Networked_Performance

Reblogged A Cyborg Arboretum

Posted by Rob Holmes on Mammoth:

[Not a cyborg plant, but certainly technobotanical; image by NL Architects via Inhabitat]

1. This post is for 50 Posts About Cyborgs.

2. This is a cyborg arboretum. That is, a collection of various plants not naturally found in geographic proximity, brought together for educational purposes, whose constituent plants happen to be cyborgs. Not augmented humans, but flora augmented by “non-hereditary adaptations”.

Now, in some real and valid sense, just as we’ve been augmenting our own biological capabilities with technological adaptations for millenia, we’ve also been engaged in a massive and only semi-conscious re-shaping of the forms and functions of plants. However, that re-shaping (co-evolution, really), as fascinating as it is, has been primarily through hereditary tools — biology as technology, rather than something which exists in tension with biology, and thus is an object of interest when, in odd cases, it is married to biology.

This being a post about cyborgs, we’re here to talk about those odd cases. So, with the exception of one case that I find appropriate because a plant’s biology is being manipulated technologically to mimic a technological construct, this arboretum is filled only with plants which incorporate technology into their physical structure.

3. Arboretums are places for organization and display, so I’ve arranged the cyborg plants into four genera.

1 I’d show you a picture of Cyborg Plant, but it’s one of those things that’s better if you don’t see it.

The simplest kind of cyborg plant is well represented by a project executed at two schools in Zurich entitled, appropriately, Cyborg Plant. Cyborg Plant consists of a simple avocado plant (Persea americana) which is nurtured by an attached robotic prosthesis1. The prosthesis measures the avocado’s drought stress — indicated by “the position of the leaves and the electrical potential within the trunk” — and irrigates the plant as required. This attachment, which is essentially a spacesuit for plants, enables the avocado to live indoors without human attention for much longer periods of time than would otherwise be possible (the interior of a built space being nearly as hostile for plants as land is for fish).

Plantas nomadas; designed, built, and photographed by Gilberto Esparza.

Our next plant is exponentially more complex than our first, but conceptually quite similar. Plantas nomadas are the creation of artist Gilberto Esparza; a minature eco-system composed of plants and micro-organisms is housed within a robotic shell, which provides the eco-system with the ability (and digital intelligence) to seek out new sources of nutrition when it is required. Each of the elements is symbiotically dependent on the others: the plants provide habitat for the microbes, the microbes (in a microbial fuel cell) transform nutrients in water into energy to power the robotic components, and the robotic components provide mobility and direction for the compound organism.

2 In addition to being the first kind of plant in our arboretum, Plantas nomadas also happen to be a clever commentary on contamination, industrialization, and the relationship between humans and nature; but for that, I suggest reading about Plantas nomadas at We Make Money Not Art; Plantas nomadas were also seen recently at DPR-Barcelona’s post on “Performative Organic Machines” for the Infrastructural City series. The Play Collective has also produced a similar (if less evocatively-built) cyborg.

Both Plantas nomadas and Cyborg Plant, then, are examples of what we might consider the first category of cyborg plants: those whose abilities are extended and transformed in a manner quite similar to the original vision of the human cyborg, as their ability to internally regulate inputs and conditions to cope with their immediate environment is enhanced2. (It’s interesting to note, at this point, that on a less experimental and more horticultural scale, native plants, which we tend to think of as the most ‘natural’ plants, are in fact those plants which are closest to becoming cyborgs as species. Though it would be a significant overstatement to describe them as such, modern horticulture, gardening, and landscape architecture employs a dizzying array of prostheses in order to maintain arrangements of native flora that we determine to be valuable, while it is ‘invasive’ and ‘weedy’ plants which flourish in our cities in the absence of intensive cultivation.)

Tim Simpson/Studio Glithero’s Natural deselection

Of course, technology and plants can be married in ways that are less pleasant for the plants involved.  In Tim Simpson’s Natural deselection, a small community of plants is placed in direct competition for survival.  Three potted plants sit in a triangle around an artificial stem, which protrudes a single mechanical shear towards each potted plant while holding a sensor above each pot. Though they are (apparently) blissfully unaware, the three plants are in a mortal race: the first plant to reach a prescribed height lives; its compatriots are sheared.

As Alex Trevi notes at Pruned, the possibilities for domestic deployment are nearly endless (provided that one is inclined to treat living rooms as appropriate laboratories for accelerated evolutionary experiments):

One wishes this was marketed for the home decorating market, perhaps through a partnership with Martha Stewart Living Omnipedia or Home Depot; a mass produced kinetic sculpture that approximates the violence and savagery of nature, the brutal facts from which indoor plants seem happily divorced, that is, if they’re lucky enough to have attentive owners.

Stills from the augmentation of Talking Tree, on Vimeo.

3 Yes, of course communication is an ability which enhances survivability.

A third genus (and, as far as I can tell, the most populous genus) of cyborg plants might be called the networked plant. Like the first genus, the networked plant sees its abilities extended through prosthesis.  However, rather than enhancing its ability to survive in a particular environment, the networked plant’s cybernetic components provide it with the ability to communicate to us in our native tongues (by which I mean of course social media, not language)3.

The Talking Tree, for instance, is a century-old beech near Brussels, which EOS magazine has “hooked up to a fine dust meter, ozone meter, light meter, weatherstation, webcam and microphone.” Measurements derived from those instruments are translated into brief statements about the tree’s immediate environment, and broadcast on Twitter, Facebook, and the tree’s website. The raw metrics are also available on the website as a live stream of un-anthropomorphized data; I suspect that a creative presentation emphasizing this raw data — and with it, the vast differences between how a plant perceives the world and how humans perceive the world — would be much more compelling than the statements the project produces, but it’s an entertaining experiment even as it is.

And there are plenty of similar experiments. Botanicalls are cyborg-creation kits which can be used to give a plant the ability to place a reminder call when it is not watered. They are, I believe, the only commercially-deployed cyborg implants available for your houseplants. (Pothos, the twittering Toronto houseplant, is a Botanicall.)  Midori-San, the blogging Japanese Sweetheart Hoya (Hoya kerrii), is quite similar, employing sensors on its leaves to detect bioelectrical current, collecting data on ambient environmental conditions, and using an algorithm to “translate this data into Japanese sentences”. Even the extraordinarily poorly-designed Australian “Facebook plant” Meet Eater, which Tim Maly pointed out to me by way of @Xeus today, falls into this category. (The problem with Meet Eater is that it allows Facebook followers to provide the plant with water, but provides no feedback mechanism to indicate when it has been over-watered.  Which is why it is not surprising that Meet Eater is the third “Facebook plant” in a row to die of over-irrigation.  The more socially successful it is, the quicker it dies.)

4 Read more about the design implications of Ambient Biomedia at Pruned.

One interesting footnote to the networked plant, which is usually modified for the benefit of transmitting information from the plant to people about the plant, is Ambient Biomedia, where a plant is modified to reflect the emotional status of a person, thus transmitting information (deep breath) from person to plant to person about the plant4.

Illustration from Audrey Richard-Laurent’s proposal for a bio-luminescent street tree.

The final genus in our arboretum is the one that I mentioned earlier as a little bit of a cheat: a plant which has been genetically modified to perform a technological function, rather than incorporating the physical presence of technology in its body. (Since this plant is only made possible by a technological infrastructure of advanced genetic modification and bio-engineering, I’m willing to bend the rules a bit to squeeze it in.)  Struck by the parallel placement of street trees and street lights, designer Audrey Richard-Laurent has been working on a proposal for a bioluminescent tree which would perform the functions of both tree and light.

Which, if you think about it for a moment, is an impossibly beautiful idea. A city whose night would literally shine with health.

This might sound like a far-fetched idea, but, as Next Nature notes, a Filipino scientist produced a bio-luminescent Christmas tree by covering it in bio-luminescent bacteria harvested from local squid in 2007, and other researchers have proposed applications for (truly) bio-luminescent plants ranging from lighting highways (which, assuming that the bioluminescent trees would at some point begin to naturalize, might produce the most strikingly beautiful displays of exotic plant invasion imaginable) to crops which glow when they need water. Mushrooms make forests glow; why shouldn’t trees make cities glow?

Welwitschia mirabilis, photographed in the Namibian desert by Rachel Sussman for her fantastic “Oldest Living Things” project.

The obvious question, then, is: what other technological functions might plants be modified to perform?  Might a tree like Welwitschia mirabilis, which harvests water from fog in the Namibian and Angolan deserts, be bio-engineered and grown on an industrial scale in literal fog farms, like a botanical version of the urban fog farms that mammoth has proposed elsewhere? Or invasive submerged aquatic vegetation genetically programmed to assemble themselves into titantic but permeable storm-surge barriers off the coast of cities endangered by rising tides? (One of my favorite Quiet Babylon posts, “If Plants Had Culture”, speculates on roughly this idea, spinning off scenarios about “body pollenating”, spices with shifting vintages, and symbiosis between fashion designers and color-changing flowers.)

A camera watches the forest; photograph taken in a Dutch wilderness area by Next Nature.

4. So that’s individuals: augmented for survival, augmented to their detriment, networked, and genetically modified to mimic technology.

The other possibility — given the degree to which flora is often even more specifically communal than fauna (see: plant sociality, clonal colonies) — is that entire associations of plants might be augmented, producing cyborg forests.

Experiments last year at the University of Washington discovered that the biologically-produced electrical energy of trees could be tapped as current suitable for powering electrical devices. While the amounts of current tapped from an individual tree are quite small, researchers speculated that, by storing the output over a period of time and tapping groupings of trees, bio-electrical current might prove “a low-cost option for powering tree sensors that might be used to detect environmental conditions or forest fires”.

Spinning off parallel research at MIT, Alex Trevi suggests a series of additional scenarios, the second of which is surely a proposal for a cyborg forest:

COUNTERPROPOSAL #2: Harvest the metabolic energy of trees to power an apparatus which acclimatizes a parcel from its present northern climes to conditions last seen when the area was straddling the equator, thus enabling the survival of formerly native tropical flora and fauna.

“For the exogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an integrated homeostatic system unconsciously, we propose the term ‘Cyborg’.”

If speculation about post-natural organisms interests you, you ought to keep an eye on two blogs in particular: Pruned and Next Nature.

Footnotes

1. I’d show you a picture of Cyborg Plant, but it’s one of those things that’s better if you don’t see it.

2. In addition to being the first kind of plant in our arboretum, Plantas nomadas also happen to be a clever commentary on contamination, industrialization, and the relationship between humans and nature; but for that, I suggest reading about Plantas nomadas at We Make Money Not Art; Plantas nomadas were also seen recently at DPR-Barcelona’s post on “Performative Organic Machines” for the Infrastructural City series.  The Play Collective has also produced a similar (if less evocatively-built) cyborg.

3 Yes, of course communication is an ability which enhances survivability.

4 Read more about the design implications of Ambient Biomedia at Pruned.


Sep 27, 16:06
Trackback URL

2 Responses

  1. Network Research » Talking Tree:

    [...] seen on Networked_Performance. Bookmark / Save / [...]


  2. Loora:

    Hello! I`m recently following your blog, its very interesting. I`d ask if you know Vida 13, it is an international contest that invites the artistic community to the reflection on “life” and “artificial life” notions. They can be artistic projects developed with technology or electronics, searching questions and answers about the frontiers between living and non living things, between organic and synthetic life.

    In the past edition won a work from David Bowen and a spectacular work called Silent Barrage, from a SymbioticA`s group. You can see at http://www.fundacion.telefonica.com/arteytecnologia/certamen_vida/en/ediciones.htm

    Thanks!


Leave a comment

Live Stage

Tags


calls + opps performance livestage exhibition installation mobile networked writings participatory locative media augmented/mixed reality event new media video interactive public net art conference virtual intervention distributed second life sound political technology narrative festival tactical lecture conversation art + science social networks social games history dance surveillance music workshop urban collaboration mapping live upgrade! reblog activist wearable immersive public/private architecture data platform body collective aesthetics environment city film identity systems telematic culture wireless visualization web 2.0 site-specific place open source ecology webcast tool software text research intermedia community space audio radio nature 3-D hybrid avatar audio/visual responsive e-literature pyschogeography presence interdisciplinary media interview object physical ubiquitous global/ization theory theater biotechnology relational play archive code bioart news generative DIY light robotic place-specific hacktivism synthetic p2p cinema education remix agency interface im/material live cinema language labor copyright algorithmic mashup simulation animation perception image free/libre software multimedia artificial motion tracking convergence voice reenactment machinima gift economy streaming emergence cyberreality glitch webcam tv DJ/VJ censorship ARG nonlinear transdisciplinary touch recycle asynchronous fabbing tag semantic web hypermedia chance synesthesia biopolitics social choreography tangible app forking unconference gesture 1
1 3-D ARG DIY DJ/VJ activist aesthetics agency algorithmic animation app architecture archive art + science artificial asynchronous audio audio/visual augmented/mixed reality avatar bioart biopolitics biotechnology body calls + opps censorship chance cinema city code collaboration collective community conference convergence conversation copyright culture cyberreality dance data distributed e-literature ecology education emergence environment event exhibition fabbing festival film forking free/libre software games generative gesture gift economy glitch global/ization hacktivism history hybrid hypermedia identity im/material image immersive installation interactive interdisciplinary interface intermedia intervention interview labor language lecture light live live cinema livestage locative media machinima mapping mashup media mobile motion tracking multimedia music narrative nature net art networked new media news nonlinear object open source p2p participatory perception performance physical place place-specific platform play political presence public public/private pyschogeography radio reblog recycle reenactment relational remix research responsive robotic second life semantic web simulation site-specific social social choreography social networks software sound space streaming surveillance synesthesia synthetic systems tactical tag tangible technology telematic text theater theory tool touch transdisciplinary tv ubiquitous unconference upgrade! urban video virtual visualization voice wearable web 2.0 webcam webcast wireless workshop writings

Archives

2014

Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2013

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2012

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2011

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2010

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2009

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2008

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2007

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2006

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2005

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul
Jun | May | Apr | Mar | Feb | Jan

2004

Dec | Nov | Oct | Sep | Aug | Jul

What is this?

Networked Performance (N_P) is a research blog that focuses on emerging network-enabled practice.
Read more...

RSS feeds

N_P offers several RSS feeds, either for specific tags or for all the posts. Click the top left RSS icon that appears on each page for its respective feed. What is an RSS feed?

Bloggers

F.Y.I.

Feed2Mobile
Networked
New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc.
New American Radio
Turbulence.org
Networked_Music_Review
Upgrade! Boston
Massachusetts Cultural Council
New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency
Thinking Blogger Award

Turbulence Works

These are some of the latest works commissioned by Turbulence.org's net art commission program.
A More Subtle Perplex A Temporary Memorial Project for Jobbers' Canyon Built with ConAgra Products ABSML Ars Virtua Artist-in-Residence (AVAIR) (2007) Awkward_NYC Bonding Energy Bronx Rhymes Cell Tagging (2006) Channel TWo: NY Condition:Used Constellation Over Playas Data Diaries Domain of Mount Greylock—Video Portal Eclipse Empire State Endgame: A Cold War Love Story by Tal Halpern From the Valley of the Deer FUJI spaces and other places by Nurit Bar-Shai Google Variations by Leonardo Solaas Gothamberg (2007) Grafik Dynamo (2005) Grow Old Handheld Histories as Hyper-Monuments (2007) html_butoh (2007) I am unable to tell you I'm Not Stalking You; I'm Socializing by Liz Filardi iLib Shakespeare (the perturbed sonnet project) INTERP Invisible Influenced by Will Pappenheimer and Chipp Jansen iPak - 10,000 songs, 10,000 images, 10,000 abuses by Ajaykumar iSkyTV Journal of Journal Performance Studies L-Carrier Les Belles Infidèles look art Lumens My Beating Blog (2006) MYPOCKET by Burak Arikan No Time Machine by Daniel C. Howe and Aya Karpinska Nothing Happens: a performance in three acts (2006) Nothing You Have Done Deserves Such Praise Oil Standard (2006) Panemoticon Peripheral n°2: KEYBOARD (2006) Playing Duchamp by Scott Kildall Plazaville Psychographics: Consumer Survey Recollecting Adams School of Perpetual Training Searching for Michelle/SFM Self-Portrait (2006) Shadow Play: Tales of Urbanization of China ShiftSpace Social Relay Mail Space Video Spectral Quartet Superfund365, A Site-A-Day (2007) This and that thought. Touching Gravity 2/Tilt Tumbarumba Tweet 4 Action Urban Attractors and Private Distractors (2007) We Ping Good Things To Life Wikireuse Without A Trace WoodEar Word Market Yeas and Nays You Don't Know Me [ openspace ] wilderness [meme.garden] (2006)
More commissions