Artists Using Science & Technology

number 12 volume 22 November - December 2002


formerly YLEM newsletter

In his article “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’ (reprinted in Illuminations, p. 188), Walter Benjamin made this state- ment which haunts me: “To perceive the aura of an ob- ject we look at means to invest it with the ability to look at us in return.” Whatever Benjamin’s intent in this state- ment, | take it quite literally. | look forward to an art which will look at me, talk to me, and dance with me.

Discussions of art created using Artificial Life approaches have tended over the years to focus on the methods by which the art was created. The art of the three principal pioneers of A-Life art—William Latham, Thomas Ray, and Karl Sims, has motivated lengthy expositions on the par- allels between the methodologies of these artists and our increasing understanding of evolutionary processes. It is only recently that it has been fruitful to concentrate on A-Life art from the standpoint of aesthetics. In the work of Latham, Ray, and Sims, the conceptual tends to out- weigh the aesthetic, whereas in the more recent work of Steven Rooke ( and Guenter Bachelier, the work stands on its own aesthetic merits, irrespective of the methods of its creation.

This contemporary art rivals the work of human artists in complexity, invention, and especially in abundance, and is possibly the most exciting art being produced today. The YLEM Journal and its predecessor the YLEM News- letter have covered A-Life art consistently over its 20- year life span, and will continue to do so as one of its main ongoing projects. It is projected that at least one A- Life issue will be produced each year, as YLEM will con- tinue to spotlight the work of artists on the leading edge of science and technology.

In thinking about and participating in A-Life art produc- tion, several dichotomies present themselves to me on a recurrent basis, and I’d like to touch on a few of them. I’m not postulating a struggle between the elements of these dichotomies, rather | think of them as examples of “twisted pairs”.

One of these dichotomies is between artificial creatures and artificial environments. This difference is usually glossed over in discussing A-Life art, but | see it as a fundamental concept. A creature is bounded, has out- lines, and can be perceived as potentially capable of lo- comotion, or at least of the capacity to be moved around— as separate from its background and standing apart from it. Early A-Life experimenters tended to create creatures. It is creatures which are animated by robotics, an emerg- ing art form.

An environment entails the surroundings that may con- tain creatures, but at least will be inhabited by the per- ception of the viewer of the art work. An environment can be conceived as boundless, with the edges imposed

by the artist thought of as somewhat arbitrary. Like the natural world A-Life art tends toward the boundless. Some artists start out working in an environment with large boundaries and pluck out an area which corresponds to a conventional viewing area for exhibition. For instance, Andrew Haynes grows crystals which he scans with his microscope for areas to which he responds, and these areas he photographs (YLEM Journal Vol. 20 #6). Daniel Shulman-Means creates similarly large-bounded environ- ments in Photoshop, then scrolls with his monitor to an area which he chooses to save and print (http:// And Steve Aubrey reported a similar experience with selecting from large areas in cre- ating his 3-d lenticular pieces. ( aubrey.html.)

Other artists create environments which can be traversed by the viewer through manipulation of the medium (usu- ally a computer display). Guenter Bachelier’s oeuvre, for instance, includes not only panoramic images which can be scrolled across, but also run-time movies which take the viewer on a journey as across the expanses of an alien planet. This work, like the Quick Time Virtual Reality works of Marius Johnston (YLEM Journal Vol. 22 #4/6), constitutes an art form that is a hybrid between painting and film, in that the viewer can control the jour- ney through the environment, stopping, accelerating, and varying the order in which the images are experienced.

While artificial consciousness is more likely to be a goal of the creator of creatures than of landscapes, Stanislaw Lem did conceive of a conscious and creative landscape in his novel of the planet Solaris.

This brings up another dichotomy in A-Life art which I’ve alluded to in the previous paragraph, the schism between works of art that are static and those that are temporal in nature. Bachelier’s static works are presented here, but his temporal works are linear in nature and can be ren- dered static by pausing them. This is not the case with temporal work which is closer to film, in which the im- ages are not traversed by the viewer but are experienced as the rapid replacement of one image by another, often of radically different character. These temporal works differ from animation in that animation uses similarity from frame to frame to create smooth transitions of imagery. The temporal art that uses dissimilar images replacing each other creates an experience of moving forward into a static frame whose images are exploding into and out of existence. Examples of this are the work of Scott Draves (whose goal is the constant self-creation of im- ages that never repeat themselves) (YLEM Journal Vol. 20 #6) and the IMA Traveller software by Erwin Driessens and Maria Verstaapen. ( IMAcat.html).

When | learned non-repetitive film painting from Ron Morrissey in the Sixties, he told me that his images, when

(Continued page 4)

cover illustration: Char Davies, TreePond

Design has been utterly transformed by computers and the interactivity that it allows. Come see what star de- signers of this new era, France Israel, Andy Kramer and Kevin Walker, have invented that changes how we drink in knowledge.

Architectural Simulations

France Israel of View by View will trace how she and her partner, Mieczyslaw Boryslawski, have provided fantas- tic 3D walk-through computer models and imagery for architecture, construction and real estate developers in both still and animated form for the last dozen years. The models are interactive, allowing on-the-spot comparisons of design possibilities.

View By View was responsible for and sponsored the very first successful national digital art and architecture ex- hibit which was co-sponsored by Apple Computer Com- pany Inc., Cannon USA, Kodak and Adobe Inc.

View By View's work is permanently on display at the Old Executive Office Building, The White House, Washing- ton D.C.

Interactive Museum Design

Andrew Kramer shows how the firm he founded, West Office Exhibition Design, folds technology seamlessly into the exhibit experience, linking video, animatronics, spe- cial effects and theatrical lighting systems. He will show the master planning they have done for numerous muse- ums, traveling exhibitions, and corporate education cen- ters. His associate, Kevin Walker also designs interac- tive installations for museums, working with West Office and as an independent artist. His award-winning exhib- its at the American Museum of Natural History in New York have immersed visitors in everything from the mi- croscopic world of viruses, to frozen Antarctic journeys, to distant galaxies. He will show some of these, plus recent innovative installations and art projects.

For each project they have invented unique communica- tion techniques, and are investigating the use of the web, allowing the experience to be extended to school or home.

Kevin Walker also designs interactive installations for museums, working with West Office and as an indepen- dent artist. His award-winning exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in New York have immersed visitors in everything from the microscopic world of vi- ruses, to frozen Antarctic journeys, to distant galaxies. He will show some of these, plus recent innovative in- stallations and art projects.

Contact: Trudy Reagan, 650-856-9593, Complete information listed at : http://www. w

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John Scarpa


YLEM member John J. Scarpa, founder of Light Alchemy who worked with sculpting light into Lumia forms and developing unique computer and video display systems for 3D projection of light art has entered the realm of pure light. John had recently exhibited in the YLEM 20th anni- versary show with an anaglyphic rendering of one of his lumia creations. He is also known for being a special visual effects designer for George Coates Performance Works and had recently participated in other art exhibi- tions in the Bay Area. He was also associated with the Northern Californian National Stereoscopic Association and was a member of the former Bay Area Multi Image Showcase organization. His final lumia projection was shown in Chicago at Lightology's Rays of Light exhibi- tion.

In honor of his association with YLEM, his family has set up a John J. Scarpa memorial Fund and any donations that wish to be made in John's name to YLEM can be directed to the organization.

We salute John Scarpa for his generosity and creativity in mastering light as a creative art medium and how he illuminated the lives of his friends with his art. John, thank you for the vision.

projected at normal speed, could “really snow the mind.” At that time | conceived of a perceptual consciousness which was projected from the viewer onto the screen to try to grab imagery and hold onto it as the shapes and colors sped by. | have since found myself more comfortable extracting sections of my films, blowing them up, and putting them up on gallery walls for contemplation which can be structured by the viewer. | still think in terms of a perceptual consciousness which is projected from the viewer onto the work of art, and moves around in the environment, structuring the viewing experience. | tend to think of this perceptual consciousness as analogous to a homunculus, or an avatar, a miniaturization of consciousness into an entity capable of free motion outside the body.

According to Karl O’Donaghue, Char Davies sees this concept of a perceptual, projective consciousness in a nega- tive way, stating that “the entire body is propelled by scopic desire.” He suggests that Davies’ environment takes the body itself into virtual reality, instead of the out-of-body experience of projective consciousness.

Another dichotomy in the discussion of Artificial Life art is between abstraction and mimesis. Emphasis in the early manifestations of A-Life art tended to be on abstract or alien environments or creatures. This was probably in part because of the excitement of creating life forms and landscapes that had never existed before, and the surprise of seeing what images the self-organizing aspects of A-Life art would produce. A strong trend in emerging A-Life art and technology these days is toward simulation of real-world entities, toward the creation of artificial humans and animals that ultimately will mimic and then manifest consciousness. Demetri Terzopoulos’ artificial fish are ex- amples of artificial entities which teach themselves to swim, see, feed, and avoid predators. (At this point they aren’t quite able to mate successfully to reproduce other fish.) My hope is that ultimately alien creatures will be allowed to manifest themselves with the consciousness and creativity of actual creatures, but with the potential aesthetic vari- ety of virtual creatures.

Still another dichotomy in A-Life is between contemplative and interactive manifestations. In a contemplative mani- festation, the viewer may either observe the art or manipulate it to the extent of starting and stopping the motion of a temporal realization. In interactive works, the viewer participates actively, to the extent of influencing the shape and color of imagery or even of bringing to life and sustaining the life of creatures. YLEM Journal Vol. 21 #8 was devoted to interactive art, and Char Davies’ Osmose is another example of it.

Demetri Terzopoulos is Lucy and Henry Moses Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics at the New York University Media Research Lab. His web page is His work is discussed by Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield in Frontiers of Complexity (pp. 262-264) and by Rudy Rucker in YLEM Journal Vol. 21 #10/12.

Karl O’Donaghue is an Irishman who received his MA in Interactive Media from the Dublin Institute of Technology. His interview with Char Davies is available at

Guenter Bachelier has a PhD in Information Science from the University of Saarland, in Germany. His dissertation was entitled “Polyrepresentation, Relevance-Approximation and Active Learning in the Vectorspace Model of Infor- mation Retrieval.” As a painter he was influence by the work of Jackson Pollock and Gerhard Richter. He hopes to obtain funding to produce large-scale versions of his self-generated works.


acters portrayed on screen are more or less alive. How- ever, these characters are by no means living beings. They certainly have no inherent intelligence. In fact, they are hardly autonomous. Rather, these “graphical pup- pets” must be laboriously hand animated by highly skilled


Computer animation is a fascinating discipline at the intersection of art, science, and technology. It is con- cerned with the challenge of imparting liveliness to syn- thetic objects in virtual worlds represented by computer. Audiences everywhere are delighted by state-of-the-art computer animation effects of the sort featured in the modern classic “Jurassic Park” (Universal Pictures, 1993) or in the recent computer animation milestones “Monsters, Inc.” (Walt Disney Productions/Pixar, 2001) and “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” (Square USA, 2001). As with traditional cell animation, it is easy to suspend disbelief and imagine that the graphical char-

human animators or programmed to mundanely repeat recorded motions deliberately performed by real-life ac- tors under controlled conditions.

In this article, | present a new breed of self-animating graphical characters that largely circumvent the drudg- ery of manual character animation. Self-animating char- acters are a form of leading edge, Artificial Life CG tech- nology [1]. “Artificial Life” is an emerging scientific field that is concerned with the computer modeling of phe- nomena associated with natural, biological life [2]. Our artificial life research has confronted the scientific chal- lenge of developing realistic artificial animals endowed with functional bodies and brains. This research has

yielded simulated physical worlds inhabited by sophisticated autonomous agents in the form of graphical characters that are autonomous, intelligent and, at least in some very rudimentary sense, “alive”.

Artificial Fishes

We have devoted significant effort to creating aquatic artificial animals [3][4]. Imagine a virtual marine world inhab- ited by a variety of self-animating fishes (Figure 1). In the presence of underwater currents, the fishes employ their muscles and fins to swim gracefully around immobile obstacles and among moving aquatic plants and other fishes.

They autonomously explore their dynamic world in search of food. Large, hungry predator fishes stalk smaller prey fishes in the deceptively peaceful habitat. Prey fishes swim around contentedly, until the sight of predators compels them to take evasive action. When a predator shark appears in the distance, similar species of prey form schools to improve their chances of survival. As the predator nears a school, the prey fish scatter in terror. Achase ensues in which the predator selects victims and consumes them until satiated. Some species of fishes are untroubled by predators. They find comfortable niches and feed on floating plankton when hungry. Driven by healthy libidos, they perform intricate courtship rituals to attract mates.

Animation as Artificial Life Cinematography

Our artificial life approach to computer animation has led to the production of two computer-animated short subjects, essentially mini-documentaries about the virtual marine world of artificial fishes, that have been screened interna- tionally before large audiences [5][6]. The creative pro-

| . irtual : Id inhabited cess underlying these animations has the following dis- mage a Vine) Manne wore snnanite tinguishing feature: Rather than being a graphical char-

by a variety of self-animating fishes.. acter puppeteer, the computer animator engages in a creative process analogous to that of an underwater nature cinematographer. The animator strategically im- merses and positions one or more virtual cameras within the virtual marine world so as to capture interesting “film footage” of the behaviors of artificial fishes. The footage is edited, assembled, and narrated to produce the final documentary. This creative process is fundamentally similar to that associated with the fascinating genre of marine life documentaries for which the Cousteau Society or the National Geographic Society are famous.

In the remainder of the article, | will review the artificial fish models that have made possible our artificial life cinema- tography approach to computer animation. The comprehensive modeling methodology, in which we model the form, appearance, and basic physics of the animal and its habitat, as well as the animal’s means of locomotion, its percep- tual awareness of its world, its behavior, and its ability to learn, has been described in detail elsewhere [3]. Our methodology is generally applicable to the modeling of all sorts of animals, including humans, for use in computer animation.

Functional Modeling of Fish

We have developed a functional model of certain species of (teleost) fishes that can automatically animate itself with considerable realism. The artificial fish is an autonomous agent with a realistic deformable body actuated by internal muscles, with eyes, and with a brain that includes motor, perception, behavior, and learning centers. Figure 2 presents a schematic of the functional model and this section reviews its main functional components.

Display Mode

First, we want our artificial fishes to capture the form and appearance of a variety of natural fishes with reasonable visual fidelity. To this end, digitized photographs of real fish, such as the images shown in Figure 4(a), are converted into three-dimensional spline surface body models (Figure 4(b)) with the help of interactive image analysis tools, and the image texture is mapped onto the surfaces to produce the final textured geometric display models of the fishes (Figure 4(c)).

Biomechanical Model and Locomotion

The artificial fish captures not just the 3D form and appearance of real fishes, but also the basic physics of these animals in their environment. The motor system of the artificial fish (Figure 2) comprises a piscine biomechanical model, including muscle actuators and a set of motor controllers. Figure 3(a) illustrates the mechanical body model, which produces realistic piscine locomotion using only 23 lumped masses and 87 elastic elements. These mechani- cal components, whose dimensions and physical parameters are modified to model different fishes, are intercon- nected to maintain the structural integrity of the body as it flexes due to the action of its 12 contractile muscles.

Figure 1. Artificial fishes in their virtual marine world as it appears fo an underwater observer. (a) The three reddish fish are engaged in mating behavior while the other fish are foraging among seaweeds. (b) A school of fish appears in the distance. (c) A predator shark stalking prey.

The artificial fish locomotes like real fishes do, by autonomously contracting its muscles. As the body flexes it displaces virtual fluid, which induces local reaction forces normal to the body. These hydrodynamic forces generate thrust, primarily via the caudal fin, which pro- pels the fish forward (Figure 3(b)). The dynam- ics of the biomechanical model are governed by a system of coupled second-order ordinary differential equations driven by the hydrody- namic forces. A numerical simulator continu- ally integrates these equations of motion for- ward through time. The biomechanical model achieves a good compromise between realism and computational efficiency, permitting the real- time simulation of fish locomotion. The motor controllers (Figure 2) coordinate muscle actions to carry out specific motor func- tions, such as swimming forward, turning left and right, ascending and descending in the water. They translate natural control parameters such as the forward speed or angle of the turn into detailed muscle actions that execute the (b) (c) function. The artificial fish is neutrally buoyant in the virtual water. Its two pectoral fins enable it to navigate freely in its three dimensional world by pitching, rolling, and yawing its body, as well as to stabilize the body during locomotion. Specialized motor controllers coordinate the pectoral fin actions.


The learning center of its brain (Figure 2) enables the artificial fish to learn how to locomote through practice and sensory reinforcement. Through optimization, the motor learning algorithms discover muscle controllers that pro- duce efficient locomotion. Muscle contractions that produce forward movements are “remembered”. These partial successes then form the basis for subsequent improvements in swimming technique. Their brain’s learning center also enables the artificial fishes to train themselves to accomplish higher level sensorimotor tasks, such as maneu- vering to reach a visible target or learning more complex motor skills (See [7] for the details).


Artificial fishes are aware of their world through sensory perception. Their perception system relies on a set of on- board virtual sensors to gather sensory information about the dynamic environment. It is necessary to model not only the abilities but also the limitations of animal perception systems in order to achieve natural sensorimotor behaviors. Artificial fishes perceive objects within a limited field view if objects are close enough and not occluded by other opaque objects. The perception center of the artificial fish brain includes a perceptual attention mechanism (indicated by “!” in Figure 2), which enables the artificial fish to sense the world in a task-specific way, hence filtering out sensory information superfluous to its current behavioral needs. For example, while foraging, the artificial fish attends to sensory information about nearby food sources. Reference [8] describes a biomimetic approach to per- ception.


The behavior center of the artificial fish’s brain mediates be- tween its perception system and its motor system (see Figure 2). A set of pre-specified, innate characteristics determine whether the fish is male or female, predator or prey, etc. The behavioral repertoire of the artificial fish comprises a set of behavior routines arranged in a loose hierarchy. These include primitive, reflexive behavior routines, such as obstacle avoid- ance, as well as more sophisticated motivational behavior rou- tines, such as schooling and mating. An action selection mecha- nism underlies the goal-directed behavior of the artificial fish in Figure 2. Functional artificial fish model. The its dynamic world. The action selection mechanism controls piscine body harbors a biomechanical

the perceptual attention mechanism. Action selection takes into model and a brain with motor, perception, account the innate characteristics of the fish, its mental state behavior, and learning centers. (The

as represented by hunger, fear, and libido mental variables, perceptual attention module is marked “!”.) and the incoming stream of sensory information, in order to

generate dynamic goals for the artificial fish, such as to avoid an obstacle, to hunt and feed on prey, or to court a potential mate. Exploiting a single-item memory, the action selection mechanism ensures that goals have enough persistence to supports sustained behaviors such as foraging, schooling, and mating.


The science of artificial life can contribute profoundly to the art of computer animation. | described a virtual marine world inhabited by artificial life forms that emulate the appearance, motion, and behavior of marine animals in their natural habitats. Each artificial animal is an autonomous agent in a simulated physical world. It has (i) a three- dimensional body with internal muscle actuators and functional fins that deforms and locomotes in accordance with the principles of biomechanics and hydrodynamics, (ii) sensors, including eyes that can perceive the environment, and (iii) a brain with motor, perception, behavior, and learning centers. Artificial fishes exhibit a repertoire of piscine behaviors that rely on their perceptual awareness of their dynamic habitat. Furthermore, they can learn to locomote through practice and sensory reinforcement.

Our novel approach has enabled us to produce realistic computer animation of natural environments in which the animator plays a role akin to that of a nature cinematographer. In our animated productions, the detailed motions of the artificial fishes emulate the complexity and unpredictability of movement of their natural counterparts, which enhances the visual beauty of the animations.

Our artificial life modeling methodology is broadly applicable to the challenge of realistically modeling animals other than fishes—most interestingly, humans. To this end, cognitive modeling, a logic-based artificial intelligence tech- nique that supports knowledge representation, reasoning, and planning, enables the creation of smart graphical characters that know enough about themselves and their world that they may be directed at an abstract level, more like real human actors [9]. Forward Thrust


VN ee es | Ve |

(a) (b)

Figure 3. Biomechanical fish model (a). To emulate a piscine body structure, 23 lumped masses, shown as black dots, are interconnected by 91 viscoelastic elements, shown as lines, each comprising an elastic spring and a viscous damper connected in parallel. Twelve of the elements, depicted as orange lines, serve as contractile muscle actuators. The dotted curves represent functional pectoral fins. Through coordinated muscle and fin actions triggered by the mofor center of the artificial fish's brain, this simple physics-based model synthesizes realistic piscine locomotion in virtual fluid. Hydrodynamic locomotion (b). With the tail swinging to the left, the thrust on any point on the body acts opposite to the surface normal at that point. The forward thrust component propels the fish through the simulated water.

Figure 4. From digitized images of fishes (a) to spline surface body models (b) to three-dimensional,

textured fish display models (c).


| thank my former students Radek Grzeszczuk, Tamer Rabie, and especially Xiaoyuan Tu, a scientist with extraordi- nary artistic talent who developed the artificial fishes model, for their outstanding contributions to the work reviewed



[1] D. Terzopoulos. “Artificial life for computer graphics.” Communications of the ACM. 42(8):32-42, 1999.

[2] Foran engaging survey of the Artificial Life field, see, e.g., the book Artificial Life by S. Levy (Pantheon, 1992). Journals such as Artificial Life and Adaptive Behavior (MIT Press) document the state of the art.

[3] D.Terzopoulos, X. Tu, and R. Grzeszczuk. “Artificial fishes: Autonomous locomotion, perception, behavior, and learning in a simulated physical world.” Artificial Life, 1(4):327-351, 1994.

[4] X.Tuand D. Terzopoulos. “Artificial fishes: Physics, locomotion, perception, behavior.”

In Computer Graphics

Proceedings, Annual Conference Series, Proc. SIGGRAPH 94 (Orlando, FL), pages 43-50. ACM SIGGRAPH, July


[5] X. Tu, R. Grzeszczuk, and D. Terzopoulos. A National Geo-Graphics Society Special: The Undersea World of Jack Cousto. Computer animation premiered at the ACM SIGGRAPH’95 Electronic Theater, Los Angeles, CA, Au-

gust, 1995.

[6] X. Tu, D. Terzopoulos, and E. Fiume. Go Fish! Computer animation in ACM SIGGRAPH Video Review Issue

91: SIGGRAPH 93 Electronic Theater, 1993.

[7] R. Grzeszczuk and D. Terzopoulos. “Automated learning of muscle actuated locomotion through control ab-

straction.” ACM SIGGRAPH, August 1995.

In Computer Graphics Proceedings, Annual Conference Series, Proc. SIGGRAPH 95 (Los Angeles, CA).

[8] D.Terzopoulos, T.F. Rabie, and R. Grzeszczuk, “Perception and learning in artificial animals.” In Artificial Life V: Proc. Fifth International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems, Nara, Japan, May, 1996,


[9] J. Funge, X. Tu, and D. Terzopoulos. “Cognitive modeling: Knowledge, reasoning and planning for intelligent

characters.” CA), pages 29-38. ACM SIGGRAPH, August 1999. [fv

The title of this article refers to the immersive virtual real- ity artwork Osmose, created by Canadian artist Char Davies and her team at Softimage.

Osmosis: Any process by which something is acquired by absorption.

The French translation for the word Osmosis is Osmose. Osmose is the title of the Virtual Reality art work that is the subject of this article.

In the seventeenth century Rene Descartes posited a strict separation between the realm of human consciousness and the natural world. This way of thinking has been

In Computer Graphics Proceedings, Annual Conference Series, Proc. SIGGRAPH 99 (Los Angeles,

widely accepted in the western world, and has helped shape our cultural values. Descartes devised a co-ordi- nate system, a grid created by the x, y, and z axes. This grid is the foundation for most of today’s computer graph- ics. It produces a cold linear environment, quite the op- posite to the world of ‘Osmose’.

In Simon Penny’s essay, ‘Virtual Reality as the Comple- tion of the Enlightenment Project’, he attempts to place VR within, and as a product of, the philosophical project of the Enlightenment. Central to this critique he uses the proposition that while VR is technically advanced it is philosophically retrogressive. VR strives for realism in the same way as painters in the early Enlightenment Period, it does not challenge the contemporary Western

cultural view. VR reasserts a mind/body split that is essentially “patriarchal and a paradigm of viewing that is phallic, colonizing, and panoptic” (Penny, 1994, p.237)

Recently there has been some criticism of the computer-graphic establishment for its endorsement of a ‘gendered’ Cartesian space. Computer-graphic production as seen in commercial cinema, video games, theme-park rides and military simulations, is allegedly dominated by a Western male psyche and worldview (Penny, 1994, p.231).

Osmose involves a shift away from VR’s usual Cartesian space. It is composed of several different elements, a tree standing in the middle of a clearing, a forest, water on a lower level, the computer code in another lower level and the text (poetry, philosophical texts, etc.) on the upper level. All those elements are not separated in different rooms as usual in VR but belong to the same global structure that you travel through.

The lowest level within the world of Osmose is the code world. Recognising that Os- mose is essentially software, Davies liter- ally placed its programming at the bottom of the virtual universe. According to Davies, these two worlds act as symbols of con- crete reality bracketing the world within. They remind the immersant and the view- ers that Osmose is a highly crafted con- struction, a product of both great techno- logical sophistication and intensive conceptualization (Davies, 1995).

The main driving force behind the creation of Osmose was “a desire to heal the Car- tesian split between mind and body, sub- ject and object,” which according to Davies “has shaped our cultural values.”(Davies, 1995, p.1) The work was inspired by a pro- found deep-sea diving experience in the Bahamas, where Davies got an unforget- table taste of virtual space. Through Os- mose, Davies is trying to give the immersant the kind of profound experience she had underwater, an embodied experience of space, one that begins to dissolve the habitual boundaries we maintain between inside and out, between self and world.

Char Davies, Forest Grid

Davies in her essay ‘Being in Immersive Virtual Space’, writes about the spaces that we, as humans, have access to throughout our lives, most people being limited to life as experienced on the surface of the earth. (Davies, 1995, p. 4) This is reflected in the design of conventional VR, as most designers rely on everyday experiences of terrestrial space to define the appearance of their virtual worlds. These worlds end up being filled with hard-edged objects, horizontal floors and walls. The interface methods are also based on things we experience every day, such as walking or driving. These approaches to ‘immersive’ virtual space limit its potential, and uphold the conventions of a western world view. Osmose is a different kind of space. Ambiguity and transparency are the dominant aesthetic. Osmose does not try to ‘Re-Present’ a world that already exists in another place; it is a space that only exists within the programming of the computer.

Conventional VR projects reduce the human subject to an isolated and disembodied being manoeuvring in empty space. Cyberspace is the epitome of Cartesian desire, for it enables us to create worlds where we have total control. The long term effect of this, according to Davies, may be to seduce us away from our bodies and ultimately nature. In conventional VR the body is a void. VR arms the eye, it gives the eye a hand of its own, propelled by the gaze itself. The entire body is propelled by scopic desire. We are taught to regard our bodies as an instrument, as apparel, our culture customizes its bodies like it customizes its cars. The body is a representation only, an external appearance, and may be adjusted to suit the taste of the owner. The absolute malleability of the virtual body is different from this only in degree.

VR replaces the body with two partial bodies, the corporeal body, and an incomplete electronic ‘body image’. Ona bodily level, the conventional VR experience is of dislocation and disassociation. This is precisely what Char Davies is challenging with Osmose. In Osmose there is no reference to the body, there is no representation of the body.


This leads one to look within one’s self, for one’s own body image. The ‘meat’ body, when one is experiencing conventional VR, becomes only a machine to press the appropriate buttons or to re-aim the viewpoint, driven by a desiring, controlling mind. The body does not feel, it does not register the virtual world. Only the eyes, privi- leged as the most accurate of the senses since the Re- naissance, register the virtual world.

Michael Heim, when writing about virtual reality, referred to a “leaving the body at the door of the virtual world,” but what body is being left at that door? Karen A Franck sug- gests that it is the ‘fleshed’ body. The body that needs to eat and sleep, the one that is frail, can become diseased, and will die. She believes that this desire to transcend the flesh body is a masculinist dream (Franck, 1995, p. 22). Davies challenges this masculinist dream by not leaving the body outside, but by bringing the body ‘in’ to that virtual world, and making it a part of the piece itself, creating a “natural” interaction between the participant and the virtual world. It is the user’s body that controls his or her journey through Osmose. In most virtual envi- ronments, motion is controlled by a joystick or other manual device that gives the user a kind of godlike con- trol. The work avoids the “masculinist” preoccupation with tropes of penetrating or mastering space reducing our chaotic experience of reality to a more manageable over- simplified model i.e. mastering the world on our terms rather that experiencing it as itis. VR is a safe environ- ment to explore the mind-body experience liberating us from the everyday impulse to prioritise the mental over the physical.

Osmose has a unique interface that was developed spe- cifically for the piece. It reflects the “physical properties of the interactions, the functions to be performed, and the balance of power and control” (Gigliotti, 1995, p. 293). The interactive aesthetic or user interface of Osmose was designed to be body-centred, based on the intuitive, in- stinctual processes of breathing and balance. The meth- ods of navigation, which were largely inspired by scuba diving, are based on physiological movements. You bend forward, backward, left and right for the horizontal axis and you exhale and inhale for the vertical one. This method of navigation is intended to re-affirm the role of the living physical body in immersive virtual space as sub- jective experiential ground. “As in meditation, the prac- tice of following one’s breath and being centred in bal- ance opens up a profound way of relating to the world.” (Davies, 1995, p. 3)

Osmose offers a new, more physical approach to the re- lationship between the perceiving body and the spaces of information. The interface does not bracket out the bodily processes from the means of accessing informa- tion, as does most current interface technologies such as the World Wide Web, where pointing and clinching phallic tools is the only means for interactivity. In Os- mose, sense of balance and breathing constitute an in- teractive surface that, while moving the body in the

immersive space, simultaneously alter the physiological condition and state of the body. Deep breath does not only move the ‘immersant’ in relation to the stereoscopic 3D space but it also brings more oxygen to the body and affects its physical and chemical balance. In the immersive environment of Osmose the border between the interface as a symbolised surface and the surface of the physiological body begins to blur.

Warwick Fox in his essay “Deep Ecology: A New Phi- losophy of our Time?”(1984), gives a brief but concise overview of the differences between shallow and deep ecology. In shallow ecology figure/ground boundaries are sharply drawn such that humans are perceived as the important figures against a ground that only assumes significance in so far as its use value for humans. This figure ground boundary could be used as a metaphor when talking about Osmose, for in Osmose there is no defined ground and there are no defined boundaries. This purposeful leaving out of a ground serves simply to place the immersent in an environment, rather than dominant over it.

It has been argued that it is misguided sentimentality to suppose that we can simply transplant the values and beliefs from other cultures to our own (Grey, 1986). Os- mose does not simply transplant philosophical ideas from one culture to another, it brings those ideas to us ina new medium, through a profound experience visually.

Osmose ignores the fact that the computer technology that it uses to heal the human/nature split is the same technology that that trains fighter pilots to blow it up. Perhaps Davies is simply showing that this technology can be used in less harmful ways than military training. It is a point that Davies has not addressed in any of her writings about Osmose.

It seems that the goal of conventional VR is reached when we cannot distinguish between the computer image and the real thing. According to some, the only thing that VR has achieved is the reduction of space to numbers. VR reflects a longing to transcend the limitations of our physi- cal surroundings, Davies believes that the long term ef- fect of this may be to seduce us away from our bodies and ultimately from nature.

The names of the worlds in Osmose are based on Heidegger’s writings. But what would he have thought of VR? Richard Coyne argues that Heidegger would have had little time for a technology that tries to simulate real- ity by building up an experience from geometrical co-or- dinates or barraging the viewer with sense data. (Coyne, 1994, p.68) He argues that Heidegger would have seen the idea of constructing reality (or its resemblance) through data as untenable.

It would be as if to say “nature’ is constructed, so let us re-construct it in a computer. This is one of the para- doxes of Osmose, it is not supposed to ‘Re-Present’ na-

ture, it is supposed to provoke a feeling of nature, and a feeling of being in the world. But according to Heidegger our primordial understanding of being in the world is one of undifferentiated involvement. The idea of VR is the opposite, in that everything in the field of view is pre- sented to the senses.

“VR is a literal enactment of Cartesian ontology”, accord- ing to Coyne, “cocooning a person as an isolated subject within a field of sensations and claiming that everything is there, presented to the subject” (Coyne 1994 pp.68). Everything that Heidegger suggests about our being in- dicates that we are not constituted like sense data re- ceptors. Laurie McRobert, on the other hand, argues that Heidegger would have seen Osmose as a bringing forth of truth.

She sees creating a digital work of art that represents nature, when ‘real’ nature is still all around us, as being a ‘curious endeavour’. That perhaps Davies is privy to a premonition of the future, as though she has already re- signed herself to, and knows that nature as we know it today will ultimately be lost, and that one day all that we will have left is what computer artists, like herself, will make for us. (McRobert, 1996, p.4)

In Western culture we are already being prepared for the ‘condition’ of VR, through the spaces that we live in. If we are teaching ourselves now that we can experience the countryside through the window of a car that is trav- elling at sixty miles per hour, then it is only natural that in the future, we will teach ourselves we can experience nature through VR.

Is there a danger that Davies made the piece too well, by this | mean could people resign themselves to the fact that nature will be lost, and accept VR as the next best thing? It is a possibility, but the feeling of ‘being’ in a ‘natu- ral’ environment and the feeling of ‘being’ in a virtual en- vironment are very different things. | see VR following the male-gendered, mission orientated aesthetic for some time. But! feel Osmose is the first good ‘virtual’ stab at what VR can be, a meditative, contemplative space, where one can learn to appreciate what we still have in our tactile world.


Coyne, Richard, “Heidegger and Virtual Reality: The Implications of Heidegger’s Thinking for Computer Representations” in Leonardo Vol. 27, No. 1, 1994, pp. 65-73.

Davies, Char, “Changing Space: VR as a philosophical Arena of Being”, in Consciousness Reframed, Confer- ence Proceedings, University of Wales College, 1997. Davies, Char, “Osmose: Notes on Being in Immersive Virtual Space” in ISEA’95 Conference Proceedings, Montreal, 1995. Davies/Harrison, “Osmose: Toward Broadening the

Char Davies, Rocks

Aesthetics of Virtual Reality” in ACM Computer Graph- ics, Volume 30 Number 4, ACM publications, 1996. broadening.html

Fox, Warwick, “Deep Ecology: A New Philosophy of our Time?”, The Ecologist, Vol. 14, No. 5-6, 1984, pp. 194- 200.

Franck, Karen A. “When | enter Virtual Reality, What Body Will | Leave Behind?” Architectural Design ‘Architects in Cyberspace’, Vol. 65, No. 11/12, Nov-Dec 95, pp. 20-23.

Gigliotti, Carol, “Aesthetics of a Virtual World”, Leonardo, Vol. 28, No. 4, 1995, pp. 289-295.

Grey, William, “A Critique of Deep Ecology” in Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1986, pp. 211-216.

Heim, Michael, “The Design of Virtual Reality” in ‘Cyber Space, Cyber Bodies, Cyber Punks: Cultures of Technological Embodiment’, (Ed.) Mike Featherstone and Roger Burrows, London, SAGE Publications Ltd., 1995.

McRobert, Laurie, “Immersive Art and the Essence of Technology” in Explorations: Journal for Adventurous Thought, Vol. 15, No. 1, Autumn 1996. osmose_art.html

Penny, Simon, “Virtual Reality as the Completion of the Enlightenment Project” in (Ed.) Bender/Pruckney., “Culture on the Brink: Ideologies of Technology”, Seattle, Bay Press, 1994.

Evolutionary art is defined by the methods to generate art, which derive themselves from processes recognized by biological organisms. These methods are style and material independent. Within these methods a wider range of freedom can be used as in biological systems, because biological systems are limited through their physical imple- mentation constraints.

Evolutionary Art Process

The evolutionary art is defined through the evolutionary art process. Starting with a variety of motives (population of individuals) variations (offspring) of these motives are generated through duplication, mutation and recombination. These offspring individuals are evaluated by the artist (fitness-evaluation). From the parent and the offspring gen- eration some individuals are selected (selection for transfer), which form the next generation. This generation undergoes evolution as well. Motives not selected for the next generation may be stored for later use (living fossils). The central point of an evolutionary process is the continuous development of motives through the evaluation and selection criteria of the artist.

Survey of the integrated art process

Conventional Art Process Evolutionary Art Process

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