Coded Nature

Coded Nature, 2022
Real-time interactive digital starling swarm software on 55” LG video-wall screens with camera.

Coded Nature explores the relationship between humans, nature and technology. An autonomously flying swarm of DRIFT blocks responds to the movement of the audience, reflecting the endless opportunities of creation in nature as well as a continuous flow of change. The work was unveiled and shown to public for the first time, at Art Basel Miami 2022.

The work illustrates how humans strive to live autonomously within sets of societal rules and conventions, and challenges the human concept of freedom. If every bird were to operate on its own, the ultimate result would be chaos. Just like birds, people find safety in being part of a group. As such, their actions must be aligned with collective mechanisms and are compelled to follow a set of rules based on which society functions. If one chooses complete individual freedom over societal effort then one can only operate aside from it, which makes us question: What is the perfect balance between the two? Is freedom an illusion?

At first, the patterns appear random and the swarm gives us impressions of freedom. But the behaviour of these Drifter blocks is completely orchestrated and subject to many constraints and survival instincts. There is tremendous beauty in watching the sudden effect of decisions of thousands of individuals and their reactions to the surrounding environment – including one another. A person interacting with the work will be seen as an invader of the group, leading the object to adopt a self-protecting posture just as nature does. Yet, it instals curiosity and invites the audience to become part of it, or to attack it.

Our study started in 2007 with the launch of the work Flylight, whereby non pre-programmed flight patterns were generated by an algorithm that interacts in ways similar to starling murmuration. To create Coded Nature, DRIFT translated this research into an interactive real life animated AI algorithm based on a biological study, engaging the viewer in a poetic side of technical innovation.

Coded Nature is represented by Pace Gallery
Currently on view at CCBB São Paulo, Brazil

Photographs by Jonathan de Waart, Ding Musa