Slime mould, books and artificial intelligence

The University of Brighton has played a pivotal role in the growth of slime mould for an innovative installation at the Brighton Digital Festival.

Digital artists Cesar Baio and Lucy HG Solomon – who form the collective Cesar & Lois with collaborator Jeremy Speed Schwartz – used the university’s microbiology laboratory to develop the Physarum polychephalum (slime mould) that features in their installation Degenerative Cultures, one element of the wider Uncommon Natures exhibition.

Cesar and Lucy worked closely with the University of Brighton’s Joao Inacio, a senior lecturer in pharmacy and biomolecular sciences, in the course of preparing their microbiological samples for the art display. Joao said: “It was really fun to meet and work with Cesar and Lucy in our lab.”

Uncommon Natures showcases the artists who are finalists of the Lumen Prize for Digital Art, which “celebrates the very best art created with technology”.

Jack Addis, creative director of Lumen Prize, said: “We’re excited to bring together this selection of shortlisted 2018 Lumen Prize artists and to celebrate artists working with a variety of media and mediums.”

The idea behind Degenerative Cultures, said Lucy, is to explore “how nature’s patterns and human behavioural patterns overlap”. She and Cesar have layered slime mould over physical books as well as using an artificial intelligence algorithm to develop a digital fungus that grows over online texts.

This setup allows the collective to “cross human knowledge with nature-based systems” and “blur the limits between biological and artificial intelligence”.

Ultimately, nature and culture destroy each other in the installation – the physical book is gradually consumed by the slime mould while the digital text is corrupted by the degenerative AI algorithm.

Cesar described this technology as “a digital fungus that searches the Internet in order to find and express the patterns in texts on humanity’s nature”.

He added: “The project’s overall premise is philosophical: we want to draw on nature’s knowledge and challenge an historical trajectory of societal exploitation of nature.”

Lucy said: “We got interested in fungi and the networking capacity of spores, and this got us thinking about the potential for crossing these systems of communication.

“We want to play with microbiological cultures in a way that makes us rethink these very old concepts of how humanity and nature relate to each other.”

Uncommon Natures is curated by Laurence Hill, director of Brighton Digital Festival, and held at the Phoenix Brighton gallery.

It is open to the public from the festival launch party from 6pm to 9pm on Thursday, September 13, and then from 11am to 5pm, from Friday, September 14 until Sunday, September 23.

For more information about Degenerative Cultures.

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