Hybrid Art Project Creates Symbiosis Between Plants and Computers

September 24, 2015 by

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Throughout much of history, art and science have co-existed in a symbiotic and synergistic relationship. Inquiry, experimentation, and observation lead to creative works in both the studio and the laboratory. A modern-day example of this melding of the two is Biomodd, a multifaceted socially engaged art installation which lives at the intersection of art, biology, and technology.

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A nomadic open source project conceived by Belgian biologist-turned-artist and Senior TED Fellow, Angelo Vermeulen, Biomodd explores meaningful relationships between biology, computers and people. “On the most basic level,” explains Vermeulen, “Biomodd creates symbiotic relationships between plants and computers, and ignites conversations among the community around them.”

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Algae, Computers, and Plant-Based Ecosystem
Bridging science and art, Vermeulen and fellow collaborators use algae to cool computer processors, allowing the machines to run faster, utilizing the heat generated by the computer’s electronics to create ideal growing conditions for a plant-based ecosystem.

This dynamic is the catalyst for co-creation efforts throughout the world between a core team composed of artists, biologists, computer scientists, game designers, gardeners, community organizers, and members of the local community in which the project is experienced.

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Multi-Faceted Collaborative and Co-creative Effort
Collaboration and co-creation, integral to the Biomodd project, functions on two levels. Teams work together yet every individual within the group is empowered to add something substantial to the work. The project begins with a solely conceptual focus, then grows organically from there then gets recreated in different locations throughout the world, each time with different people.

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Operating Beyond Boundaries of Contemporary Art
Biomodd’s primary inspiration and impetus, Case Modding–a practice where people modify their PCs into functional works of art–is, according to the artists, “an active and creative subculture which operates way beyond the boundaries of contemporary art.”

Biomodd explores this user-led modification concept from an artistic perspective, transforming electronic-based computer systems into plant-based ecosystems. Approaching the work as a form of “expanded sculpture,” they build structures which are both functioning computer and living sculptures, co-opting the computer’s functionality by recycling the heat it emits to create an ecosystem inside an electronic structure.

Biomodd-TUDelft-greenhouse_urbangardensweb Left. in Netherlands, TU Delft’s Faculty of Technology Policy and Management where Biomodd will be developed. Right: Botanical garden. Photo via Biomodd.

Gaming the Ecosystem
The gaming culture and digital games are integral to each Biomodd installation. Each exemplifies the social nature of gaming and game culture, functioning as a fully enabled gaming station for multi-player games.

From the Artist Statement:
“Biomodd was conceived to challenge presumed notions of opposition between nature and technology in different cultures throughout the world. In Biomodd, nature and technology are not juxtaposed but rather fused into imaginative hybrid installations. The core idea is the creation of experimental systems in which modified computer networks coexist with living ecosystems. The challenge is to bring biological life as physically close to the electronics as possible, and allow them to communicate with each other through meaningful symbiotic relationships.”

The Biomodd Conceptual Framework
Each project is predicated on a set of themes:
1. Symbiosis between biological and electronic systems.
2. E-waste and its creative reuse.
3. Case modding.
4. Digital games and gaming culture.
5. Juxtaposition of local and global.
6. Open sourcing.

The Biomodd Circuit
Biomodd debuted in Athens, Ohio in 2007, and various version of it have since traveled to the Philippines, Slovenia, New Zealand, Belgium, the Netherlands, New York, Germany, Kosovo, and now London. Biomodd [ATH1] in Athens, Ohio was built between September 2007 and January 2008, and was nominated for the Prix Ars Electronica Hybrid Art award in 2008. The more monumental second iteration, Biomodd [LBA2], was created in Los Baños, Philippines between February and October 2009 and was co-led by Angelo Vermeulen and Diego Maranan. In 2010, after completion of Biomodd [LBA2], Angelo was granted a TED Fellowship in part because of his work on the Biomodd series.

In 2011 during Biomodd [TUDelft3] in the Netherlands augmented reality was implemented for the first time by Pieter Steyaert. Introductory Biomodd workshops have been conducted in Sint-Niklaas (Belgium), Maribor (Slovenia), and New Plymouth (New Zealand). Independent Biomodd projects have been built in the Philippines and Slovenia – led by Al Librero, Maruša Novak and others. Currently a new full-scale Biomodd version is under development at NYSCI in New York City, and in 2014 Biomodd will set foot in London.

All photos via Biomodd.

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