sexual parts.
Starfish proposes an alternative model of evolution, away from the cerebral and towards the sensual.
> Starfish senses the world using a webcam or Kinect sensor
> It responds to audience motion and ambient light
a dark and interactive sea of wiggling, luminescent creatures
Animacules was inspired by the 19th century sea life illustrations of Ernst Haeckel and the work of the 17th century Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek who invented one of the earliest microscopes. Leeuwenhoek was the first to describe what we now know to be micro-organisms as living ‘molecules’ which he christened Animalcules. We wanted to create a swarm of fanciful small creatures whose body shapes recall the microscopic life of the sea, ponds and saliva.
This interactive installation belongs to a series of works that explore the theme imagined future human evolution and playfully considers alternative propositions to the cerebro-centric norm. Could an evolution driven by sensual as opposed to cerebral development result in a more satisfying existence for humans?
Animacules consists of over 40 creatures collaged from photographs of our body parts. The imagery can be sexual or family-friendly dependent on the setting.
> Animacules senses the world using a webcam or Kinect sensor
> It responds to torchlight (as in the image above) or audience motion
It’s Alive! maggots
destruction versus creation
It’s Alive! sees two populations of parasites, maggots and miniature spiders, and a screen image to combine into a living interface.
The webcam looks out into the space and slowly builds up an RGB image of what it sees – point it at another changing artwork like a video and it will subtly shift its patterns of light. The maggots feed on this light destroying the image, turning it into a writhing mass. The spiders have a different scheme in mind. They continuously wander across the surface of the image looking to repair damage caused by the maggots. Filling in holes with fine gossamer-like threads, their programmed desire to restore order.
The three intertwined activities; webcam, maggots and ants, operate as a self-contained digital ecosystem; continuously being reconfigured. A parasitic interface consuming energies from the artworks and audience they share a space with.
> It’s Alive! maggots senses the world using a webcam
> It feeds on light
It’s Alive! ants
a parasitic light-feeder
Developed over the course of a two-year artist residency with Exploding Cinema, an underground film group which regularly runs open access expanded film events. The initial idea was to use the light from other people’s films to feed some kind of carnivorous swarming projected monster, using ant colony type algorithms.
This piece has seen at least 5 variations. Point Ants at another screen and watch it being eaten from the inside out. In the early days red and green ants chased pheremone trails around the film images.
> It’s Alive! ants senses the world using a webcam
> It feeds on light
It’s Alive! cockroaches
For the first few years of Genetic Moo we would often be exhibting in group shows in extremely dark, crumbly, underground venues with dodgy electricity and water dripping down the walls. Shoreditch Town Hall, for example, where we first showed the cockroaches in a celebration of Secret Subterranea organised by Illumini. We created a work that could ‘virtually’ crawl in and out of the very real holes in our exhibition wall. We tell the cockroaches where the holes are and off they go, creating waves of scuttling insect activity.
The cockroaches work particularly well in a crowded space over the top of other artworks.
> It’s Alive! cockroaches is a site-specific generative artwork
a monstrous soup of body parts
A monstrous soup of body parts
The Fly is a wall of flesh made from combining several different species. In this work all is equal; human, sealife and miscellaneous viscera.
The audience is invited to fly over this churning landscape. By experimenting with the movement of their limbs, participants learn to navigate their avatar across the surface, triggering sounds and motions within the sensual swamp. The Fly was a DeptfordX commission.
> The Fly senses the world using a Kinect sensor
> It responds to audience motion
join the family
The audience is invited to add their face and name to one of our creatures which then enters a world to swim about in search of food. Each Squidlet is programmed to feed off red, green or blue light which is provided via a webcam looking at the space or another artwork. Using coloured torches, the audience can feed their Squidlets, helping them grow larger. Without food they shrink away, falling to the bottom where they will be eaten by pixel termites and deposited as small RGB mounds. Up to twenty people can cheer on their own Squidlets at once.
Through the simple connection between user and creature, a complex group narrative emerges. This piece ran for 6 months in Eureka! Halifax and over 44,000 Squidlets were created.
> Squidlets senses the world using a webcam
> They feed on coloured light
Virus (aka The Frog)
Squishable, Squashable, Squelchable
Encouraging a variety of responses from interest to horror, the virus displays a pulsating elastic mass of amphibious limblets. We’ve seen people boxing with the virus for over 10 mins, while others have been too scared to enter the room, with one claim of an allergy to frogs!
However you push it around, the virus always returns to a springy radial conglomerate.
Originally created for the Shangri-La Zone at Glastonbury (2011), the virus has gone through various iterations. Most recently we’ve given it a complete life-cycle: egg laying, spawning and adult phases, all inspired by frogs. You can disrupt the cycle but it will eventually bounce back into action.
> The frog senses the world using a Kinect sensor
> It responds to human motion
The Cockatoo Squid was our first piece to use sound interactively. It listens out for sounds made by visitors or other artworks attempting to imitate what it hears in a call and response style. You can try and sing with it, although it frequently goes off into its own revelries. Sound also stimulates fluctuations in the squid’s chromatophores (colour spots) and body motion. When all is quiet it silently slips away into the depths.
Cockatoo Squid can be relied on to add audio interest to any space, it has even performed with musicians.
The piece was inspired by Vampyroteuthis Infernalis by Vilem Flusser and the notion of a deep sea creature being a living artist – its skin its canvas.
> Cockatoo Squid senses the world using a microphone
> It responds to audience and ambient sound
a constantly shifting organic surface evoking both macrocosmic and microscopic
This swirling egg-like mass is formed from photographs and video of the flesh of our bodies and sea life, drawn together randomly in ever-changing configurations. Named after the Greek goddess Echidna, the ‘mother of all monsters’, we imagine Mother as the progenitor of all our fantastical digital creatures.
> Mother is a generative artwork
floating all around us, feeding on sound waves
Inspired by their real namesake, the tiny lifeforms which float and drift in the air and the atmospheric equivalent to oceanic plankton.
We created our Aeroplankton as an audio visualisation to accompany a sound show. They are a new imaginary species of protozoa which feed off radio waves. They have intricate fractal shaped mineral skeletons which act as receivers of extremely shortwave radio. We imagined them drifting in the atmosphere seeking electromagnetic signals to feed off and interfere with. The shapes of our aeroplankton are based on a mathematical equation named the superformula which displays a range of natural forms using fairly simple trigonometry. We wrote an algorithm to warp this formula into the responsive bodies of the aeroplankton.
Hooked to a boundary microphone, the aeroplankton constantly change, mutate and evolve in response to the audio in the room. As long as they hear the frequency they need, they will grow and even reproduce by splitting in half – each half a slightly mutated copy of the parent. The aeroplankton are also warped by stray frequencies as they age, resulting in an evolving screen full of audio morphology.
> Aeroplankton senses the world using a boundary microphone
> It responds to audience and ambient sound
animal-robots built from nodes and lines
The Genetic Moo zoo now has over 12,000 Animats. Each one designed and named by children and adults at previous art events, using our creature building software program. The body parts can be made of animal, vegetable and mineral, including machine parts. The Animats can be given actuators, like springs and sensors, which respond to the colours of the environment they are in. Some Animats will seek red pixels, others will oscillate randomly as if in a frenzied dance. Animats also respond to each other jostling for space and resources. Eventually they will shrink away to be replaced by others.
> Animats sense the world using a webcam
> They display individual motion and behaviours responding to light colour
Animats can be networked to an input touchscreen allowing the audience to create their own creatures and add them into the world
geometric combinations of figure, form and colour
Multiple was written to illustrate bacterial reproduction for a short film about inflammation, commissioned by Animate projects and supported by the Wellcome Trust. Once we realised how intuitive and effective the program was we expanded the variety of forms, colours, number of users and output configurations until this single program became an “interactive animation generating machine” and we hired dancers, movers and shakers to create a vast array of biological footage.
We have used the program ever since as a way for an audience to generate colourful energy for a Microworld. We have also used the program for interactive visuals in clubs and BYOB nights. We even reconfigured the output so it would fit on the worlds’ biggest screen – the 1,316 ft tall ICC skyscraper in Hong Kong part of Open Sky exhibition, ISEA 2016. Multiple also helped us to win a 2016 Kent Creative award. This has truly become ‘the project that keeps on giving’.
> Multiple senses the world using a Kinect sensor
> It responds to human motion
Cellular Automata come to life
Seed was made for our 7-month Microworld exhibition curated by Lumen Prize at Eureka! The National Children’s Museum in Halifax.
We designed it to introduce young kids to visual coding and cellular automata. It has a more retro 8-bit computer look which contrasts with our other creatures but is life-like in a different way. Cellular Automata are a branch of computer science which uses simple rules to spread patterns across a grid like screen. Sometimes these patterns display biological qualities similar to a spreading fungus, or branching fractal structures. Playing with logical rules to develop novel behaviours is a good introduction to programming. A touchscreen interface duplicated onto a projector is a great way for users to ‘seed’ huge coloured pixels into a space. On the right of the screen are a series of preset rules which can be introduced into a pattern – there are also randomisers and speed controls for endless variety.
> SEED senses the world through a touch-screen
> Suitable for very young kids (you can ignore all the rules and just draw a big smiley face)