Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life (MIT Press)
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Artificial life, or a-life, is an interdisciplinary science focused on artificial systems that mimic the properties of living systems. In the 1990s, new media artists began appropriating and adapting the techniques of a-life science to create a-life art; Mitchell Whitelaw's Metacreation is the first detailed critical account of this new field of creative practice.A-life art responds to the increasing technologization of living matter by creating works that seem to mutate, evolve, and respond with a life of their own. Pursuing a-life's promise of emergence, these artists produce not only artworks, but generative and creative processes: here creation becomes metacreation.Whitelaw presents a-life art practice through four of its characteristic techniques and tendencies. "Breeders" use artificial evolution to generate images and forms, in the process altering the artist's creative agency. "Cybernatures" form complex, interactive systems, drawing the audience into artificial ecosystems. Other artists work in "Hardware," adapting Rodney Brooks's "bottom-up" robotics to create embodied autonomous agencies. The "Abstract Machines" of a-life art de-emphasize the biological analogy, using techniques such as cellular automata to investigate pattern, form and morphogenesis.In the book's concluding chapters, Whitelaw surveys the theoretical discourses around a-life art, before finally examining emergence, a concept central to a-life, and key, it is argued, to a-life art.
equation, evaluated and displayed by the installation’s computer. When an image is selected by a visitor, its equation is randomly altered ﬁfteen times to produce a new set of equations and a new set of images. But metaphorically this is an image breeder, and its process is founded on analogies with genetics and evolution. The image’s equation is analogous to the genotype or genetic code, and the image itself corresponds to the phenotype or organism. In Genetic Images an image’s equation might be
selfreferential, Dawkins-inspired evocations of the power of evolution and the unstoppable (if accidental) emergence of form, richness, or beauty. In Rooke’s work those constructs are more diverse and multilayered; his personal mythology of image hyperspaces, Jungian archetypes, and immersive selﬂessness both feeds and is fed by the image-breeding process. This analysis began with an unpacking of a phrase of Latham’s advertising a commercial breeder/screen-saver “continually creating new
is multiplicitous, dynamic, embodied, and tightly linked to its environment (including its human audience). These works are more than artistic translations of bottom-up robotics, however; they explore this approach to artiﬁcial agency without regard for the goals of AI or a-life; they implement it in diﬀerent ways and to diﬀerent ends and incorporate it into their own distinctive conceptual and metaphorical mixtures. One of the most obvious ways in which these works vary Brooks’s robotics is
that draws the participants into the system, where they act together with artiﬁcial agencies. Vorn and Demers describe their works as reactive rather than interactive: “In the reactive model . . . the viewers do not gain control at their leisure and will over the self-steering system but, instead, inﬂuence the unfolding of high level events.”51 “In many ways,” they observe, “this communication scheme seems closer to the relationship between living organisms and their environment compared to the
Chapter 7 focuses on an elusive concept, emergence, which is at the core of both a-life science and a-life art practice. Emergence is the process by which complex systems seem to acquire new properties from one level of scale to another; centrally, how the complex interactions of inert matter at the microlevel give rise to life at the macrolevel. Emergence is central to a-life science’s interests and its claims to be lifelike; a-life art, too, it will be argued, aspires 21 Introduction that