Re: [-empyre-] Welcome to Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life

Thanks Melinda, and greetings Empyreans.

Before I introduce our first artist, Paul Brown, I want to say a few words about my work on a-life art, the book, and where this month's discussion might lead.

Some background: I was at ISEA 1992 in Sydney, and saw American artist Karl Sims present his work on evolved images. Another presenter was talking about evolving boat hull designs. At the time I was studying music and art, had always been a computer nerd, and was heavily into the pop-science retellings of chaos and complexity theory. After TISEA I made a sound installation that sampled and "mutated" (reprocessed) ambient sound. I was still interested in the field in 1997 when I started a Masters, but felt sure that by the time I was finished, a-life art would be passé. In fact, the field has been growing and diversifying since then, and what was pretty weird in 1992 has become a strong theme within new media art. Metacreation came out of my Masters-cum-PhD, and shares with it a basic aim to present a critical overview of a-life art practice. Not an exhaustive catalog (sorry if I missed you!) but a representative cross-section of practice, along with some theoretical and historical background.

Some resources: there's the book, but also some freeware options - some of the main elements of the book are in various papers available online here: http;//

Some thoughts on what follows: I'm happy to talk about what's in the book, and Melinda set out a range of its themes and questions. Frankly though, I'd like to push things further afield as well. Melinda writes that "life will go on" ... and it will ... but what kind of (a?)life thrives in this cultural and political ecology? Or to put it more bluntly, what are the (possible) politics of an art of artificial life? One flippant answer is the art worm - see the REPLICATE essay at the URL above.

Finally, it's my pleasure to introduce Paul Brown, our first guest artist. Paul's work has been well known in Australian new media circles since the 1990s; but as I discovered much later, his work has a lineage which stretches back to the 1970s. Paul was doing a-life art before a-life - a twist which suggests that there's more to the relationship between art and artificial life, than one field appropriating the other.



On 05/11/2004, at 5:54 PM, Melinda Rackham wrote:

Following last month, the only thing we can be certain of is that life will
go on and new forms of art will emerge in response to our social, political,
technological and cultural contexts.

This months discussion on the field of Artificial Life or a-life Art
practices, looks at how some of those forms are evolving. Theorist Mitchell
Whitelaw will be joined by eminent a-life practitioners Paul Brown (UK),
Mauro Annunziato (IT), Ken Rinaldo (US), and Maria Verstappen (NL). Jon
McCormack (AU) will also be joining us as a peer interrogator/respondent.

Whitelaw's recently published book "Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life"
(MIT Press) has been described as "provocative, literate, subtle, and
knowledgeable" [1]. It is the first detailed critical account of the new
field of creative practice of a-life art. This artform responds to the
increasing technologization of living matter by creating works that seem to
mutate, evolve, and respond with a life of their own. Pursuing a-life's
promise of emergence, these artists produce not only artworks, but
generative and creative processes: here creation becomes metacreation.

Over the month Whitelaw and guests will expand upon the book's concepts,
including how artificial evolution alters the artist's creative agency;
the complex interactivity of artificial ecosystems; the creation of
embodied autonomous agencies; the use of cellular automata to investigate
pattern, form and morphogenesis; and well as examining the key tenet of
a-life, emergence.


Mitchell Whitelaw ( is an
artist, writer and researcher in new media and audio art and culture.
He has written extensively over the years on New Media, Sound and
A-life Art for journals such as Leonardo, Artlink and Digital
Creativity, and his new book, Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life,
was published in 2004 by MIT Press
( He
is currently Head of Program, Media / Multimedia Production, School of
Creative Communication, University of Canberra.

[1] --Margaret A. Boden, Research Professor of Cognitive Science, University
of Sussex, and author of The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms

Dr Melinda Rackham
artist | curator | producer
-empyre-  media forum

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