Carlos Castellanos and Steven J Barnes will be showing their project Biopoiesis at this year’s VMMF. They are members of Dprime Research and Carlos is a graduate student at SFU’s School of Interactive Art and Technology. You can see Biopoiesis at the SFU booth, or check it out June 5-10 during an interactive exhibition at Gallery Gachet.
Biopoiesis is an electrical device that grows its own wires. Before I saw it in the gallery I didn’t even know that was possible. Can you tell us more about how it works and where the idea came from?
The project is based on cyberneticist Gordon Pask’s work in the 1950s on electrochemical computational devices [in electrochemical solutions electricity causes a chemical reaction]. In Biopoesis, the solution is held between two plates of glass with wires running into it. When we send electricity into it, the solution grows its own wires, or “threads” as we often call them.
The threads are made of conductive crystal structures and they grow unpredictably, but we can make them react to their surroundings by hooking the wires up to a sensor, like a microphone. So in Biopoiesis, the threads are capturing information about their environment in the way they grow. We’re also recording the growth of the threads with a video camera and using that to alter the electricity going into the solution. This is a classic cybernetic feedback loop, the threads grow based on electricity in the wires, and the electricity in the wires is altered based on how the threads grow.
The project is part of an exhibition called Proof-of-Process where visitors can interact with and change the work on display. What led you to organize a show like that?
Much of interactive or new media art is what they call “process-based”; the work is often characterized by continuous prototyping and testing. Typically the artist creates several pieces that explore a central concept, and then displays them in an exhibit.
We wanted to open that process up. Basically reversing the standard gallery exhibit, where you see the finished product but not all of the work that went into it. This is pretty common in the art world these days, and this is just our particular take on it. When we started DPrime Research we wanted to try and make interesting/weird art-science projects but also bring them and the ideas surrounding them “down to earth”. So there is this tension between our complicated ideas and theories and this sort of community-based, open-sourcing of the work, where people can come and change the art without knowing all the theory behind it. I think having that unresolved tension can be good.
I’ve often heard members of local makerspaces talk about how diverse the maker community is, and the School of Interactive Arts and Technology is an interdisciplinary department. Has working with people from different backgrounds had an impact on your art?
I think it has but probably not in the way I may have imagined. I should say that my background is originally in music, I never really wanted to be an “artist” in the stereotypical sense. And I have always been interested in technology. Being at SIAT is probably what got me interested in alternative modes of computation like Biopoiesis. It’s like I said to myself, “everyone else is coding all the time, let me try and NOT do that”.
What’s your favorite part of the project so far?
It’s open-endedness. All of the projects in Proof-of-Process can be configured in so many different ways. We are really looking forward to others coming in with their ideas. I’m sure they will come up with things we never would have thought of.