[-empyre-] (no subject)

Tyler Fox tylersfox at gmail.com
Fri Oct 13 05:19:14 AEDT 2017

Hello everyone,

First, I also want to send my best wishes to April and Matt. I have
friends and family in the same area, some who had to flee in the
middle of the night with nothing more than pajamas and their cat
(which, at least, is a thin silver lining). I am saddened for all,
humans and nonhumans, dealing with such devastation.

I would like to thank Margaretha for inviting me as a guest to this
week. Also thanks to everyone for the wonderful posts with much to
consider (terroirism, affection, enlivenment, grieving and resistance
thereof, turtles and other turtles, listening, learning, and
communicating with nonhuman collaborators…the list goes on). Just.

As Margaretha’s introduction suggests, I am interested in feeling
alongside nonhumans, and in the two projects described below I attempt
to create experiences that can be shared, in ephemeral and limited
ways to be sure, but shared nonetheless between humans and nonhumans.
I believe that feeling alongside nonhumans is a powerful counterpoint
to thinking alongside of nonhumans and can help situate perspective in
important ways.

Biolesce is a series of interactive sculptures made with
bioluminescent algae, or dinoflagellates. When physically moved the
algae emits a bright flash of light. I incorporate biosensors for
human audience that trigger motors that move the algae causing a
bioluminescent response. For instance, one iteration used three
‘stations’ comprised of a bottle of seawater and algae embedded with
motors connected to a heartbeat sensor in each. The human audience
members placed their finger on the sensor, and then the algae lit up
in in time to their pulse. I tried to make an intimate experience
between human and algae, featuring different embodied processes.

After vowing to never again work with something that requires complete
darkness (more on this in a moment) I turned my attention to another
embodied process: fermentation. Fermentum, a project that always seems
to be in progress, uses sensors to track the fermentation process of
kimchi and sauerkraut and then sonify the data. I like to say that
it’s allowing the kimchi to sing, but more accurately it’s a
soundtrack of bacterial individuation and environmental change. My
goal is to create a sonic experience that allows a human audience to
hear an ongoing, embodied process (bacteria changing their
environment) and to recognize it as a rich individuation between
bacteria and milieu. It is far from complete, and I’m currently
working on collaborating with a lab to identify probiotic strains in
my ferments as a basis for a more complex soundtrack.

Both projects are predicated on the philosophies of Alfred North
Whitehead and Gilbert Simondon. Thinkers who have helped me understand
experience as a non-cognitive aspect of the world, open to all
entities (bacteria, single-celled algae, and Arduino
microcontrollers). They have also helped me understand experience as a
unfolding process, tied to a nexus of sensations, or prehensions,
(Whitehead) between individual and milieu (Simondon). Simondon claims
that individuals and milieus are co-emergent, he writes of them as
dyads, and that the world must be understood not from the point of
view of individuals, but through the processes of individuation, from
which individuals and milieus emerge. Thus, interactive works based on
biological processes, such as fermentation, are moments to experience
an ongoing individuation, perhaps this is an enlivenment of a
biological process through technical means. That’s a gross
oversimplification of the contributions of both of these thinkers, but
hopefully enough to stress an emphasis on experience and feeling.
Feeling is key.

I have returned to the dark, so to speak, as I and another faculty
member are leading a research-through-design project with a small
number of undergraduates. We will collectively build a bioluminescent
‘display’ and the students will work in small teams to create
visualizations for the bespoke display. I’m now teaching in an
engineering students, and my practice is both intriguing and
bewildering to many of the students, but just last night we had a deep
conversation about the limits of quantification (important when making
a display that will be inexact!), and the concepts of abstraction and
representation in the context of ambient displays. It was deeply
gratifying when a student commented at the end of our hour-long
conversation that it felt like we were in a philosophy class. We then
went on to make seawater and propagate algae for our display. When
finished with our prototype, the students will come up with design
proposals for bioluminescent interactions and technologies, to use
their experience to dream of a different future. It’s my first step at
pushing them toward a speculative design practice. I hope they too
will come to understand feeling alongside nonhumans as key to their

Thanks for having me-


Documentation of both projects can be found at my website: www.tylersfox.com

More information about the empyre mailing list