Media Art

Growing Plants and Evolved Organics

In this last chapter we would like to treat a topic that substantially contributed to the development of this book: plants and organics in media art. With digital media the border between art and science is more and more indistinguishable. Artists develop solutions that contribute to the scientific discussion, they antic­ipate developments or take them up again in another context, they publish in scientific magazines, and merge their work with that of conventional scientists in research institutes.

In the following we want to present some exemplary work that appears espe­cially interesting within the context of our conception of nature and its replica­tion via the computer: Karl Sims, for example, uses evolutionary strategies for plant modeling in the animation Panspermia, in order to create through man­ual selection a large quantity of artificial plants. In connection with landscape design, a similar technology would be conceivable for generating variations in a population. With the later work “Virtual Creatures”, he developed a new field, so-called “Artificial Life”, for science. Bill Viola’s “Tree of Knowledge” touches upon the question of what is reality: a biologically impossible devel­opment of a tree is accepted by us as authentic, because it symbolizes our internal experiences of temporal developments. Christa Sommerer and Lau­rent Mignonneau offer with “Interactive Plant Growing” a symbol for natural interfaces, and, with their later work, they merge art and artificial life.

William Latham influenced the authors in a personal way. The book he wrote together with Stephen Todd “The Evolutionary Art of Computers”[219], in which they describe a system for the evolutionary development of organic forms, stimulated the idea for “Xfrog”, the modeling system developed by the authors. Xfrog builds on a self-designed programming language named “frog” (fine rule-based object generator); frog is the attempt to merge the structural power of the already-established L-systems with the algorithmic options of an object-oriented programming language.

Originally, only a picture series of three-dimensional organic columns was to be created. However, “The Evolutionary Art of Computers” motivated the au­thors to establish a defined set of algorithms, and to offer these to the user in the

Chapter 12 form of icons in the graphical modeling system Xfrog. Parts of the components

Media Art implemented in Xfrog were influenced by the functions “horn” and “branch”

that were described by Todd and Latham. What was developed by Latham out of artistic motivation is now used in modified form for the modeling of plants.