Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau: A-Volve
Q.: Is it a commissioned art/research project? What was the specific scientific/artistic/commercial goal for the project development?
A.:This work was realised in several steps and locations. We started it as an art/research project at the NSCA National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Champaign/Urbana, IL, USA where we were invited by Prof. Donna Cox (a well know scientific visualization specialist) for a 6-months residency. We were then sponsored by the Austrian Ministry of Education and Art as part of the 6-months Chicago stipend. During our stay at the NCSA we develop the artificial creatures’ movement algorithms, the interface technology for hand detection as well as the touch screen interface for drawing the creatures. At NSCA we also produced a demo video (with the kind help of Tony Baileys) which we applied to the Prix Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. To our surprise we won the Golden Nica 1994 in the Interactive Art category and were invited to show the final work at the Ars Electronica 1994 exhibition.
Subsequently we were invited by the NTT ICC InterCommunication Center in Japan to develop the project further and collaborate with A-Life researcher Dr. Tom Ray who worked then at the ATR Advanced Telecommunications Research Center in Kyoto. Together with Tom we developed more sophisticated evolutionary algorithms for A-Volve, while working as artists-in-residence at ATR in Kyoto. The final result of this art/research collaboration was then shown at the NTT ICC InterCommunication Center exhibition in Tokyo in 1994 and also won several awards in Japan and US, for example the 1995 "Inter Design Award" at the Japan Inter Design Forum in Tokyo, Japan, the 1995 "Ovation Award" at the Interactive Media Festival in Los Angeles, USA and the 1994 "Multi Media Award" of the Multi Media Association in Tokyo, Japan.
Q.: What is the innovative aspect of the project or your particular research interest?
A.: While there have been several research projects that demonstrate the evolution of artificial creatures, A-Volve was one of the first artistic systems where users could actually make the creatures themselves, watch them as they evolved and play with them in a water-filled glass pool. It was also one of the first research/art projects that appealed to several communities, the A-Life research community, the media art community and to visitors to science museums (edutainment). We also always paid special attention towards publishing the A-life algorithms and the interface technology in scientific conferences and journals (AlifeV Proceedings, Complexity Journal ...).
Q.: When was the project developed and realised and with how many people?
A.: Between 1994 and 1995. All programming, interface development, concept, interaction design and production was done by Laurent Mignonneau and Christa Sommerer and scientific advise came from Dr. Tom Ray.
Q: Which particular skills and resources were necessary to realise/organise the project?
hardware interface production skills (electronic skills)
Q.: How was the project financed and what were the overall costs?
A.: mostly sponsored by study grants to cover living costs and some material costs (6-months Chicago stipend, NTT-ICC artist-in-residency stipend, Ars Electronica production contribution).
Q.: Who were the customers and partners of the project?
A.: Bundesministerium fuer Unterricht und Kunst, Austria (Chicago Stipend)
NSCA National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Champaign/Urbana, IL, USA
NTT ICC InterCommunication Center Tokyo, Japan
ATR Advanced Telecommunications Research Center, Kyoto, Japan
Q.: How often and in which context has the project been presented?
A.: in around 30 shows world-wide and in 3 long-term set-ups (La Vilette –Cite des Science et de la Industrie in Paris, Museum of Science and Technology Miramon - Kutxaespacio de la Ciencia in San Sebastian and at the NTT Tokei exhibition at the NHK Building in Nagoya, Japan).
Q.: What was the reaction to your project and what findings and consequences came about from the evaluation of your project? What does the recipient learn about the relationship between digital and physical space?
A.: The project has been very well received and attracted a lot of media attention as well as public attention, especially after winning the Golden Nica Prix Ars Electronica Award in 1994. Many reviews and descriptions of the project have been published in books about media art and it became a kind of “classic” of interactive media art.
Q.: Did you expand or update the project afterwards? Have any follow-up projects come about from this project? Which?
A.: Yes, we always port the software to newer machines (it used to run only on very expensive Silicon Graphics computers, now it runs on 1 PC) and have been producing 1 more copy for traveling exhibitions.
It was also on display for one year at the La Vilette –Cite des Science et de la Industrie in Paris, 2 years at the Museum of Science and Technology Miramon - Kutxaespacio de la Ciencia in San Sebastian and 3 years at the NTT Tokei exhibition at the NHK Building in Nagoya, Japan.
Yes many follow-up projects came from A-Volve, for example our project „Life Spacies“ and „Life Spacies II.“
Q.: Do you know about similar projects?
A.: yes there are a few artworks dealing with interactive artificial life, for example Karl Sims “Evolutionary Images” or Jane Prophet’s “Technosphere,” among others.
(All answers by Christa Sommerer)
For a detailed description of the project see: mediafile: Sommerer & Mignonneau: Interacting with artificial life. A-Volve. 1997 (paper)