A DIGITAL ORGANISM

WERC created a digital organism, inspired by the complex patterns that exist in nature, such as flocks of birds and schools of fish. With Pixi, WERC wants to find out whether a technical natural phenomenon can imitate the complex aesthetics of nature, and whether the installation can interact with that nature. The Pixi was designed to be self-sufficient; able to survive in a natural environment. Pixies make their own choices, but they are also influenced by environmental factors from nature. Each Pixi contains a pulsating light. When we observe only a handful of Pixies, there are no discernible behavioural patterns. However, when we step back and look at them from a distance, the connections in the flock become clear and visible. A group intelligence arises that is greater than the sum of its parts.

ARTIST STATEMENT


WERC created a digital organism, inspired by the complex patterns that exist in nature, such as flocks of birds and schools of fish. With Pixi, WERC wants to find out whether a technical natural phenomenon can imitate the complex aesthetics of nature, and whether the installation can interact with that nature. The Pixi was designed to be self-sufficient; able to survive in a natural environment. Pixies make their own choices, but they are also influenced by environmental factors from nature. Each Pixi contains a pulsating light. When we observe only a handful of Pixies, there are no discernible behavioural patterns. However, when we step back and look at them from a distance, the connections in the flock become clear and visible. A group intelligence arises that is greater than the sum of its parts.


PIXI PATTERNS AND BEHAVIOUR

The Pixi was developed as a single individual and then reproduced. The more organisms are added to the flock, the more complex the patterns become, and the more intelligently the organism communicates and collaborates. This creates a lively network of feedback that is reminiscent of a neural net. The Pixi flock does not show a pre-programmed pattern. The shapes, directions, and colours are decided by the group as they pass signals on to each other. The Pixi’s brain is a microprocessor containing behavioural rules, the bases of which are identical. The behaviour dictates how often, how fast, and to how many other Pixies a message should be sent. When a Pixi receives a message, it interprets this and then sends it on. When a Pixi hasn’t received a message for some time, it will initiate contact on its own. By having the behavioural rules executed locally and in multitudes, complex images arise.

WERC makes the organism do the work by very quickly and very precisely repeating simple rules until they form complex images. WERC then assesses these images and adjusts them. Inputting variables into these rules creates an infinite number of combinations. WERC enjoys relinquishing control and letting unpredictability develop. WERC no longer makes any decisions; they simply provide the framework within which the Pixies are free to move. Fascinated by biology and technology, WERC has tried to create a life form that has a close relationship with both its own kind and its environment.


ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCE

Nature plays host to the installation. Nature becomes part of the design process due to visitors and other, ever-changing environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity. This creates a symbiosis between digital technology and nature. Because of this, the Pixi adopts location-specific behaviour. Pixies communicate wirelessly with each other, over radio waves. This communication is visualised by the duration, intensity, speed, and colour of the light. This gives rise to flock-inspired patterns and movements.


CREATING THE PIXI

The Pixies have a battery that provides sufficient energy for them to work during the autumn and winter months. They sleep during the day, waking up at night whenever a visitor takes a Pixi lantern into the forest. When a Pixi’s energy levels drop, it will become less active. The imitation of nature is also visible in the shape of the casing. The variable of this shape was generated by Pixi itself, and then created using a computerised cutter. Just like other organisms, the Pixies have similar characteristics. When you look closely, however, you’ll see that no two Pixies are exactly the same. The casing is made of wood; a natural product that fits perfectly within the environment.


STAATSBOSBEHEER

Staatsbosbeheer manages the Netherlands’ green heritage; 265,000 ha of protected nature that needs to be experienced and that we utilise, sustainably, together with and for everyone. Aided by a contribution from the Province of Drenthe, Staatsbosbeheer purchased the Pixi light installation to turn the forest into an exciting place to be during those short, dark winter days.
A meticulous process was started to find a suitable environment in Drenthe. This environment needed to be resilient enough to handle the extra visitors, and it needed to be able to absorb the technique to ensure that the installation interfered with nature as little as possible. In the end, the forest near the Buitencentrum Boomkroonpad in Drouwen was selected. To reach this decision, biologists, nature lovers, and any proponents and opponents were consulted. An independent agency has performed an ecological check. As the installation was constructed, tested, and installed, Staatsbosbeheer and WERC took into account how Pixi influences the environment. Variables such as light intensity, colour, and placement of the installation have been adjusted to minimise this influence.

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ABOUT WERC

The artist collective WERC consists of different teams working on various disciplines. Characteristic for the collective is their experiments with new media and techniques; they are always looking for new configurations and challenges. Their shared fascination is the connection that bridges the digital and the physical world. This connection is visible in almost all their work. The artist collective WERC consists of Joachim Rümke, Olav Huizer, Joachim de Vries, and Jelle Valk. It is located in Groningen. Have a look at their website for examples of various projects.

DRENTHE, THE NETHERLANDS

You can visit Pixi from October until December.
Every Wednesday and Saturday.