short clip from the ORF-Documentary about Prix Ars Electronica 1994 showing the project "A-Volve" by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau which was awarded with the Golden Nica for Interactive Art. (more info at aec.at)

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The viewer of "A-Volve" by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau cannot only create an artificial creature but can also try and catch these jellyfish like organisms or merge them.

"A-Volve" is an interactive environment where visitors interact with virtual organisms in the real space of a water filled glass pool. By drawing the profile and shape of any possible form with a sensor pencil onto a monitor screen, visitors will create three-dimensional organisms. These organisms will be transferred and displayed simultaneously as three-dimensional creatures in the water of the pool.

By using a special editor, the visitors can create any kind of form with the drawing pencil; and change and modify it in real time. The three-dimensional forms will immediately be "alive" and will move and swim in the water of the pool. These virtual creatures are products of the rules of evolution, they are influenced by human creation and decision. They are sensitive to the viewer's hand movements in the water; they react according to the viewer's behaviour; the viewer can catch them, modify their forms and communicate with them in real time. If the viewer "touches" a creature, it will avoid the viewer's hand and try to flee, or sometimes it will come back to the viewer in order to "play" with him or her.

The movements and behaviour of the organisms will depend mainly on their forms, on how the viewer has designed them on the drawing screen. Each creature moves, reacts and evolves according to its form, creating unpredictable and always new life-like behaviour. Since these organisms will capture the slightest movement of the viewer's hand in the water, the form and behaviour of these organisms will change constantly.

Specific algorithms developed by Mignonneau & Sommerer ensure that these creatures move very smoothly and animal-like, by changing and re-calculating their forms in real time. None of the forms are pre-calculated, they are all "born" in real time by visitor design and achieve their behaviour through their movement in the environment of the real water. If nobody is creating any forms or interacting with them, the creatures will die and disappear. These living and reacting organisms will also interact with other organisms in the pool, which have been created by previous visitors.

In order to bring about the "birth" of a new organism, visitors try to bring two creatures of their choice together. With the movements of their hands in the water, visitors can "merge" two organisms by trying to bring them close to each other. As soon as this succeeds, a new organism will be born. It carries the characteristic look of both parents. This new creature will now also live in the pool and interact with its environment; it will be ready to merge and interact with other forms. Human decision in the creation of a new form and the rules of evolution and selection will create an environment that is open to all possible modifications and selections, following the laws of evolution and creation. The visitor is part of the evolutionary system, she / he is a partner of the virtual organisms and gives them their "artificial life".

"A-Volve" is a pool of artificially living creatures that are open to outside influences by reacting to and interacting with their "natural" and "artificial" environments. "A-Volve" reduces the borders between real and unreal, by connecting reality to "non-reality". Water as the metaphor for birth and basic evolution is the medium for this artificial life "pool" that is open to its real environment.

Both installations reveal our perception of reality by interpolating between both constitutions of environments ("real" versus "unreal"). Complex natural interfaces (like plants or water) provide a new approach to our way of perception, by asking the question: "What is Life?" Complex systems like "human and plants" and "human and animal-like creatures" are connected through living interfaces, producing a complex system of an "artificial biotope" that represents the interaction between visitors and their environment.

Another important aspect of this work is the issue of individuality as a main constituent of life. "A-Volve" connects the individuality of the visitors to the individuality of the artificial creatures, creating a pool of artificial individuals that represent a complex system of interactions. The individuality of the virtual creatures, so to speak, is a direct interpretation of the relationship between visitors and their perception of artificial reality.

The creatures always be different, depending on how the visitors create them and how they play with them. The direct and simultaneous communications between creatures and visitors through the water creates a pool that could be considered as a "living system" itself.

Since several visitors can interact at the same time with the different organisms, visitors themselves will also interact with each other. One person at a time can use the drawing device to create a new form, but at the same time the other people can interact with the creatures in the pool.

Technical Background
HW: SGI Onyx Reality Engine
SW: A-Volve by the Authors

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