MA Computational Arts thesis project

Goldsmiths University

September 2015


SEMICOLONY is a series of software experiments in Artificial Life, performed over the course of one year. This project attempts to recreate various phenomena associated with living systems in the context of virtual environments. The underlying working assumption is that all phenomena associated with living systems can be abstracted and subsequently performed by autonomous virtual agents.

Artificial life is a very illusive term. Looking at almost a century of related research, it often seems to apply exclusively to achievements which have yet to be achieved. Under closer inspection, it seems as if most ambiguity lies not in the word “artificial” but in “life”. An artificial object is one that was made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally. As it turns out, a living thing is much harder to define. SEMICOLONY takes the synthetic approach to the study of living systems. It builds upon abstract attributes which many living things share, such as evolution, growth, self- organization and self-replication. Exploring these attributes in the context of virtual environments enables an alternative approach which may be dubbed: “life as it could be”. With the above paradigm in mind, each experiment attempts to deal with one such attribute by creating an artificial, virtual environment which is designed specifically to support it. Rather than simulating existing, physical organisms, the creatures explored in SEMICOLONY are strictly fictional and are often quite abstract. They are by no means alive, yet by sharing common traits with real living creatures, they are definitely worth studying.


The installation at Goldsmiths’ MA Computational Arts graduate show is an interactive exploration of nonlinear systems; evolution, emergence and morphogenesis. It features an imaginary Laboratory, designed specifically for the exploration of fictional Life forms. Through this laboratory, visitors can examine photosensitive bacterial colonies, a self- referring micro-controller, an ever changing super-formula, a breathing package, and a population of epitrochoids which feed on attention.

The installation gently suggests the idea that Life, as a natural phenomena, is capable of emerging anywhere. It aims to engage with visitors by offering tools for exploring, observing and interacting with virtual organisms. Reappropriating design elements from iconic 80’s consumer electronics, these simple and somewhat naive instruments invite the visitor into a familiar, yet somehow estranged experience, while encouraging them to think differently about themselves as instances of living systems.

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