Panel: Embodiment and Evolution

Jondi Keane, Art and the Realization of Living

Descriptions of life in the sciences, through experimentation and observation, may provide an accurate snapshot of ‘what a body is’. For artists, these snapshots are a seductive challenge to experiment with what a ‘body can be’. In this paper I will address the ways in which artwork and art processes perform and contribute to the understanding of the enactive approach to cognition.

Darwin ‘s (1859) pre-adaption, reframed by Gould and Vrba (1982) as expaption and Kauffman’s (2000) autocatalysis and adjacent possible will be used to discuss experimentation in Art that deploy James’s radical empiricism (experiences are themselves experiencable) and affordances that can themselves become affordances (Post–Gibson). Examples drawn from the sciences (Gallese, 2011, cognitive reuse; Bach-y-Rita, 1972, sensory substitution; the case of de-afferent Ian Waterman) will be discussed alongside selected artworks that explore this exaptive potential. In particular, the works of Arakawa and Gins (2002) and their procedural approach offer insights into using the built-environment as research devices for asking questions in a 360degree body-wide fashion.

Art can be positioned as a space for 1:1 scale experimentations on life, offering opportunities to build the conditions that challenge automatic perceptual and conceptual modes of processing. The experiential prompts within artworks enable the distinctions between organism-person-environment to be reconfigured, inviting daily research and collective devising. The key proposition for this paper is: Art prompts and primes the reconfiguration of boundary identities across organism-person-environment to bring the higher levels of expanded and social cognition to bear upon processes of selection and self-organization.

These re-orientations of thought, feeling and making, expand the concerns of art to address the collective capacity and interaction of processes required for “the realization of living” (Maturana and Varela 1980).

Margaret Wertheim, Art as Embodied Evolution telepresentation

As Varella and Maturana have noted, “life” is characterized by its dynamic, autopoetic qualities. The totality of life on Earth constitutes a planetary-wide body that continually morphs and self-generates in time. Just as living systems are inherently process-oriented, so in the art+science practice I have developed over the past decade at the Institute For Figuring, a primary concern has been to produce aesthetic projects which evolve through dynamic embodied engagement brought about by communities of people. The artworks we create at the IFF – such as our Crochet Coral Reef and our fractal origami projects – all begin from humble material seeds (a crochet hook and a ball of yarn, or a stack of business cards), whose structures are allowed to evolve under the influence of simple algorithms enacted by many participating contributors. Our Crochet Coral Reef has now engaged nearly ten thousand women in a dozen countries on five continents and constitutes one of the largest, longest-running participatory art+science endeavors in the world. These projects are open-ended experiments in which surprisingly complex forms emerge, demonstrating through material craft practice insights of complexity theory that now inform our thinking about life. Here, acts of making become the driver for vast unexpected taxonomies of form that parallel the development of life itself and which collectively constitute bodies of knowledge realized in mediums such as yarn. In this talk I will discuss the IFF’s practice at the intersection of art, science and craft, with particular attention to the interplay between material and form that begins to develop when one opens up a project to the generative space of community engagement.

Christine Wertheim, Transformative Structures

Craft practices are the original digital technologies, literally performing with our digits complex algorithms embodied in knitting patterns and other notational systems. This talk focuses on the evolution of algorithmically structured digital crafts, contextualizing these within contemporary understandings of mathematics, and considering its manifestation in various materials including Jacquard weaving, pre-transistor ‘core memory’, and Crochet Coral Reefs. The talk draws on the thoughts of Charles Sanders Pierce, recent work in the philosophy of mathematics by Fernando Zalamea, and current feminist theories of embodiment.

Takashi Ikegami and Victoria Vesna, Bird Song Diamond installation in Large Space

We will present and discuss our collaborative work based on the interactive installation Bird Song Diamond. This installation integrates evolutionary biology, artificial life, spatial sound, mechatronic art and interactive technologies. The BSD interactive installation design is based on the patterns of communication within the spatial networks of birds in nature initiated by Dr. Charles Taylor, ecological biologist at UCLA.

The BSD installation was constructed for the Empowerment Informatics Virtual Reality Space in collaboration with Dr. Hiroo Iwata at Tsukuba university (dimensions are 18 (m) width, 9 (m) depth and 7.4 m height) at the University of Tsukuba. Participants can enter the 3D stereoscopic projection of an artificially programmed flock of birds called boids model. Parametric surround sound pointed at specific quadrants of the space also allude at the reality of the experience coordinated with the passing of the virtual flock.

Participants are also invited to fly inside the space utilizing a harness that lifts the person based on the flapping of wings we provide for them. They have markers that track the position of each participant allowing them to interact with the virtual environment and become part of the flock. During the demonstration, participants were lifted and suspended in mid-air using the motion base and at the end of each show, he landed on the ground quietly where a diamond crystalizes from there. A tracking system consisting of twenty ceiling cameras were used to track the positions of program participants. The EMP Large Space is suitable for making larger immersive display with respect to effective screen volume.

Our contribution to the panel, we will be to discuss the advantageous of cross-disciplinary collaboration based on the experience of the BSD installation in relation to embodied and enactive theories of cognition and their implications for understanding evolutionary processes.