Interactive installation • 2004-2012
Evolutionary ecosystem, 6m x 6m, custom software, translucent screens, 4-channel sound, fog machine
Inspired by time spent in Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia, Eden is a virtual ecosystem that evolves and learns in response to audience behaviour.
Eden’s artificial creatures roam a two-dimensional electronic world, which contains only food (an energy resource) and rocks (offering protection and shelter). Everything operates according to a minimal physics based on studies of ecosystem dynamics. The creatures have an artificial intelligence system that enables them to learn and adapt to their environment. They can move, mate, fight, eat, and importantly make and hear sound within the virtual environment. All the sounds heard from the installation are generated by the creatures as they move about their environment, trying to survive. Over time the creatures evolve, become more intelligent, quickly learning tasks such as searching for food, calling their kin and avoiding obstacles.
The growth of food needed for the creature’s survival is determined by seasonal variation and human presence. Some creatures evolve a strategy of hibernation during the winter months to save energy, only to become active in spring and summer when the food supply is more plentiful. One year in Eden time passes by in about 15 minutes of real time.
What is surprising is the diversity of behaviours that emerge during different runs of the system; the creatures become amazingly adept at finding ways to survive in the Eden world.
The installation consists of two floating, translucent screens arranged in an ‘X’ shape. Video projections display different parts of the world on each screen. As the screens are translucent, the creatures appear to float in front of the viewer creating the illusion of a complex, layered space, one that blurs the distinction between real and virtual. This is further enhanced through the use of a fog machine to attenuate the three-dimensional quality of the projections. A four channel sound system spatialises sound generated by the creatures in real time.
A literal representation of a biological ecosystem is deliberately avoided. Rather, abstract graphic representations of the creatures and their virtual landscape are used. These representations, based on mathematical tiling patterns, are reminiscent of an abstract landscape or dynamic ‘codespace’ of artificial life. Multiple speakers allow the human audience to hear the sounds being made by the artificial creatures nearest their position.
A real-time video processing system detects human presence within the installation space. The video system is not visible when experiencing the work. The presence and movement of people experiencing the work are linked to the production of food within the Eden world. The more people are interested in the work, the more food is produced for the creatures to eat and hence, to survive. If nobody visits the installation, the food supply eventually dries up and all the creatures die. To avoid this problem, over time the creatures learn to make interesting sounds to keep people in the installation space and more interested in the work. The creatures have no knowledge of people, they simply learn that by making interesting sounds, their food supply will increase, hence they will survive longer and reproduce more successfully. A symbiotic relation between artwork and audience evolves as the work develops over days and weeks.
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