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Everything is Everything (The Experiential Continuum)
By Duncan Paterson

A generative look at the processes and chemicals common across all living things.


Everything is Everything (The Experiential Continuum)

I wanted to create three scenes to express my impressions of two lectures I heard at Goldsmiths in my first term. The first was ‘The Experiential Continuum: From Plant Sentience to Human Consciousness’ by Professor Alfredo Pereira Jr, which explained how certain forms of sentience are exhibited by all living things, including plants.

The second was ‘Kraken? AI, Octopuses and Alien Intelligence’ by Etic Labs and artist 0rphan Drift exploring Cephalopod Intelligence - where they explained how their collaborative project aimed to address human exceptionalism and how it limits understanding of ourselves in relation to other life forms.

So I decided to make my scenes for the projection mapping project an exploration of this continuum - the anti-anthropocentrist idea that sentience isn’t an exclusively human trait, but instead found throughout the world, sometimes in unexpected places.

Additionally, the aesthetics of the project were inspired by how different chemical elements (and their flame-test colours) were used by different forms of life: iron (red) in humans, potassium (blue) in plants and copper (green/blue) in cephalopods. 

1.  Human respiration. Element: Iron

To introduce the piece, I made a simple form, animated to illustrate human respiration. It beats/breathes at a slow rate to draw the viewer in. Also, It gives a sort of metabolic life to the cube, a thought inspired by the flat ontology I encountered in Alien Phenomenology, by Ian Bogost.

2. Octopus blood cells. Element: Copper

An octopus has three hearts and green/ blue blood: that’s because it’s based around copper (instead of the iron which gives human blood its red colour). So I made a generative piece to show this alien respiration in action. So my second scene celebrates the alienness of the cephalopod with mesmeric, flowing copper blood. The form and motion of the cells also suggest the suckers they use to explore their environment.

3. The Ionic wave in a leaf. Element: Potassium

Plants have sentience. They react to stimuli (such as the footfall of a predatory caterpillar) and transmit messages around their leaves and stems, allowing them to take defensive action. One method they use to transmit signals is via ionic waves. 

“Potassium channels have a tetrameric structure in which four identical protein subunits associate to form a fourfold symmetric (C4) complex arranged around a central ion conducting pore.”  Doyle et al. (April 1998). "The structure of the potassium channel: Science. 280 (5360): 69–77

So to illustrate this process, I used a simple, expanding fractal shape (a square), to slowly unfold, as the ionic wave transmits its message.

The shape:

I joined the ‘Tilted Cube’ group, as the simplicity of the shape appealed to me and allowed a good screen-size for the abstract patterns that I had in mind. I was fortunate with my choice of group, as they were supportive and helpful during the construction and projection. 


References and Reading:

‘The Experiential Continuum: From Plant Sentience to Human Consciousness’ Professor Alfredo Pereira Jr, Whitehead Lecture at Goldsmiths, Oct 2019.

Kraken?: AI, Octopuses and Alien Intelligence, Lecture  by Etic Labs & 0rphan Drift at Goldsmiths, Oct 2019

Other Minds, by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, by Ian Bogost


Code Inspiration

1. Iron: I used a simple sine wave function to animate the 'breathing' circle, something we covered in Week 06 of Programming for Artists and Designers.

2. Copper: I based this animation on a variation of the 'Magnetic Grid' that we covered in our generative art lesson in Workshops in Creative Coding. I changed the particles so they looked like green/blue 'blood cells' and animated them so that they formed concentric circles moving both inwards and outwards, also looking a little lick octopus suckers.

3. Potassium: I created a function to make a simple, rotating fractal 'arm', so slowly spread over the cube like an ionic plant wave spreads through a plant. NB: here I was inspired by the Nature of Code by Schiffman, and after researching simple fractals I based the code on an algorithm from Rodrigo Batista de Moraes on, but I have changed and adapted it to make it generative and representative of the process I want to represent here, the slow spread of potassium ions throughout a leaf.