Back to the Interactivos? Garage Science series. If you have missed the previous episodes (Interactivos? Garage Science: Interactivos? Garage Astrobiology - Microbes and EMF and the Fruit Computer Laboratory), here's a little blurb:

Garage Science is one of Medialab Prado's latest Interactivos? workshops. It took place in Madrid in early February and was inspired by those home laboratory-type experiments that rely on web-based communications to give rise to real and virtual communities of amateur scientists.

Interactivos? Garage Science explored the practices, where art, science and technology meet. During two weeks, Medialab was turned into a temporary garage laboratory where low-cost, accessible materials were used to develop objects and installations that combine software, hardware and biology.


One of the projects i found most interesting was re:farm the city by Hernani Dias (in collaboration with Belén Illana, Tiago Henriques, Eduardo Meléndez, Gabriela Troncoso, Dani Quilez, Mar Canet and Varvara Guljajeva.)

The project aimed at developing a series of tools that would enable city-dwellers to grow and monitor an urban garden using open-software and as much recycled materials as possible (mostly city waste that may include computers, printers, traffic lights or plastic bottles.)

re:farm also brings on a series of important aspects: attention to biodiversity and to finding the native fruits, herbs and vegetable species that are best suitable for each city; visualization of the network of beneficial associations among plants and other species depending on geography, time and size of the garden; etc.


Your project re:farm aims to 'develop tools to manage/monitor/research an urban garden with open-software and open-hardware'. How did you come up with this idea? Why was it important to you?

I first started to think that I should know where my food comes from, so I built a garden in our terrace in Barcelona to have a local production. My older sister that long lives on eco-educational projects helped me with the first seeds and knowledge. Then came the Summer, and we went on holidays. Everything was ok when we left, but when we returned our farm was the driest -urban-farm-cemetery in all city. And this was the turning point.

To make a urban farm possible you must have the tools to design, manage and monitor a farm. At the end we, those who live in the city, are now urban animals not farmers. In the last century we lost almost all the farm knowledge, centuries of sustainable agriculture, thousands of years on vegetable domestication and food quality research. I've learned a lot during the research for this project: 4 months ago I didn't know which were the best tomatoes for a gazpacho soap and neither how or when are they planted or even how the photons are collected on nano-antennas to produce energy on a leaf.


Why would anyone need software to cultivate a garden?

Hehe, we shouldn't :) but if you ask to someone next to you in the street what is the best vegetable to plant or eat today, now, this week? Or what is the fruit of this season? Where did it came from? What are our local resources? What are our local varieties? What is the name of cucumber in other languages? How is it cooked in different cultures? What are best refreshing tea herbs for a hot summer day? Which fruits have a specific vitamins group? Software could give some help on this ;)


re:farm was already started before you applied to the Medialab Prado workshop if i understood correctly. Which part exactly did you develop during the Interactivos? workshop?

In Medialab we dug a lot and the subject started to spread complexity. I've started in Hangar with the idea of building a urban farm made of city trash and with a watering system based on open software and open hardware. When I applied to Medialab I had almost the big picture of the project in my head, and during the 15 days of the workshop in Madrid despite the fact that we were 7 persons working day and night with some beers also I realised that what we didn't had, was time. During the 15 days we built a DIY low budget hydroponic system and we designed 2 farms on botanical garden. One is a gazpacho farm made with local varieties and on the other are the vegetables ingredients to make a recipe of a Spanish cook, Rodrigo de la Calle. We also started to make the software application but we didn't finish the 0.000047 beta version :)

Hydroponic circuit

You live in Barcelona. Is there an existing or growing culture of growing urban garden in that city?

In the city there are some urban gardens and they are forming a growing community. There are some amazing squat initiatives, some city-council farms and also small home farming. But what is the most impressive thing around here is the local biodiversity. There are like 8 different kinds of tomatoes for 8 different recipes. The Catalans are very connected to the land and to cooperative social movements; and this is a good starting point.

Isn't pollution a problem if one wants to grow a garden in a city?

Pollution? What can I say about that... pollution is bringing vegetables from the other side of the planet on a large scale. Pollution is when you go to the supermarket and buy the same tomato here, in Madrid, in Andalucia, in England, in Holland, in Germany or in NY... Pollution could be producing vegetables that are designed to be beautiful, bright, round, cold resistant, and hold 4 weeks on a supermarket display and are environmentally expensive. Pollution is also the rain that grabs all the atmospheric contaminants and brings then to soil that in most cities is already heavily contaminated. We can't escape it. But there are some oasis in every cities and it is easy to create many more. that's also one of the goals of re:farm.

re:farm the city is global knowledge to local problems at the end we are all humans with more or less the same nutrient needs. One of our biggest "problem" is that we are raising the number of humans but we can´t call that pollution :)

One of the objectives of re:farm is the creation of "instructables" on how to build an open-hardware watering and illumination system with city waste: computers, printers, traffic lights, large plastic bottles, etc. Can you give us an example of this?

One example is the low budget hydroponic system that we built: a plastic tube found on the street (we went hunting for materials:) a water pump from a car (a repair car store gave us an old one for free), a big bottle of water 20L some wires and an arduino. We are also testing some re:farm boxes and soon there will be more instructables on our web.

You are going to work on THE ALLOTMENT PLOT in Sweden. Can you tell us what your plans about it are exactly?

Yep, we are refarming on Sweden. Annika from The Allotment Plot invited us to design some farms and we have proposed 4 ideas for 6 farms.

swedish husmanskost (traditional food)
plot#001 ärtsoppa farm
plot#002 midsommar farm

basic food
plot#003 beer farm / vodka farm
plot#004 bread farm

global gastronomy / local production
plot#005 pizza farm

indoor health
plot#006 indoor air quality improvement


Any other upcoming steps for the project?

The project is on his spring time! lets see how it grows and what can we have In Autumn. We are now applying for grants to continue the development and the community is also growing. So spread the word: any help is welcome :)

Thanks Hernani!

All images re:farm.

Sponsored by:

Second episode of the series dedicated to Medialab Prado's Interactivos? Garage Science (for number 1 press here), a workshop which mixed and matched software, hardware and biology and took place in Madrid a few weeks ago.


With Garage Laboratory, Andy Gracie (whom i interviewed back in the day when i was a diligent and industrious little blogger) wanted to examine the effects of electromagnet fields and radio waves on microbial species collected and cultured from the urban environment.

Using some DIY laboratory equipment, Andy's team developed a system of variable strength magnetic field generators and related apparatus which allowed them to observe the organisms as they were exposed and responded to various magnetic fields.


Can you tell us something about the cute micro-organisms you selected for the project? Why did you choose them? What have they done to deserve this?

Originally I planned to experiment with three different organisms; tardigrades, nematodes and magnetic bacteria. The project is based on and refers to the relatively new science of astrobiology and some species of nematodes and tardigrades have already been flown into space. It was important that the organisms used had already some connection with astrobiology or the general exploration of space.

Nematodes have been used to study how prolonged space flight can affect human aging, tolerance to cosmic ray exposure and muscular deterioration from weightlessness. They have always seemed quite poignant as they were the only living survivors of the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003. The nematode canisters apparently hit the ground with an impact 2,295 times the force of the Earth's gravity.

Tardigrades are polyextremophiles, which is to say that they can survive a range of extreme environments or conditions and can regenerate after entering cryptobiosis. In 2007 some were packed on to a Foton-M3 spacecraft and exposed to the vacuum of space to test their ability to endure extreme heat, frigid cold, cosmic rays and deadly levels of solar ultraviolet radiation without air, water or food. On returning to Earth a large percentage of the animals regenerated and even continued to breed without showing any signs of harm.

The magnetic bacteria, Magnetospirillum gryphiswaldense, have magnetosomes in their cells with allow them to migrate along magnetic field lines. Recently, ultrafine-grained magnetite particles from a Martian meteorite, which resembled the magnetosome crystals of recent bacteria, have been cited as putative evidence for ancient extraterrestrial life.

In the end we focused on the tardigrades because they are, as you point out, the cutest. They are also fascinating creatures for a number of different reasons, which unfortunately for them will mean I will be forced to experiment on them in a number of different ways.


The project examines the impact of electromagnetic fields and radio waves on microbial species cultured from the urban environment. What did you find out during the experiments? Can we as human beings be worried about the effects of EMF and RW on micro-organisms? or are we just so much bigger it doesn't really matter?

The project was using magnetic field data sourced from the Pioneer and Voyager probes to generate corresponding magnetic fields inside the cultures of organisms. There just wasn't the time or resources during 'interactivos?' to study the results in any depth so we only made visual observations. When the tardigrades were first hit with strong magnetic fields they pretty much stopped moving and seemed to enter a sort of catatonic state. Normally after about an hour they would begin to move around quite freely again. I began to get the impression that the recovery time and the depth of shock was less each time, so maybe they were building up a tolerance. I really need to do some more work on that to be sure though.

There is still a lot of research being carried out on the effects of radio waves and magnetic fields on human health, and of course there is a lot of contradictory claims. It goes without saying though, that assessment of possible health effects from exposure to these kinds of fields is important because human exposure to such fields is increasing due to new and emerging technologies. Low frequency magnetic fields are suspected of being carcinogenic and an association is likely for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, recent research has indicated that an association is unlikely. There also less well documented or medically researched conditions such as electrical hypersensitivity which are interesting.

In the animal world there is research into problems with migratory birds, bats, certain fish and insects, that are strongly dependent on magnetic fields for orientation or migration and also into sharks, rays and other fish that possess electric sense organs. Stress signals have been found in many plants that grow next to power transmission lines.

These associations are important as we immerse ourselves in an ever richer soup of radio and magnetic waves and fields and it is a relevant context for this project without being in any way its primary focus.

0avvdepress.jpgWhat was the biggest challenge you met with when developing the project and how did you overcome it?

I would say there was an accumulation of many small challenges rather than any especially big one - although lack of time became an increasing factor. Working late and drinking an inhuman amount of coffee went some way towards solving that one.

My work has always been on quite a large scale - even if i am working with very small organisms - so coming up with a device that would fit under a microscope was a new kind of challenge for me. Luckily I had a great set of collaborators and Marc Dusseiller, Georg Kettele and Martin Kern came up with some great hardware and software solutions which made the whole thing possible.

Using a form of silicone called PDMS allowed us to come up with some really cool devices that could contain the elecromagnets, other electronics and the organisms. It was a real breakthrough and has given me lots of new ideas about casting with resins and silicones as a way of building devices.

You mentioned during the presentation at Medialab Prado that Garage Astrobiology is part of a larger project. Can you elaborate on this?

Yes. I am currently developing a larger project of which the work we did at Medialab was just a small part. This project aims to use environmental data picked up from a wider range of deep space probes to allow me to create some form of corresponding environment within a range of different organisms which have some relationship with astrobiology. I intend to develop a way of getting meaningful data out of the reactions within the organisms and then use that data to generate a form of A-Life which would be hypothetically ideal for survival in deep space and alien environments. I am currently talking with the Deep Space Network and various people within NASA to see if I can get the live data directly from the space probes. I am also trying to develop connections with astrobiology labs to see if they can help me with getting information out of the organisms and with creating alien conditions on a budget.

As is usual with my projects it will be a combination of the functional and the dysfunctional, the utopian and dystopian. I like the idea of getting data from vehicles launched in the early 1970s, the time of utopian and romantic ideas of space exploration, and bringing them back to a current era of discussion where space exploration is a lot more pragmatic - a lot more 'down to Earth'.


Do you plan to push the project further? If yes, what would be the next steps?

That question is pretty much answered above. The project has a lot further to go and there is a lot of work to do. Thanks to the work we did at 'Interactivos?' I think the larger project has a much bigger chance of success and will go in some directions I hadn't originally intended. That's all good.

For other work I have some exciting new ideas about using new materials and new approaches to developing devices and robotics in conjunction with organic systems. And maybe even making work that is small scale. That would be quite radical for me.

Thanks Andy!

Images from the Best of Astrobiology set.

Related: Interview with Antony Hall.

Medialab Prado's latest Interactivos? workshop in Madrid was dedicated to Garage Science, the home laboratory-type experiments that nowadays rely on web-based communications to give rise to real and virtual communities of amateur scientists.

Interactivos?'09 aims to explore these practices, where art, science and technology meet. We invite the participants to turn Medialab into a garage laboratory where low-cost, accessible materials are used to develop objects and installations that combine software, hardware and biology. There's license to fail!


It took me longer than i wanted to get a few of the projects developed during the Interactivos? workshop online. Here's the first one. It's the Fruit Computer Laboratory by Alejandro Tamayo (whom i interviewed 2 years ago.)

Newspapers and magazines regularly relay the forecast that within 10 to 15 years we'll be using "hybrid" computers running a combination of technology and living organic tissue. Alejandro Tamayo didn't need to rely on the highest technology to investigate what an organic computer might be like. He started with the classical garage scientist knowledge that chemical reactions in fruits can produce an electrical flow if one uses appropriate electrodes. Fruit electricity has been harnessed for turning on LEDs and powering small electronic devices.

But, could chemical reactions in fruits be also used to create on-off switches, the basic building blocks of computer logic and memory? Would it be possible to create a computer with fruits? This project proposes to create a temporary laboratory, open to the general public, that will raise questions and reflections about the construction of a future computer based on fruits.

You wrote in the presentation of the project, that the Fruit Computer Laboratory would be open to practical accidents, unexpected directions and serendipity. Did that happen as much as you expected? Did it help the development of the project?

Definitely, starting with the proposal to use the pH levels of fruits. That was something I have never considered myself and it took over the whole direction of the project. In terms of accidents I wish we had had time to make more. One day we proposed to work all with our less used hand in order to see what kinds of new mistakes we could have made, but it was almost the last day and we were too busy preparing the final presentation that it never happened, but this is something I really want to try.


What was the biggest challenge you met with when developing the project and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge while working on the organic memory was to find a way to get information out from the pH meter without affecting the measurement at the same time. This is something that we haven't fully resolved yet.

Making an organic logic gate that would work with pH changes (the second part of the project) is a huge challenge itself and we are only starting to explore this path. We had the chance to talked with great people (Adrian Bowyer, Marc Dusseiller to mention only a few) who gave us ideas for this like using pH sensitive gels. We got some chemicals to start playing with them but we haven't get very far in this respect yet.


I left Madrid when you still had to give the finishing touch to the project. What does the final computer look like? How does it look?

At this moment the use of pH levels of fruits for storing binary information has proved to be effective, allowing to program a bit of memory many times. This is how it works:

We have selected two fruits with close pH levels (lemon and mandarin). This selection has been made to facilitate the programming and reprogramming of the organic memory by adding a few number of juice drops. Measurements located in the lemon pH range (2.5 - 2.0) are considered as logic zero, whereas measurements located in the pH range of mandarins (3.0 - 3.8) are considered as logic one. These measurements are currently obtained with the use of a commercial pH meter.
By adding drops of one juice or another it is possible to program the bit of memory as many times as desired (or at least, until the recipient is full).


At the moment one bit of memory looks like this:

The pH meter gets the pH value from the solution and shows "0" or "1" in the display according to the measurement. We are working the way to extract the information from the pH meter without considerably affecting the value so the measurement gets more accurate.

Do you intend to push the project any further?

We would love to build an organic memory composed of at least 88 bits. With this size we could store an 11 character word or sentence (if we were to use ASCII code). Just enough to store the traditional "hello world message" and observe how it could change in time (or not) according to the natural processes of degradation.

But pH sensors are fairly expensive, so we have been experimenting with alternative ways to make them. Recently, Renato Ianhez from Brazil wrote us suggesting a method for making them using Christmas-tree ornamental balls. We are looking forward to start experimenting in this direction, although finding Christmas-tree ornamental balls in mid march has been a funny challenge.

Thanks Alejandro!

All images courtesy Alejandro Tamayo.

The Medialab-Prado people whose workshops i like so much i dedicated them 2 categories on the blog are launching the latest of their increasingly successful interactivos? calls for the presentation of projects.


A maximum of 8 projects will be selected for their production in a workshop that will take place in Madrid on January 28 to February 14, 2009. Happy project leaders will count with the help of instructors, assistants and collaborators. Pending application, Medialab-Prado will provide lodging in a Youth Hostel for participants residing outside of the city. They will also cover travel expenses wholly or in part for one person per selected project.

The theme of this edition of Interactivos? is Garage Science and its keywords include: critical design, bio-art, mechanical devices, impossible machines, Rube Goldberg machines, pataphysic, free hardware, fabbing, recycling, biocomputing, biology, biohacking, biopunk, "license to fail". Software, hardware, wetware! The selected projects will show innovative ways to make science, technology and art converge.

Now comes the best part: the Critical Art Ensemble will take part to the workshop.

Deadline for entries: December 14.

Aristote believed that laughter is what separates us from the beasts. Today, scientists argue that non-human species, such as primates and even rats, do giggle, guffaw and burst into laugher.

So if animals laugh, how about technological devices, the species we like to surround ourselves with? That's what an Interactivos? two week workshop held last August at the Centro Multimedia - Centro Nacional de las Artes in Mexico D.F tried to understand.


The event, lead by Zachary Lieberman, Leslie García and Alejandro Tamayo asked participants to come up with ideas and prototypes that engage with a series of questions:

What mechanisms lead to laughter? What are the social and political implications? What happens if we understand laughter as a possible form of communication between humans and machines? Can machines have a sense of humour? How can machines make us laugh? What is a machine or software programme's cultural milieu? How can a machine handle the unexpected? What kind of narratives/machines can be built to provoke various feelings related to laughter?

The 8 projects developed over the workshop use hardware and software tools to create prototypes that explore the relations between machines and humour/laughter.

Moyote I, by Christian Saucedo Rodríguez. Image by Alejandro Tamayo

Participants developed computers that tell each other silly jokes once you've turned your back, images that follow you as you walk, an absurdity tracker, a robot that replies to users with media sampled memories, a machine that likes to be tickled, etc.

I asked Alejandro Tamayo to give us a few details about the workshop:

One of the questions that the Interactivos? workshop wanted to explore in Mexico was ' Can machines have a sense of humour?' Did you find any answer to that demand?

I don't think we found an answer for that, instead we came up with more questions and ideas for future projects to explore. For me it seems possible to create machines that understand human sense of humor, as humor follows certain rules it can be abstracted and implemented into some complex algorithms that machines can follow, but creating machines with their own sense of humor is another thing. If we design a machine with a sense of humor it seemed unavoidable that we will inject our humanity into it because it is the only reference about humor we have in hand. On the other hand, humor and true laughter bring lots of benefits in terms of health to us, i wonder how this can also be applied to machines. But any way, if we were to create machine humor, will we understand it? How would we define it as humorous?

Building Catty CPU Cliques. Image courtesy Jenny Chowdhury

In concrete the projects of Jenny Chowdhury (Catty CPU Cliques), Carla Capeto (Sensitive Water) and Leonor Torres (J.A.-J.A. Jockey Action-Jolly Answer) raised questions related to non-human approaches to humor and laughter.

Catty CPU Cliques. Image courtesy Jenny Chowdhury

For Jenny, the idea of machine humor was directly addressed because her office computers were to make fun of their users when they were left alone. At the end Jenny came up with funny jokes, for and about humans, being told by computers.
Sensitive water. More images

The case of Carla was different, she proposed an aquarium that would laugh when being touched, so we were all confronted with the question of how water would laugh. There were many approaches to it and many of us suggested different options ranging from timid laughter to hysterical. As a matter of fact, we are starting to discover that we are not the only exclusive animals that laugh, apparently rats do it as well when they are tickled.

Finally, the project of Leonor Torres investigated the idea of a strange piece of metal that responded to tickles. Leonor recorded her own voices and reactions to tickles, so when people touched a rusty piece of metal extracted from a de-mantled car they got the strange reaction of a female giggle.

J.A.-J.A. Jockey Action-Jolly Answer. Image courtesy Alejandro Tamayo

Leo's project can also drive us to think about the opposite: can we be tickled by a piece of metal? In fact during the planning of Interactivos? we found some early experiments conducted by psychologists in this area: some kind of tickling machine was developed back in 1997, it worked more or less like The Turk: there was a hidden person in a room in charge of doing tickles to other psychology students with his arm and also with a robotic arm. Apparently "the machine" was as effective as a human tickler because the patients couldn't differentiate the robotic arm from that of a human (some kind of a Turing test but for ticklishness!) but there are still some doubts about the way the experiments were conducted because after all there was a human behind.

Photo by Alejandro Tamayo

I followed the workshop from afar by looking at the flickr images of a few friends who happened to participate to the workshop. It seems that there's quite a high dose of sense of humour in Mexico. Can you tell us something about it?

Oh i don't know, i think all starts with the metro safety guards.

Images of the workshop on the Medialab set and on the ones made by Alejandro and Jenny.

Another project developed last month during Vision Play, one of the Interactivos? workshops organized by Medialab Prado in Madrid. This time i asked Horacio González and Paola Guimerans to tell us something about biophionitos, a project they developed together with Igor González and other collaborators.


Biophionitos generates artificial life using a system similar to the zoetrope, an early animation device that produces an illusion of action from a rapid succession of static pictures. Horacio González, Paola Guimerans and Igor González added to the concept a touch of Processing and a whiff of Arduino to develop an interface able to create a physical animation which runs in an old-style but interactive phenakistoscope (one of them reacts to your caresses, another one wakes up when you talk to it, etc).

This virtual pet created with the system is made of a limited series of simple polygons which the program has modified in order to give the drawing what looks like a biological life.

The artists also uploaded online a tutorial to do your own Biophionitos.

Note to spanish-speaking readers and in particular to the lovely people at TECAT (a great blog about media art i just discovered courtesy of Marcos, os lo recomiendo) who have kindly translated some of the Interactivos? posts in spanish: i pasted at the bottom of this post the original answers of Horacio and Paola. They wrote me in spanish and i translated their text in english.


Can you tell us what lies behind the name Biophionitos? What did you decide to call the project this way?

Well, this is a strange story. Horacio and i have been working together as a team for a few years under the name VHPlab. A few months ago, he came to spend some time in New York and we had the opportunity to travel together to San Francisco.

One our way back, in the plane, we started developing the project and thinking about the physical visualization of an auto-generative image. After much discussion, we managed to shape the idea and for various reasons, we agreed on the fact that the image should allude to a living being. We therefore decided that it would be an animal as it appears on our logotype.

The project matured conceptually and the time came to give it a name. At that moment, we knew that the prefix 'bio' had to be part of the name and we decided to use a game to complete the name.

Our objective was to invent a name that doesn't exist, just like when you are a kid and call something you don't know with a word you've invented. During the process we were reminded of Fiona, a very special child, the daughter of friends whom we had just met over that trip to San Francisco. Although it might sound surprising we also started thinking of the longest and strangest words of the Spanish language: Parangaricutirimicuaros. It is a word almost impossible to pronounce, it comes from a tongue twister, that Horacio and his sister used to mis-pronounce as Paranguanitos, when they were kids. We used a fragment of each word to build the name of the project; bio-phio-nitos.


Why did you choose to keep a "vintage" and early cinema look to the project? How important is the retro design for biophionitos?

There is a side of the design which is retro and it is related to a series of ancient little games / toys that we had in mind while we were developing the project. One of them is the Cinexin. The idea to take some inspiration from a zoetrope was nevertheless related with a conceptual objective that we had set ourselves right from the start: we wanted to reflect on the form in which a generative animation should be presented.

Many artists who work with Processing have to face the issue of finding a way to pass from the digital world to the physical one, of overcoming the limit set by the screen. Our intention was to use a totally physical and very rudimentary interface to display an animation. We wanted the interface to highlight the simple principle that makes any animation work, while revealing what usually stays hidden: the trick.

An animation is nothing but a sequence of images very similar to each other. However, as this is usually imperceptible, the spectator sees them as something difficult to understand and magical, something that is beyond their reach.

We believe that technology must be open and we also believe that making a technology open source is not enough to make it truly open. Technology must be accessible, understandable, users should be able to use it consciously. With Biophionitos, we have tried to develop an auto-generative technology that reveals itself, that throughout its development unmasks its history and functioning.

In addition to the fact that the final design is retro and inspired by toys from previous decades, we also refer to the idea of the virtual pet and to the new digital toys. The idea of creating an interactive version of Biophionitos and the fact that spectators have the possibility to create their own virtual pet evoke the Tamagochi and the way users relate to them in order to keep them alive. We assigned sentiments to each boxes so that users would feel some kind of empathy when they activate the animation and would somehow feel the magic that those first inventions had.


What was the biggest challenge you met with when developing the project and how did you overcome it?

The projects has various dimensions and lectures. It was difficult to make them tangible, to have team members agree on their meanings and to establish a series of priorities that had to be met during the 15 days of the Madrid workshop.

The presentation to Interactivos meant that we had to clarify how the work would be distributed and the time necessary to fulfill each task. The team worked perfectly well. Horacio was in charge of developing the Processing application. Igor took care of the electronic, mechanical and Arduino side of the project. I was more active on the design and creative aspects of the work. But the help of the various collaborators was essential to enable us to complete the project on time.

On the other hand, Horacio couldn't come to Madrid during Interactivos. We had to work at a distance, discussing over skype or mobile phone.

Working from a distance is always frustrating, there is not direct relationship between what you ask and what you get in exchange. You must invest much more time in communication. Some issues and decisions taken on the spot end up emerging in the course of a conversation, one of the side had taken that issue for granted while the other side had no idea about it. Everything happens with a delay and during the waiting time misunderstandings happen. Each time i made a modification i wanted to know how it would affect the final result inside the zoetrope. However, i couldn't see it until someone printed the new Biophionito, recorded it in a video that he or she had then to upload on Youtube. Very often, they would just call me and try to describe what could be seen in order to accelerate the process but trying to imagine in my head what they were explaining was tremendously difficult, almost hilarious.


I'm interested in the generative part of the work. How does it work exactly? Which kind of data do you feed the system? Why not drawing the little creatures yourself?

It's the beta version of the program and it needs to be improved. We developed it over the course of the two weeks Interactivos workshop in Madrid. Each pet is made of a series of polygonal vertebrae; the first vertebra is the head of the animal and the rest constitutes its body. When the pet moves, the body follows the head in a decelerated way. Therefore, according to the direction and speed of the movement, the pet will stretch or shrink.

The idea is very simple, each vertebra is made of 2 segments. The first segment of each vertebra is attached to the previous vertebra and the second segment of each vertebra follows the first segment. As the answer of the second segment is not identical to the movement of the first segment, each vertebra will shrink or stretch according to the speed and direction that the previous vertebra has.

For the moment, when users create their pet, they can add vertebrae and shape it as they wish. It's a fairly rough way of drawing but for a first version it worked fairly well.

Our objective is to end up converting each of the points that compose the segments of the vertebrae in vertex of a unique Bézier curve. Doing so the drawing will be more detailed and free, its profile will then be curved and not polygonal.

The inclination, distance and the size of the various segments that form the pet condition the way each vertebra is going to stretch and shape. Although the process is always the same, each pet behave in its own way, because when they move each vertebra has a peculiar way to react. This modifies totally the way we perceive the movements of the pet.


Do you plan to develop the project any further?

We would love to see people make their own Biophionitos at home, using the D.I.Y. tutorial and that it could generate some online feedback about the results. Besides, after Sonarmatica, we were offered to give a few workshops about Biophionitos. It could be an interesting opportunity to enrich the project and hear about the perspective of the users.

For future versions, we would like to have the program analyze the way users design. It would use several characteristics such as the number of vertebrae or their proportions and on that basis, alter the path of the pet or the way some vertebrae connect to each other. In any case, the movement of the pet is deeply influenced by the final interface. Each zoetrope can only contain16 different images, the animation must therefore be very simple and cyclic. Our objective is not to create a complex nor spectacular animation but to develop an easy to use and fun interface that will generate a pet which, by its functioning, reveals the mystery behind animation.

Thanks Paola and Horacio!

More biophionitos images.

Now for the spanish version


Can you tell us what lies behind the name Biophionitos? What did you decide to call the project this way?

Paola > Bueno es una historia curiosa. Horacio y yo llevamos trabajando en equipo desde hace varios años bajo el nombre de VHPlab ( unos meses, el vino a pasar una temporada a NY y tuvimos la oportunidad de viajar juntos a San Francisco.

Durante el vuelo de vuelta, comenzamos a desarrollar el proyecto y a reflexionar sobre la visualización física de una imagen auto-generativa. Después muchas discusiones, logramos dotar de forma a la idea y por diferentes motivos, entendimos que la imagen debería hacer alusión a un ser vivo. Entonces, decidimos que fuera un animal, como el que aparece en nuestro logotipo.

El proyecto fue madurando conceptualmente y llegó el momento de buscar un nombre. En ese momento, teníamos claro que el prefijo "bio" debía formar parte del nombre, así que decidimos completar el resto de la palabra partir de un juego.

Nuestro objetivo era inventar un nombre que no existiera, como cuando eres un niño y denominas a algo que no conoces con una palabra inventada. Durante el proceso nos acordamos de Fiona una niña muy especial, hija de unos amigos que acabábamos de conocer durante nuestro viaje a San Francisco. Por raro que parezca también nos vino a la cabeza una de las palabras mas largas y raras que existen en castellano: Parangaricutirimicuaros. Se trata de una palabra imposible de pronunciar, proveniente de un trabalenguas, que Horacio y su hermana solían pronunciar erróneamente como Paranguanitos, cuando eran pequeños. Utilizamos un fragmento de cada palabra para construir el nombre del proyecto; bio-phio-nitos.

Why did you choose to keep a "vintage" and early cinema look to the project? How important is the retro design for biophionitos?

Horacio > Hay un aspecto del diseño que es retro y está relacionado con toda una serie de juguetes antiguos que tuvimos en mente cuando desarrollamos el proyecto, como el Cinexin ( Sin embargo, la idea de inspirarnos en un zootropo estaba relacionada con un objetivo conceptual que nos planteamos desde el principio; queríamos reflexionar sobre la forma en que se presenta una animación auto-generativa.

Muchos artistas que trabajan con Processing se encuentran con el problema de cómo trascender del mundo digital al físico, de cómo superar la limitación que supone la pantalla. Nuestra intención era utilizar un soporte enteramente físico y muy rudimentario para mostrar una animación. Queríamos que el propio soporte pusiese en evidencia el sencillo principio que hace funcionar a cualquier animación, revelando aquello que normalmente queda oculto; el truco.

Una animación no es más que una secuencia de imágenes muy similares entre si. Sin embargo, como normalmente esto resulta imperceptible, el espectador las percibe como algo incomprensible y mágico, algo que está más allá de su alcance. Nosotros creemos que la tecnología debe ser abierta y además creemos que la tecnología no es abierta únicamente por el echo de ser open source. La tecnología debe ser accesible, comprensible, los usuarios deben poder hacer un uso consciente de la misma. En Biophionitos hemos intentado desarrollar una tecnología auto-explicativa, que se revele a sí misma, que en su desarrollo, recoja su historia y su funcionamiento.

Paola > Por otro lado, añadir que aunque el diseño final es retro y está inspirado en juguetes de hace décadas, también contemplamos como referencia de la idea de la mascota virtual y de los nuevos juguetes digitales. La idea de crear una versión interactiva de Biophionitos y el hecho que el espectador tuviera la posibilidad de crear su propia mascota virtual, nos recordó a los Tamagochi y a como el usuario se relaciona con ellos para mantenerlos vivos. Asignamos frases cargadas de sentimientos a cada una de las cajas para conseguir cierta empatía por parte del espectador en el momento de activar la animación y así transmitir de algún modo la magia que tenían estos primeros inventos.

What was the biggest challenge you met with when developing the project and how did you overcome it?

Paola > El proyecto tiene muchas dimensiones y lecturas diferentes. Resultó difícil darle forma, que todos los miembros del equipo lo entendiesen del mismo modo y establecer una serie de prioridades, para garantizar que se pudiese llevar a cabo durante los quince días del taller en Madrid.

Presentarlo a Interactivos requería tener muy claro el reparto de trabajo y los tiempos de desarrollo. El equipo funciono muy bien, porque que cada uno se hizo cargo de una parte clave del proyecto. Horacio se encargó del desarrollo de la aplicación en Processing. Igor de la parte mecánica y electrónica, de Arduino. Y yo, del diseño y la creatividad. En cualquier caso, la ayuda de los diferentes colaboradores fue determinante para poder terminar en tan poco tiempo.

Por otro lado, Horacio no pudo venir a Madrid durante Interactivos. Tuvimos que trabajar a distancia, manteniendo conversaciones a través de Skype o del movil.

Horacio > Trabajar de forma remota es siempre algo frustrante, porque no hay una relación directa entre lo que demandas y lo que recibes. Es necesario invertir mucho más tiempo en la comunicación. Siempre hay cuestiones y decisiones tomadas en el momento, que una de las dos partes del equipo presupone y la otra desconoce hasta que aparecen en una conversación. Todo sucede en diferido y durante los tiempos de espera suele haber malentendidos. Cada vez que yo hacia un cambio, estaba deseando conocer como afectaba al resultado final en el zootropo. Sin embargo, no podía verlo hasta que alguien imprimía el nuevo Biophionito, lo grababa en video y lo subía a Youtube. En muchos casos me llamaban y trataban de describir como se veía para acelerar el proceso, pero resultaba tremendamente difícil, casi cómico, tratar de hacerse a la idea.

i'm interested in the generative part of the work. How does it work exactly? Which kind of data do you feed the system? Why not drawing the little creatures yourself?

Horacio > Es una primera versión del programa, aun necesita muchas modificaciones porque se desarrolló a lo largo de las dos semanas que duró interactivos en Madrid. Cada mascota se compone de una serie de vértebras poligonales; la primera de las vértebras es la cabeza del animal y el resto componen su cuerpo. Cuando la mascota se mueve, el cuerpo sigue a la cabeza de forma decelerada. Así, en función de la dirección y velocidad del movimiento, la mascota va estirándose y encogiéndose.

La idea es muy simple cada vértebra está compuesta de dos segmentos. El primer segmento de cada vértebra está pegado a la vértebra anterior y el segundo segmento de cada vértebra sigue al primer segmento. Como la respuesta del segundo segmento no es idéntica al movimiento del primer segmento, cada vértebra se encoge o estira en función de la velocidad y dirección a la que se mueve la vértebra anterior.

De momento, cuando el usuario crea su mascota puede ir añadiendo vértebras y dándoles la forma que desee, es un sistema un poco rudimentario de dibujo pero para una primera versión ha funcionado bastante bien.

Con el tiempo, nuestra intención es convertir cada uno de los puntos que componen los segmentos de las vértebras en vértices de una única curva bezier. Así será posible hacer un dibujo mas detallado y libre obteniendo un perfil curvo y no poligonal.

La inclinación, la cercanía y el tamaño de los distintos segmentos que componen la mascota condicionan la forma en que cada vértebra se estira y encoge. Aunque el recorrido es siempre el mismo, ninguna mascota se comporta del mismo modo, porque al girar cada una de las vértebras tiene una forma particular de reaccionar. Esto modifica enteramente la forma que percibimos el movimiento de la mascota.

Do you plan to develop the project any further?

Paola > Nos gustaría que la gente empezase a hacer Biophionitos en su casa gracias al D.I.Y. y que esto generase cierta clase de feedback con los resultados a través de la web. Además, después de estar en Sonarmatica, ha surgido la oportunidad de impartir algunos workshops sobre Biophionitos. Puede ser una oportunidad interesante para enriquecer el proyecto y conocer la perspectiva de los usuarios.

Horacio > Queremos que el programa analice la forma que dibuja el usuario, en futuras versiones. Que utilice ciertas características como el número de vértebras o su proporción, para alterar el recorrido de la mascota o la forma en que unas vértebras se relacionan unas con otras. En cualquier caso el movimiento de la mascota está muy condicionado por el soporte final. Cada zootropo puede contener únicamente 16 imágenes diferentes, por lo que la animación debe ser muy sencilla y cíclica. Nuestro objetivo no es hacer una animación compleja ni espectacular, sino desarrollar una interfaz sencilla y divertida para crear una mascota que, en su funcionamiento, revele al usuario el misterio de la animación su naturaleza.

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