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Degenerative Cultures

by Cesar & Lois, a collective composed of Cesar Baio and Lucy HG Solomon of The League of Imaginary Scientists with contributions from Jeremy Speed Schwartz (also of LOIS) and Scott Morgans (biologist).

Degenerative Cultures is an interactive work of art in which living organisms, social networks and Artificial Intelligence work together to discuss the the relationship between humanity and nature.

In this “biohybrid” (digital and biological) network, physical books documenting the human impulse to control and reshape nature serve as food for a colony of microorganism.

Next to the book with live fungi is a computer monitor. A intelligent digital fungus searches the internet and corrupts texts with the same predatory intent of the text found in the physical book. These two systems, one organic and the other informational, communicate through a digital interface.

The digital fungus integrates Artificial Intelligence and generative algorithms (based on processes of growth of living organisms) with a Twitter bot, allowing anyone to interact with the system and help to destroy the texts.

The story of this fungal colonization of human knowledge is documented in readouts of the twitter feed of @HelloFungus, which is printed out continuously on-site on a miniature thermal printer.  This "biohybrid” artwork uses a compound of technologies to integrates living and digital systems in a single network, where the bio-digital fungi respond to Internet users’ mentions, engaging people in the spreading of these “digital spores”.

[...] 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.

[...] sulphate aerosol particle injections, are global in impact, and [...] technically feasible [...] [Solar Radiation Management] a reflective particle layer in the middle atmosphere or deploying mirrors in space.
Low, S.; Schäfer, S.; Maas A. , Climate Engineering, 2013

This bio-digital system maps and corrupts the predatory knowledge frameworks that have consistently driven how humanity deals with nature. The resulting system makes visible those entropic patterns in human culture that have carried us into the Anthropocene.

If one considers human societies as a biological culture on Earth, our substrate is the global ecosystem. Incongruously, human societies consistently destroy this substrate, resulting in a massive cumulative loss of data in the form of species extinctions and environmental devastation.

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 religion, science, art, philosophy, economy and in other contexts of society. The departure point of the project is a critic examination of these old and new texts, searching for patterns that could direct humanity to disinformation and corrupt the algorithms of Modernity.

Details of operation

1) A microorganism grows on the book with texts on the human impulse in mastering nature, and some letters and whole worlds become obscured by that growth.
2) A digital interface based in computer vision analyzes the growth of the fungus
3) A twitter bot linked to @HelloFungus tweets the visible text and the errors generated by the fungus.
4) The interface communicates with a digital fungus which, based on AI and Generative Algorithms, looks for texts on the Internet with the same ideals of domination of nature.
5) The digital fungus corrupts the texts sourced online and shows this process on the screen next to the book
7) The texts of the physical book and the Internet are printed out on-site by a thermal printer
8) People can interact by mentioning @HelloFungus on Twitter and receive responses from the digital fungus.

Degenerative Cultures is an artwork by Cesar & Lois, a collective composed of Cesar Baio and Lucy HG Solomon of The League of Imaginary Scientists with contributions from Jeremy Speed Schwartz (also of LOIS) and Scott Morgans (biologist).
The project was created during Cesar Baio’s residency as artist-researcher at i-DAT - Plymouth University. His research was funded by Capes/Brazil Scholarship Program / 88881.120168/2016-01.

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