Andre Teh-hsi Chen
2012 MFA Design and Technology Candidates
School of Art, Media and Technology, Parsons the New School for Design
As we become even more dependent on the technology in our lives, cars, computers, cell phones, we consume more and more natural resources. From the raw materials needed to produce technology, to the coal burnt in order to fuel the battery cell, our hungry devices demand a lot of energy from the time they are born until the time that they die.
The same is true for species in the natural world. With the scarcity and continued destruction of earth’s natural resources, there simply isn’t enough to support every species. 25,000 species go extinct each year, but countless numbers of our techno “creatures” are born, and they are thriving.
Replacement Life portrays the destruction of biodiversity in the natural world while simultaneously the artificial world thrives on humanity’s ongoing global demolition project. This thematic project brings to question whether there is truly a replacement for a disappearing ecosystems, and the consequences of this inverse relationship.
CO2, often thought to be one of the biggest contributing factors to environmental and habitat change, is measured and used as an input into the computer system.
The CO2 data is interpreted by a laptop continuously running a Processing script. As the values of CO2 change, the computer displays on an attached monitor the ongoing CO2 level changes. Concurrently a series of enclosed Arduino micro-controllers begin to imitate, but not replicate, plants and animals.
As the CO2 goes up, and effectively as the quality and conditions for natural life goes down, the creatures that are connected to the computer come to life.
When left dormant the attached monitor will cycle through various international locations streaming current CO2 levels. Participants may select a city and watch the Plexiglas dome come to life depending on the location listed on the monitor. Furthermore, when inactive, the monitor is programmed to cycle through different international city data streams, thereby giving viewers an opportunity to visually observe the difference between various locations.
Animation occurs in stages, with varying degrees of life displaying current CO2 levels. At first, lights come on, buzzing and sound starts to emanate, and then growth and movement. Each creature will have unique characteristics, and they will all change and become more life-like.
By the end of the show, this terrarium will be hopping and moving.
Example of an “animal” creature coming to life:
Example of a “plant” creature coming to life:
Similar to using international live streaming data, the project also includes a small exposed CO2 sensor mounted next to the Plexiglas dome. Participants are invited to blow onto the sensor, thereby exposing the project to the immediate and individual carbon dioxide change.
The CO2 monitor displays the drastic change in the immediate environment and the creatures come to life for a few brief moments until the abrupt CO2 level has dissipated and the environment returns to normal.
In addition to the various sensors located around the world, a simple CO2 sensor will also be hooked up to the outside of the dome near the display. This additional sensor would accomplish two things. First, it will provide an up-to-date, location-specific data reading, making the project more relevant to the viewer. Furthermore, this would allow for a small amount of interactivity. As more viewers congregate around the piece, and as viewers exhale near the sensor, the CO2 value will go up and the evolution of the creatures will happen in a slightly more dramatic way.
The Plexiglas dome has a circumference width of 200cm, and in height stands 100cm. In the weather tunnel the dome is constructed on top of a plug that is positioned at ground level, (and is level to the tunnel floor).
Each creature will slightly resemble creatures found in our environment, but within the context of a digital jungle.
The animals that are being used would relate to, but not duplicate real plants and animals from nature. They should feel recognizable without clearly indicating what species they may be derived from. This is important in establishing a balance between the empathy that may come from seeing something we know and understand, and the disturbance that comes seeing it altered to a point where it has lost its natural essence. When one sees this in human-based androids, it is called the ‘Uncanny Valley,’ and it provides a real sense of tension in the viewer.
This is furthered by the obviously robotic motions and sounds that the creatures produce. The creatures will have traded the fluid and organic motions of nature for the accurate and rigid ones of machines. Instead of sounds heard in the wild, buzzers and speakers produce noises that are clearly electronic. And on top of it all, a subtle rhythm, like a heartbeat made of buzzing wire, will indicate the liveliness of the creatures inside.
Below are several examples of the creatures, however we will adapt the design based the materials made available to the project. The project will be contracted using primarily recycled and repurposed electronic parts.
• Container is clear Plexiglas geodesic dome, 200cm in diameter and 100cm high.
• Situated on floor where people can view it from all sides.
• Monitor and cables hung from above, and attached along ceiling to computer that is out of public space.
• 10-15 Arduino-driven robots, each about 4” x 5” will exist in the enclosure. Some robots will be mobile (animals), and others will grow like plants. Some will hang down from the dome, others will be on the ground.
15 Arduino Microcontrollers
Will allow input from the sensors and will directly control the various devices
Some creatures will be able to share an Arduino, and prices vary depending on which version we will need
1-2 small LCD monitors
To display CO2 information
These will be the things will generally “do” something on each of the creatures and in the dome.
Parts include: LEDs, motors, sensors, wire, servos, breadboards, buzzers, speakers, etc.
(or other small computer)
The computer will collect the information from each of the international sensors and pass the data to the
This doesn’t have to be a particularly powerful machine.
USB hubs and cables
To connect the creatures to the laptop
To provide the aesthetic backdrop necessary to create a more complete environment
This would include ultraviolet bulbs, responsive inks, vinyl sheets, etc.
To house the installation
Price is mostly dependent on size and material. Since portability is key, this can vary quite a bit.
Similar to the shift from Soul/Meat/Pattern to Wetware/Hardware/Software, every day we shift our understanding on the idea of life and our “natural world”. While we ourselves become as much machine as human, we are remaking the world in our image, and altering everything that lives around us. By looking at robots as “species”, and considering that their growth comes at the cost of life to other species, we hope to get the viewer to reconsider this artificial balance that technological advancement has a consequence.