Interactivity and the Illusion of Nature in Artificial Life Art
(an Honors senior thesis project by Natalie Butler)

Modern-day technology has set forth a new wave of thought challenging our perspectives on nature and its immutable laws. We are even beginning to reconsider the condition of life itself. Are living creatures only made of flesh and blood, needing corporeality to truly be "alive"?

Born of our newfound digitality is a separate world, a cybernature, with beings made of pixels of light wiggling about inside of whirring machines. These seemingly unfamiliar creatures act as symbols for archetypal nature, living things and environments we recall from our experiences in the natural world. They are visual and behavioral chimaeras in an uncanny, nonphysical space, and regardless of their visible similarities, we are challenged by this worldly separation.

However, when the middleman tools of mouse and keyboard vanish, when we can physically touch and be touched by this life of a different plane, a corporeal connection bridges the gap between worlds. Some digital beings have even co-evolved with technology to require their physicality to thrive and survive. Intimate interaction allows cybernatures to become incorporated into our own understanding of reality; they become part of our ever-changing paradigm of life itself. Questions about life-as-we-know-it become questions about life-as-it-could-be. In a culture now immersed in digitality, where virtual creatures are becoming less alien to us, what does it truly mean to be alive?


The Habitat Series
A triptych of interactive touchscreen computer programs
Built using Adobe Photoshop CS5.5 and Adobe Director 11.5

Habitat: Digitae pyramus (2012)
Habitat: Digitae pyramus is a muddled, dark world made of wavering purple and black hues. It emits a low, ambient rumble reminiscent of being deeply submerged in the ocean. Slowly flagellating across the surface are six pyramidal, bright teal jellyfish-like creatures, contrasting with their dark surroundings so strongly that they almost seem to glow. An informational plaque on the gallery wall indicates that they are called “pyramid jellyfish.” A wide array of small, plankton-like creatures float in the background, dim and barely visible as they coalesce and disperse. When a user touches one of the pyramid jellies, a sonar ping breaks the ambient din and a blinking, rotating ring of orbs bursts forth from the now-glowing jellyfish, illuminating the encircled area and bringing the plankton into their full, mint-green brightness. Illuminated plankton that collide with the jellyfish disappear, and several seconds after the rotating ring appears, it fades away as well.


Habitat: Digitae capio (2012)
Habitat: Digitae capio is formed from photographic imagery reminiscent of a woodland pond. Above the murky greens and browns of the weedy grass in the background, leaves rock gently to the sound of a trickling stream. Moving deftly below the leaves are five small, orange fishlike creatures. A plaque on the wall indicates they are called “skimmer fish.” When a user touches the screen, a “splish” sound is heard, and all of the fish abruptly turn their bodies toward the user’s finger. A fish can be grabbed by a finger and moved elsewhere, and leaves can be pushed aside as well. Sometimes, the touch of a user will place a floating yellow pellet in the environment. If a fish comes in contact with the pellet, it grows in size and in saturation of color, and the pellet disappears. As time passes, and if pellets are no longer provided, the fish shrink down to their original state.


Habitat: Digitae harmonia (2012)
Habitat: Digitae harmonia features a system of dark brown tunnels carved into a photographic texture of soil. Within these tunnels are dozens of golden-brown insect-like forms wriggling in place. A plaque on the wall reveals that they are called “harmony ants.” Nestled in between the ants’ tunnels are four individual chambers, each harboring a different object or set of objects. One appears to have a mass of larvae, while another has a blue patch with a sheen that mimics liquid. Another has two groups of green, seed-like shapes, while the last has one large, antlike creature. The user is able to drag the ants through the tunnels and chambers with a finger. Contact between an ant and one of the chamber objects results in a vibrant, colorful reskinning of the ant, an animation of the object, and the emission of a pure tone of sound. Because there are four types of objects, the ants will emit one of four sounds and change to one of four colors on contact with the related object. The tones can play all at once, creating a harmonious chord that varies based on the distribution of ants.


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Live Exhibitions:

You Are Here
B.A. senior thesis exhibition
Arts West Gallery, Elon University, Elon, NC
April 15th, 2012 - April 20th, 2012

Interactivity and the Illusion of Nature in Artificial Life Art
Solo exhibition for CELEBRATE! Week
Ward Gallery, Elon University, Elon, NC
April 23rd, 2012 - April 27th, 2012

Pixel Junkies
Advanced digital art exhibition
SunTrust Gallery, Alamance County Arts Council, Graham, NC
April 26th, 2012 - May 18th, 2012

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