Paul Smith: biomes

  • ©, Vicky Isley and Paul Smith






    Computational time-based image


    22" x 22" x 6"


Artist Statement:

    Vicky Isley and Paul Smith, collaborating as boredomresearch, build observable phenomena of intrigue and beauty, using techniques similar to those used by scientists to understand the natural world. In their systems, the sensation or illusion of life is their key interest rather than a desire to recreate life itself.

    The biome works were developed after extensive research into com­putational models used in the study of artificial life. The artists’ desire is to implement these techniques in a way that explores properties present in natural systems. They are interested in the diversity of form and pattern that appear in natural systems, and how a similar diversity can be produced using simple rules.

    In the biome works, the bodies that inhabit their space appear as both machine and organism. boredomresearch often think of these artifacts as biological timepieces built with the production values of early watchmakers whose skills were translated to the creation of automata (mechanical life like forms driven by cogs). Here these intricacies of engineering are translated to the computer with the tiny cogs and chains replaced by computational mechanisms.

    Since 2003, boredomresearch have been developing the relationship between their computational work and the viewer. The biomes are presented in the form of an object where the screen is visible through a circular lens that has a foreshortening effect, bringing the image surface level with the surrounding frame to subtlely but profoundly change the viewing experience. In this form, the work is experienced intimately because only a few people can view a biome at one time.

Technical Information:

    A biome’s small circular window looks in on a vast sealed universe in which you see a number of intricately patterned bodies going about their business. Observing at length, you see an almost unlimited di­versity of form, colour, and pattern, as these creature-like machines enter and leave the viewable area.

    The biome machines generate their own markings using a pattern generator based on simple rules. Each biome is running the same software, but since the machines are generative, each system evolves differently. The patterns have been slowly increasing in com­plexity since they were launched in April 2005. This visual complexity is augmented by a component of the program that acts like a virus, seeking out machines lacking complexity and forcing them to reload their pattern generator.

    Each machine has a library of vocal calls that accompany certain behaviours or interactions with other machines. These are only heard when the machine is near the viewable area. One machine in par­ticular sometimes makes a dramatic appearance, flashing a bright light on a protrusion similar to that of a lantern fish. The flashes are accompanied by the sound of an explosive electrical discharge, and many other machines react defensively.