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Degenerative Cultures
Cesar & Lois


Degenerative Cultures is a nature-based video and AI-driven experiment that allows fungal organisms and their digital counterparts to corrupt texts on humanity’s relationship to nature. The multimedia installation consists of a screen triptych with two looping videos and one live animation of a digital fungus and its degeneration of online predatory texts. The three screens are represented in the submission together and additionally in separate links to view them better. Each would be represented on a single screen or projection. One screen includes the timelapse footage of a microbiological culture consuming text. This fungal reading is then tweeted by the twitter handle @HelloFungus. The second screen shows a literature class analyzing this twitter feed, asking questions about what the fungus is trying to tell us, as it degenerates the text and tweets out less and less comprehensible quotes from the book that it is “reading.” The third screen is a live feed of the animated digital fungus, an AI-driven digital organism based on the behavior of the organic organism. This digital fungus is trained to search the Internet and similarly decompose texts about how humanity can design and control nature.

In Degenerative Cultures, living microorganisms, digital networks and artificial intelligence work together. Replicating the logic of so-called intelligent microorganisms (Physarum polycephalum), the artists developed a “bhiobrid" agent, blurring the limits between biological and artificial intelligence. Mapping and corrupting the predatory knowledge frameworks that have consistently driven how humanity deals with nature, their goal is to learn from the bio-hybrid interactions across biological, social and technical networks. The resulting system makes visible those entropic patterns in human culture that have carried us into the Anthropocene.

A hybrid of artificial and biological intelligences drive the logic of the installation. Physical books documenting the human impulse to control and reshape nature are used as the substrates for fungi. The text is destroyed in a physical sense, and this destruction is visible through the redaction or disappearance of legible text on the surface of the pages by the biological agent. The AI component analyzes the living microorganisms’ growth and feeds a [de]generative algorithm linked to cellular automata and natural language analysis. This bio-digital agent searches the Internet for texts that follow similar predatory patterns by describing humanity’s efforts to control nature. 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, which viewers can interact with on their mobile devices. In the “bhiobrid” network, the bio-digital fungi respond to Internet users’ mentions, engaging others in the spreading of “digital spores”.