“Degenerative Cultures” creates a biological-technological network in that living microorganisms, digital networks and Artificial Intelligence work together to examine the relationship between humanity and nature. Replicating the logic of the “intelligent” microorganism, Physarum polycephalum, Cesar & Lois developed a bhiobrid agent (bio-digital hybrid) that blurs the lines between biological and artificial intelligences. In the composite microbiological and digital knowledge network, prehuman and posthuman intelligences work together to probe the centuries-old dichotomy between humanity and nature.
In the installation, physical books documenting the human impulse to reshape nature are the substrates for microbiological growth. The text is destroyed in a physical sense, as the microorganisms’ growth causes the disappearance of legible text on the surface of the pages. The A.I. analyzes the living microorganisms’ growth and feeds a [de]generative algorithm linked to cellular automata and Natural Language Processing (NLP). This bhiobrid agent searches the Internet for texts that follow similar predatory patterns. The AI compiles online texts on humanity’s efforts to control nature and consumes them, just as Physarum polycephalum redacts the pages of the physical book.
Viewers peer into a glowing dome where the growth of a biological system visibly corrupts the human knowledge system. Just as the physical book is consumed by the microbiological culture, the digital database is corrupted by the degenerative algorithm. Readouts from the consumption of the physical book and the digital database are visible in the Twitter feed of @HelloFungus and printed out on-site on a thermal printer.
To help the bhiobrid agent in its revision of human understanding of nature, people can interact in the twitter feed of @HelloFungus. In the bhiobrid network, the bio-digital fungi respond to Internet users’ mentions, engaging others in the spreading of “digital spores.” (Note that we refer to the digital intelligence as a fungus, not to Physarum, which is no longer considered a mold, but a protist that also reproduces with spores).
Climate change and the emergence of discussions about the Anthropocene have demonstrated the urgency to rethink the relations that human societies establish with the ecosystem. In the context of cross-continental consumerism and its philosophical corollary of individualism, western modern societies and it predecessors have long sought to control nature—a propensity that predates Modernity’s ideology of techno-science and extends from Cicero to today’s climate engineering. This behavior has been conceptualized, planned and justified through ideas such as progress, beauty, domestication, profit and the superiority of human beings throughout the ages, proliferated through Western religion, science, art, philosophy and economics. In its different iterations, Degenerative Cultures critically examines these old and new texts, searching for patterns that could direct humanity to disinformation and corrupt the algorithms of Modernity.
[…] we alone have the power of controlling the most violent of nature’s offspring, the sea and the winds […] we confine the rivers and straighten or divert their courses. In fine, by means of our hands we essay to create as it were a second world within the world of nature.
Cicero, De Natura Deorum, year 45 B.C.
A network of deep and large channels can be dug […] in hot deserts as (hot as the) Sahara. When these channels are connected with the seas & oceans, a network of water channels is created in those deserts. In this way, the local climate of deserts will change because channel water is vaporized during daytime when air temperature reaches 50°C and condenses during nighttime when air temperature is around 0°C.
Constantin Sandu, et al., Space Technology for Reduction of Desert Areas on Earth and Weather Control, 2018
Degenerative Cultures maps and corrupts the predatory knowledge frameworks that have consistently driven how humanity deals with nonhuman entities that compose the environment. The resulting bio-digital system makes visible those entopic patterns in human culture that have carried us into the Anthropocene. The project frames the collaboration between microorganisms and human systems within an installation that presents AI from a post-anthropocentric perspective. Conceived and developed across continents, Degenerative Cultures began with this question: how can we push the relationship between human beings and nature and cross the different systems of communication inherent in technology and nature? What can we learn from the interactions across biological, social and technical networks?
In layering these intelligences – nature’s, artificial and also human knowledge embedded in texts – we propose a new operational system, one that takes into account and learns from nature’s networks.
The growth of the biological culture on the book is tracked and parameterized by a computer vision algorithm. The data is compared with the original text, allowing a series of disassembling tweets based on the growth of the living organism. The A.I. algorithm based in Natural Language Processing that searches the Internet was trained to recognize electronic texts that have the intent of dominate nature.
The logic of the digital algorithms is informed by organic data and, perhaps more importantly, is led by the objective to identify texts that reflect the human-centered ideology of controlling nature. Because of these nature-based and nature-oriented operational directives, through its growth, this Integrated Intelligence rejects the historical divide between humanity and nature. This assertion of a reconnection is not only technical but, overall, conceptual and ideological.
The resulting Internet communications and database corruption are directed by microorganisms. In the process, different types of knowledge systems become crossed – the human knowledge embedded in books that discuss humanity’s relationship to nature, human technological systems for communication of similar concepts, and nature’s knowledge inherent in the organic growth patterns of the living things around us.
@HelloFungus is the twitter feed of the bhiobrid system, which in different editions has been both broadcast and printed on-site on a thermal printer. The tweets document the composite threads of the living and digital fungal degeneration of human texts. The digital fungus – an AI directed by the biological growth of microorganisms – locates and degenerates online texts on humanity’s ongoing project to control nature. That degeneration across time looks something like this in our database:
At the same time, the living microbiological organism is redacting text as it grows across a physical book.
These fungal tweets are printed on a continuous record that presents itself as a kind of degenerative poetry.
An edition by Physarum polycephalum of Studies in Landscape Design by Geoffrey Jellicoe (as tweets) was interpreted by Sandra Doller’s writing workshop at CSUSM with Cesar & Lois.
In the following video, the group of undergraduate literature students discussed the tweets of a microbiological culture broadcast at the twitter handle @HelloFungus. The students from California State University San Marcos workshopped the text and examined the tweets as prose, seeking import and considering the organism’s agency.
Another reading by Physarum polycephalum – of Existential Phenomenology by William A. Luijpen was broadcast from the twitter feed during the Brighton Digital Festival. The unredacted text excerpt, with 0% growth/generation, reads as follows:
By means of knowledge man overcomes the determinism of nature and of natural processes, for it is through man’s consciousness that nature and its processes are-for-man. Nevertheless, nature,
In the documented reading of Lujipen, the organism’s first redacted word is “man,” and the final tweets read as follows, remarkably repeating, “determinism…determinism…determinism,” in the microorganism’s final tweets, before the organism degenerates the text fully.
What follows is a sequence of tweets from the organism’s growth over Franklin Hamilton Hazlehurst’s Jacques Boyceau and the French Formal Garden (University of Georgia, 1966).
An analysis of words output in the twitter feed during Physarum polycephalum‘s reading of Existential Phenomenology by William A. Luijpen: