Cellular Automata

Cellular Automata exploring movement in Augmented Reality through the lens of agent-based modeling, geometry and physics.

In the field of dance, AR brings the meaning of physical embodiment into question. What kind of digital space can we envision for the human body? How do we navigate this space when the laws of physics don’t necessarily apply? As with any new technology, we must consider how Augmented Reality will inevitably shift the way we exist in real reality. As artists, we have the unique opportunity to explore this new frontier, and pose these absolutely essential questions to the public.

Our research

Our research applies vision augmentation technology to choreographic research. We are interested in the boundary between real and unreal: particularly, observing natural phenomena through an unnatural lens, AR. Scientific concepts of Emergence, Complexity, and Chaos Theory are at the core of visual and performative interactive systems that we will be developing together during this process. The main goal is to develop a motion-capture system that enables performers to interact with both the physical and the digital space around them. This system will then be usable by ourselves and other artists as a platform for immersive performances and installations.

The group created a horizontal knowledge and experience-sharing process that will be applied during the work period: physical practice, technological tools, dramaturgy, sound design and scientific theory. The goal is to unite these often disparate fields by bringing together participants with various practices and backgrounds.

Our starting point: Cellular Automata and Conway’s game of life

In the 1960s, English mathematician John Conway created Game of Life, sometimes simply referred to as Life, in which cells on a two-dimensional, virtual grid live and die according to four simple rules. There is no player, per se, required for this game. Instead, it is merely a matter of defining an initial condition, and letting evolution unfold before your eyes. Remarkably, this evolution proves to produce something beautiful time and time again. Prior to Conway’s discovery, partial differential equations were often used to understand social behavior. Equation-based modeling worked to some extent, but was inevitably extremely reductive, especially when it came to animals as complex as humans. Complex Adaptive Systems proved to be much more effective in studying human behavior.

Conway’s Game of Life applied to choreography and 3D visualization

The idea of a simple set of mathematical or logical rules has been implemented in various forms of digital art, and connections can be seen in more traditional forms of visual art such as tiling. “Cellular Automata in AR” sees tremendous potential in the translation of these phenomena and algorithms in a 3D space, inhabited and interacted with by performers.

The dramaturgical core of this project is the translation of cellular automata into a dance framework. A cell is defined as: an object-agent which resides in space and time, situated within a network of other cells. A cell changes state as a function of time, or in other words, evolves, in response to the states of its neighbors, and according to a set of four simple rules. For our purposes, a physical formation created by a group of performers will be the mother cell, and act as the initial condition for the cellular automata.

Kinect motion-capture technology will be used to track the movement of the performers across the stage. The shape that emerges from the movement becomes the mother cell, and triggers the onset of evolution. The digital cells, which are visible in AR, interact with the performers as they would any other cell, living and dying according to proximity and quantity. We began with the question of how do we bring Game of Life to life, as it were, in AR? The role of the performer is brought into question here too. If they are generating the cell, beginning life, are they some kind of divine actor? Furthermore, are they subject to the same rules as the cell they create, or does their humanity give them the choice to behave in accordance with or opposition to the rules? Perhaps these questions don’t have a single answer, and the roles and respective rules shift as the narrative of the performance unfolds...

Cellular automata was a landmark discovery, enabling scientists to model and more deeply understand evolving social dynamics. LifeViewer, one of the leading softwares for simulating cellular automata, allowed these complex, emergent patterns to be viewable in 2D. We would like to develop an extension of LifeViewer, but instead of a single pixel replicating on a board, abstract patterns are composed of dance-made traces. Additionally, because the cell is quite literally produced by a human performer, we bring awareness to our sense of agency within our own evolution.

Concept / Research: Maria Pyatkova, Jo Kolski, Georgica J. Pettus
Visual design / Creative tech: Bariş Pekcagliyan
Sound design: Katrine Bregnum

Gefördert von der Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Rahmen von NPN | Stepping Out | NEUSTART KULTUR