Re: [-empyre-] Re: Intoducing: Mauro Annunziato & Ken Rinaldo

HI All:

Thanks to Mitchell for pulling us all together both with his fantastic book and now this provocative list. I have been reading with limited bandwidth from hotel modems on the road and I am back home now and it has been wonderful to read again and reflect back on the conversation and the quality postings.

My work explores the central idea that technological systems may learn and recap the evolved wisdom of living systems. Living systems and their modeling interest me in particular because they show an intertwined evolved state of existence, which is symbiotic and emergent. Do we know what that is? Well we call this emergent... and as Marvin Minsky pointed out in his presentation at Ars Electronica recently this means there is something we do not understand and yet we know it is there.

I am interested in artificial life as one category of the study of non-organic living systems. Some of these I explore as interactive artworks illustrating the idea that biology and technology are inevitably symbiotic, and part of a larger law of living systems. Living systems, through adaptive behavior and evolution, naturally seek symbiotic relationships with their environment. Our evolving machines, through mimesis and co-evolution, will continue to evolve along with us and this for me is an inevitable part of a law of living systems both organic and non-organic. I term this technology recapitulating phylogeny. As microprocessors physically imbed themselves deeper into our sensorium we must understand the effects their amplifications and their lens like distortions. Humans are functioning as an increasing web of matter, energy and information fields, rippling with trade, invention and emergent consequences. We are... in our own way.... becoming a biomachinic planet, an info-organismic entity.

Artificial life is for me just one of many ways of looking at living systems and trying to understand the structure and organization with a desire to begin to comprehend the complex manifestations of natural living systems and their emergent interaction. If we can understand these things then I suppose I have a romantic hope for some form of future bio machinic ecology.

It is for these reasons that I choose to utilize robotics and physical interaction as the behavioral seeds in my work as well as the interaction with living plants, animals' fish and humans. Artificial life can both exist as software coded in physical or virtual spaces but also as wet ware and behavior connections where living systems are part of the behavioral feedback loop that the system may bring forth. That is the system may have both artificial life and actual life as behavioral seeds and as part of the evolutionary strategy of the system.

Recent work includes:

AUGMENTED FISH REALITY is an interactive installation of rolling robotic fish-bowl sculptures designed to explore interspecies and transpecies communication. These could best be termed as "biocybernetic" sculptures that allow Siamese Fighting fish to use intelligent hardware and software to move their robotic bowls.

AUTOPOIESIS is an artificial life group of fifteen robotic sculptures that interact as a group consciousness
and simultaneously interact individually with participants in the installation. Their language is telephone tones.

TECHNOLOGY RECAPITULATES PHYLOGENY Juxtaposes tree structures in tubefex worms, roots, very large-scale integrated circuits, and functioning infrared sensors to highlight tree structures as the primordial intelligent forms of the universe.

THE FLOCK is a group of interactive sound sculptures that exhibit behaviors analogous to the flocking found in natural groups such as birds, schooling fish, or flying bats 1994.

CYBER-SQUEEK TM sound and light sculptures spoof the emergence of machine intelligence in which electronics integrated with lifelike forms, have begun to squeak their first words.

It's my pleasure to introduce two more guest a-life artists to the
list. Mauro Annunziato and Ken Rinaldo represent some of the diversity
within a-life art, as well as some of the commonalities. Mauro's work
with "artificial societies" of graphical agents, produces elegant and
intricate two-dimensional images. Ken works in robotic and bio-robotic
sculpture, creating interactive, autonomous, engaging systems which
exemplify his aspirations for a sustainable fusion between biological
and technological systems. I will hand over to them to send opening
statements, and perhaps give a personal perspective on the discussion
so far.


Dear empyrean,
I thank Mitchell and all you for invitation to this interesting discussion about a-life and art.

I am not a critic of this movement, I am just as a "traveller" along this strange interference area between art and science who imagine virtual or hybrid (real-virtual) worlds that evocate/arise questions about our roots/mind/society/future. I try to catch all the stimulus that science can give me and all the freedom that art can give me but the science cannot. I hope to give you a little contribution, please excuse for my clearly not-native English.

Some words about an "opening statement"

My experience with alife started as an error. In 1994, fascinated by the self-organization effects I found in the "Cretti" of Alberto Burri, a well known Italian artist (1915-1995, look this image ), after some tentative with cellulose and Indian ink, I tried to reproduce the ink fractures on the computer. A lucky conceptual mistake happened; instead of a mechanic model I made use of an "animistic model". Inside it, the fractures move autonomously, according to a genetic code of numeric parameters. Living patterns of filaments were generated by this experiment: natural, human and artificial shapes, ancestral dreams. The "organic quality" of the image came from the dynamical of the whole population of fractures-filaments. In that years I started the production of a collection of images ("Artificial Societies", and ) which were a fundamental experience in my path.

All these images starts with a single (or few) dna/filament/individual and it grows through reproduction (branching), genetic mutations, clashing. Although, in the building of this environment, I was driven by purely aesthetic research, it was surprising to me the incredible potential of these simple environments to evocate evolution and social behaviour. In the subsequent years, I continued to evolve genetics, behaviour and aesthetics of these images, each time trying to push as far as possible accidental discoveries. In this sense I can say that the computer was really not only an "instrument" but the real extension of my mind in a play of "create model - explore model - discovery exceptions - again modelling exception - come back and restart the cycle".

Many times I tried to interpret the content expressed in that images, but up to now I cannot say what exactly is emerging. Emergent selection, self-organization, increasing evolutionary pressure, self-constraining, pioneers and emulators, niches of evolution, creation of biodiversity, all these concepts are some of possible readings but many doubts are still without an answer. In example it is quite strange the development of a social cooperation during the evolution: groups of individuals evolve towards a shorter lifetime in order to have a social success as a group. I cannot say if this is a form of "group selection" or better "a selection driven by a self-organization principle". In few word, I agree with Paul (hi Paul !) about the fact that many artists managing these things, really don't know what is happening "down there".

After this experience, I joined with a research/musician, Piero Pierucci (co-founder with me and the painter Oscar Gemma de Julio of the Plancton art group '94), to create an audio-visual interactive installation named "Relazioni Emergenti" (Emerging Relationships). In this installation, the previous images were developed dynamically and visitors can supply a sort of "life whiff" towards the artificial individuals they approach with their hand/body (difficult to explain in few words, please see here ). Others dimensions were added to the initial project: sound parallel architectures generated by the living filaments and different emerging relations between real people and artificial individuals in a hybrid real-virtual ecosystem.

I think the telling of this experience should be enough to explain how many different ways to the alife are possible and how working with emergence is far from first use of the computer as a "digital paintings" ("old-fashion computer art" ?) or "visualizer" ("old-fashion fractal exploration"). This story could give an idea why we choose the term "Art of Emergence" to identify our work. In these experiences, the artwork is a generative context of shapes and reactions that should be able to produce "emergent qualities" during the evolution process. Tipycally the idea of emergence is connected with global properties of the artwork due to the chaotic local interaction of a multidude of elements and interaction with people. The creative process is a dynamic and dialectical interference between the artist, the artwork and the visitors in order to drive an evolutionary aesthetic process. In this context interaction increases the dimensionality and this gives more chances to the emergence of not-programmed shapes/evolutions.

You can find several other realizations in the website Maybe the most interesting by the alife point of view is "E-Sparks" ( and ) that is a still-in-progress project for the creation of artificial society which develop an autonomous shared language cross-fertilized by the interaction with humans. See also "Aurora di Venere", a theatre performance of dancers and digital entities ( ).
You find several papers describing in detail the artist statement, artworks and realization here:

Some comment about previous discussion

I read the interesting discussion of this list up to now. Some questions remains to me still open. A general comment is about qualitative interpretation of a-life. Obviously this is my subjective point of view and particularly the point of view is the "balcony of art" rather that one of the science.

When I think to a-life, basically I am thinking not only to the "artificial beings" but especially to the human implications, both in terms of evocation of our evolution/mind either in terms of expansion of the human in the digital dimension.
What I find interesting is the continuous emotional dance between something that is alien but maybe is also inside us, between the future and roots of the humans, between attraction for new life and ancestral panic about it, and finally positive and negative use of it (i.e. creativity or military goals).

To me, one the most significant focalisation of the a-life paradigm is the importance of the SOCIAL CONTEXT. This aspect can be expressed trough the genetic evolution, the information exchange, the swarm intelligence. The idea is that qualities like aesthetics, intelligence, behaviour emerge not as a property of a single, but a collective property of an interacting-evolving group and their interaction with the environment. This aspect, that traces the difference between AI and AL, has many important consequences which can influence several questions arisen in the discussion.

In example, the idea of "self modifying code" is important but it is not the only way to the emergence. This idea is not intuitive. Let to think about the humans: is it usual that a human being change dna during the life ?
At the contrary, try to imagine "communities of interacting/reproducing codes" (as usual in multi thread programming). It is more easy in this case, accept the idea of the digital evolution as progressive selection/organization of co-evolving codes. The difference is the "social context", this makes the difference.

Emergence cannot be in a single "agent", except the case in which the agent is itself a swarm of sub-agents (maybe this is the case of CAs or the biological brain). This is the reason why artworks based on a-life approach can show a dimension which was not so developed (or at least consciousness) in other forms of art. We could speak of an "aesthetics of the biodiversity" or "emotion of the self-organization" (see "Autopoiesis" of Ken Rinaldo) which are typical in this case.

Finally about authorship (speaking only for me). I am the creator of the environment, the artist who "puts in act" the process, the creator of the "initial memes". This is the full authorship I can claim with my signature on the interactive installations.
For as regard the consequences of this process (the future states assumed by the artwork in the interaction with people) I only can be a "contributor" to a process of dissemination/mutation of the memes. Visitors are both contributors like the hardware (don't forget the sensors, the body of the sw) and the software iteself (likely it doesn't got a bank account ;-) ).
On the other hand if I try to have a strong control over the creations of my creation I destroy the emergence and the beauty of the creation itself.


Mauro Annunziato
Plancton Art Studio
Via Ponton dell'Elce 9, 00061 Anguillara Sabazia, Rome, Italy
Tel. 39-0630484405, 39-069981102, 39-3381699076

empyre forum

Ken Rinaldo
Associate Professor
Art & Technology
The Ohio State University
Columbus Ohio

614 292-5072

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