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Pink Semolina by Joseph Rodrigues Marsh


It sat in my dish, glistening under the strip lighting of the assembly hall. A skin was slowly forming on its surface. I rest my crooked spoon on the film, being careful not to tear it and interrupt the surface tension. The skin bulged around the pressure of my cutlery, undulating as its innards recoiled from the point of pressure, becoming more bulbous on the opposite side. As I moved my spoon, its form would change. The warm fluid was perfectly encapsulated within and I was cautious not to interrupt this delicate balance.

I heard her from the other side of the assembly hall, wailing. Its unnatural form had upset her. Why didn’t she feel what I felt? The colour is what repulsed her I think. Her familiarity with its usual anaemic beige was at odds with the vibrant pink. I would never be allowed to eat something this colour at home. 

I didn’t want to taste it. Its taste could not do its form any justice. But I tried it anyway. I applied pressure with the back of my spoon. The skin became taught as the fluid bulged around the spoon, enveloping it. At last, the skin pierced, the magenta liquid flowed, an eruption, now free from its enclosure. I tasted it and it was bland. I had expected a sickly sweetness. I had assumed it would be smooth, but there were lumps, so many lumps like tumours, which were however a welcome addition to the texture. It coated my tongue, feeling like it would stay forever.

As she was ushered away from the dining hall, I wondered what would happen to her pudding? What if I were to combine it with mine? What shape would it take? Would they flow together forming a homogenous whole or would they retain their own forms? Would it become one pudding or two individual puddings in the same bowl? The dinner lady took her tray and the pudding disappeared behind the swinging double doors of the forbidden kitchen.


This experience has stayed with me. Why was she so repulsed? The colour the semolina took contrasted dramatically with her understanding, yet to me it was fascinating. This experience informed my fascination with simulation, and the aim of this report is to explore how a perceivers affordance of a material can inform and dictate their interpretations. Through exploring simulation in its various forms, from a scientific tool to a means of play, I will also present various digital artefacts as means to examine the relationship between the sign and the signifier, with an intention of purposefully confusing the two, to explore further the basic human understanding of simulation.

These artefacts have been created with the purpose of being real in effect, but not in fact. [0] My intention is that while they can be perceived, they cannot necessarily be physically understood, appearing to capture reality in all its minutiae, but in reality capturing none, a reality of another order, a hyperreality [1].

When considering the qualities of an object, and specifically of the primary, we refer to the those which are true in the external world. Size, shape, rigidity and other physical properties which denote its place in the physical world. When discussing secondary qualities, we refer to aspects of an object that are ‘psychic additions’[2]. This is explored in detail in ‘Nature as Event: The Lure of the Possible’, where author Didier Debaise investigates Locke’s ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding’. Locke writes on secondary qualities;

“The power to produce various sensations in us by their primary qualities.” [3]

It is this relationship that will be explored through the creation of three artefacts, by giving the secondary qualities of soft materials and liquids precedence. The aim is to focus on what is felt about a material, to question our understanding of its primary quality.

In the early 1960’s, Norwegian scientists Ole-Johan Dahl and Kristen Nygaard developed a programming language for simulating discrete event systems. The language was named Simula, and introduced concepts that would become the basis of object-oriented programming, objects, classes, subclasses and coroutines. Their intention was to create a language that allowed them the ability to digitise processes found in the real world. To make visible the unknown in order to examine and investigate real world processes, and to virtually model scenarios that could then be translated back into the real world. [4]


This scientific approach set the tone for modern simulations, from fluid dynamics to soft-body animations, but my interest in simulation lies in how these original concepts developed into a form of play and a tool for creating art. 

Artefact 01 'dip'

“Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is a generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.”

In ‘Simulation and Simulacra’, Jean Baudrillard defines hyperreality as "the generation by models of a real without origin or reality" [6]. Baudrillard posits that hyperreality is a social reality in which reality is created from a reference to what is felt. It is experienced as more real than the real, because of its effect in breaking down the boundary between real and imaginary, the primary and the secondary.

In order to represent something that is real, it must ‘feel’ real. The artefacts aim to confuse the sign, be it a three-dimensional plane, with what it signifies, the fluid behaviour of water or a fluid with a higher viscosity. In the creation of this particular artefact, materials and objects with referential substance, a swimming pool and ladder referencing their real-world counterparts, exhibit new and unfamiliar qualities, a manifestation of Baudrillard’s concept of the ‘more real’. The fluid loops unnaturally, demonstrating a predictable repetition not found in nature. By harnessing the transformative potential of computation, a model has been created that has referential value, but that demonstrates a real without origin or reality.

What struck me most about the semolina incident is the visceral sensations that were felt. The urge to touch and interfere with its physical properties were overwhelming. While a child playing with their food is not an uncommon occurrence and could in part be attributed to childlike wonder and intrigue, the unnatural properties of the semolina made this experience unique. It is from this experience that I encourage the viewer to consider what it would be like to interfere with the artefact. How would it feel? How would it taste? 

Artefact 02 'softroom'

These artefacts aim to invite the viewer to reach into the screen to touch the objects, to be present within this simulated reality in order to fully connect. In combining hard lines with surfaces that appear soft to the touch, the viewer is encouraged to question their own affordances of what they know about real-world physical environments. This engagement forces the viewer to question what is real through making this simulated space more real than the real. The voluptuous forms created by the fluid-like material creates a viscerality, what would this fluid feel like, and how much of what is expected or deemed to be, is informed by our affordances of the external world? Through presenting these artefacts in a virtual space, entirely separate from the real, we are able to virtually touch the surface, creating a new experience that is unique to our real-world understandings. It is through this process that we may be able to question how much of what we understand about the world is based in experience, and how much of what we know is borne from a simulated understanding.

This illusion of reality extends into the realm of virtual reality. Virtual reality can be considered as a symbolic form of visual language, based on the direct visual language of the real, but at what point does this distinction become blurred and the reality of the virtual become indistinguishable from the language of reality? It can be said that there is there a comfort to be found from knowing things are not real and finding freedom from that knowledge. The lack of pressure from the restrictions of reality holding back what can be felt and what can be understood.

This also poses a question about physics simulations in virtual worlds. The physics environment within a video game for example, is merely a machinic representation of natural forces represented through code. These systems are not always able to fully replicate the external world, with errors and glitches manifesting in various ways, from the humorous to the horrifying. But what causes us to interpret them as such? To what lengths could they be perceived as real and where is the boundary drawn? If a life were lived exclusively in a virtual reality, inhabiting a space which was purely simulated, these would feel as real to the occupant as gravity is felt in the external world.

Artefact 03 'sandpit'

Human life and culture is littered with artificially simulated spaces, and with this artefact, the intention was to create a simulated space of play that echoes a real-world controllable environment, a sand pit. The sand undulates and ripples as if it were a fluid, despite our understanding being that it should be made of many granular particles, demonstrating emergent behaviours rather than the deterministic behaviour exhibited here.

Simulation is common theme in video gaming and various forms of play. In liminal gaming, childlike roleplaying or constructing new worlds using Lego is a ubiquitous exercise among children. Basic understandings of real-world functions are built from children’s interactions with objects of play in their formative years. In video gaming, games like Sim City epitomise this sandbox nature of simulation, with players creating emergent systems and allowing them to grow, or crumble, all under their control [7]. Massively Multiplayer Online games such as World of Warcraft allow players to simulate a social space, where human and non-human interactions alike are partaken purely over the network.

There is also the question of machine seeing. What the viewer is presented with is merely the renderer’s interpretation of the artefact. An approximation, a marching through of each photon, each beam of light, each particle existing within the virtual space created by each artefact. It begs the question, how much of what we know is informed by machinic rendering processes such as these? Images presented in all forms of media do not necessarily represent the moment captured, for example the ‘photoshop effect’, which falsifies what it means to be seen or understood. Images shown in the news media of world events occurring can shape our understanding of the world and can be represented in various ways to push the authors own narrative. 

In cinema however, virtual reality and visual effects solve real world photographic problems, and the viewer has no problem suspending their disbelief in order to be immersed. This willing suspension of disbelief only serves to reinforce the nature of hyperreality. This is reinforced by a viewer’s affordance, they see characters with traits they recognise, relatable characters interacting in the virtual space just as they believe they would in real life. This is of course the intent of the filmmaker. It is essential the character ‘feels’ real, else the audience’s illusion of reality will be broken, exposing the viewer to ‘the uncanny valley’, where what the viewer sees is familiar yet unfamiliar, causing a repulsion. The very nature of filmmaking is unnatural. Many, many takes are filmed and re-filmed, audio re-recorded, and Foley sounds added. It is not uncommon that by the time a film reaches the viewer, almost nothing present in the scene existed when the moment was captured.

The simulated world is one based in fact and in reality, as well as one in which we use as a means to better understand phenomena and the unseen. Yet it is interesting to explore the relationship between what is known and what is felt to make visible our understanding of the world. To question what it is we believe we know in order to comprehend our relationship with reality. Through the creation of these three artefacts, there is potential to expose our relationship between the seen and the felt, which allows us to question what we know and how we feel. By purposefully confusing what is known of the primary qualities of an object and what we believe to be the secondary qualities, we are able to question the formation of our knowing.



0. Heim, M. (1993). The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. New York: Oxford University Press.

1. Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

2. Debaise, D. (2017). Nature as Event: The Lure of the Possible. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

3. Locke, J. (1690)(1997). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book II: Ideas. London: Penguin Books.

4. Gaboury, J. (2012). Image Objects: Computer Graphics and Object Orientation. APRJA Volume 1, Issue 2.

5. Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

6. Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press

7. Friedman, T. (1999). The Semiotics of SimCity. First Monday: Volume 4, Number 4