Symbiosis in art and performance


Painting Robots Orchestra – PRO021113 – Leonel Moura


Mutualistic Relationships No.5 (Symbiosis State), 2013 – Amber Stucke

I’ve been thinking about the process of developing machines that themselves can make music. This whole concept of ‘metacreation‘ – of creating something that creates – and how it relates to our conceptions of creation, design and control over artistic output. The metaphor of ‘symbiosis’ has come to mind thinking about my _derivations system. For me adapting the concept of symbiosis (the biological process of mutualistic relationships in nature) to performance practice with _derivations is apt, because it acknowledges mutual influence as being at the core of an interaction, rather than striving for complete autonomy between man and machine.

Autonomy is a fascinating concept, and one that has so much potential for the development of generative and interactive music, but it only tells one part of the story where interaction is concerned. The idea that machine and a human performer might need each other to create is appeals to me far more, that such mutual dependence creates a unique environment for exploration and joint creation. I also think that symbiosis describes the process in a much more nuanced way than arguing the line between reactivity and interactivity would ever do in determining the responsive characteristics of a performance system. Autonomy of human and machine forms part of the equation, but acknowledging their mutual dependence also enables a way of understanding how one is entangled with the other in performance, thereby opening up ways of analysing such creative strategies from the perspective of system design and real-time performance.

Incidentally, doing some research of symbiosis and art it’s hard not to come across the work of Leonel Moura, artist and designer working with robotics and artificial intelligence. His conception of symbiosis in art is provocative yet appealing, if a little peripheral to the area of interactive performance. Creating machines as artists themselves that can autonomously create is an exciting practice that is happening right throughout the arts, and Moura has a beautiful yet resolute way of describing its potential in his ‘Symbitotic Art Manifesto’. My thought that follows this is how his ideas might intersect with the notion of interactivity. Can his appropriation of the concept of symbiosis be extended to real-time performance? How might we understand the process of creating something that not only creates something new, but also changes the notion of performative relationships throughout the act of creation?

“Symbiotic Art Manifesto:

1) Machines can make art
2) Man and machine can make symbiotic art
3) Symbiotic art is a new paradigm that opens up new ways for art
4) It involves totally relinquishing manufacture and the reign of the hand in art
5) It involves totally relinquishing personal expression and the centrality of the artist/human
6) It involves totally relinquishing any moralist or spiritual ambition, or any purpose of representation

[Making the Artists that make the Art]

Art as we know it is dead. This time it is definite and official.

Often declared during the last century though never actually achieved, the death of art is now a fact. Not just out of a mere wish or avant-garde rhetoric, but because the conditions for artistic production have changed brusquely. Suddenly, all of modern art has become ancient art. Because the idea of art as a product exclusively of human creativity has been finally abandoned, to adopt the notion that it is the direct output of non-human artists.

As usual, such a change of paradigm has only been possible through technological evolution. From the analysis of the parts we move on to the mechanics of complexity. By studying living organisms we are now in a position to realize life as it could be.

When robots ceased to merely simulate human behavior, such as walking, playing football or cracking jokes, to start being used to make art, something very radical happened. Robots that make art are not only questioning the idea of art or philosophy, they even cast doubts on our own condition as human beings. Why bother continuing to do something that machines can do better and more consistently? If art has no purpose, as all the modern and post-modern theories declare, then machines are the best creators.

Once having freed ourselves from making art we may now devote our efforts to generate a new type of artist born from the broth of protobiotics, robotics and artificial life. We can build the machines that will make art. This new artist/machine has no predetermined objective, nor aesthetics, morals or intent. He realizes the last of the “pure psychic automatism” as announced by Breton and partly developed by Pollock. Besides, there is no concern about individualism or identity. The action is collective and the World is apprehended as a common territory emerging from a stigmergic behavior.

From a philosophical standpoint the action is relational and the works that are generated are synthetic proposals issuing from the unraveling of collective experimentation. The life of the artist/machine is interlinked to the life of the artist/human.
When we cease to make art to start making artists, what do we become ourselves? We become symbiotic artists! Humans are no longer concerned about the direct production of objects, but dedicate all their knowledge and energy to create and cooperate with an imaginary, non-human life that is devoted to art-making.

In doing so, the symbiotic artist asserts that technology serves creativity and not the destructive military industry or mercantilism.
The role of the symbiotic artist from now on is to create non-human artists and to cooperate with them to produce art. This entails understanding the rudiments of non-anthropocentric life and creating the conditions for experimentation to take place. In other words, art as it could be. Art of the 21st Century.”

(Leonel Moura, Henrique Garcia Pereira, 2004)