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Duncan Paterson

I wanted to build on the work I've been doing for my Research & Theory project - using the critical theory of Multispecies Storytelling to investigate what it’s like to be an Octopus.

In particular, I’m interested in the fact that their intelligence (and they are very intelligent) is not centralised like a human brain - but distributed across their bodies, so that they in effect have 9 separate brains, one in each tentacle and one in the animal’s head. These brains sometimes act independently and sometimes co-ordinate as one. 

My idea

I wanted to create a projection of a generative art programme and make it interactive, creating 9 abstract shapes (each representing a ‘brain’), each one can be seen moving independently, but sometimes co-ordinating with some, or all, of the others. I wanted the movement and shapes to be based on sine waves and a noise function, to give a natural, organic feel - with rotations added to give a fluid feel, as if the shapes were in water.

I also wanted to add interactivity, so that the shapes would sense the viewers presence and ‘reach out’ towards them, in an exploratory gesture, and follow their movements. This thought is inspired by a ‘first contact’ moment that one of my artist-collaborators had: they reached out their hand towards an octopus, who in turn slowly extended one of its arms to meet them.


First I wrote code for the generative art visuals. I tries for a long time to create nine ‘flocks’ based on code from Dan Schiffman’s ‘The Nature of Code’, but abandoned this after many experiments. Instead, I used a random noise function to control and draw the nine shapes, inspired by code from 

The I added interactivity. I tried experimenting with a Kinect camera, but again had to abandon these attempts. Instead I used the Optical Flow  method we explored in Week 13 of Workshops in Creative Coding.

I wanted to get it working with a projector, but having no lab access during the lockdown, I’ve instead used my laptop.

Self-assessment: What could I have done differently to improve the piece?

I think I could have produced a better work in many ways: a depth camera would certainly make the viewer feel more involved and it’s something I intend to work on over the summer. Also, I’m not really pleased with the graphics, they look a little primitive. I think it would be much improved if I could manage my plan for 9 independently moving ‘flocks’ of boids. I think the piece would be more effective using a projector, again something I hope to try in the future. Finally, the code isn’t compiling well, and runs really slowly, (I had to maipulate the video to account for this), so I would look into how to improve this.


Bogost, I. (2012) Alien Phenomenology, Or, What It's Like to be a Thing. University of Minnesota Press.

Godfrey-Smith, P. (2017) Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Haraway, D. (2016) Staying With The Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham and London: Duke University Press Books.

Code references

Junki Yoshi:

Theo Papatheodorou: Optical Flow, Workshops in Creative Coding 2