| Artificial Trees & Artificial Life
The A-Trees of the ONETREES project as originally developed in a distribution deal with the MUTATE CDROM produced by MUTE, London. In addition to the Stump project, the CD contains the software to grow a virtual tree on your PC desktop. These are also 'clones' of a sort, but algorithmic clones that grow on your local machine, on your desktop.
The electronic trees (e-trees) use L-systems to simulate growth. L-systems are very important in the field of complexity science because they are the basic algorithm for a self-replicating systems. It is these self-replicating systems like those that are affectionately called A-life, in an explicit claim that they represent 'life'. Life is a complex phenomena and l-systems (and related algorithms) are a popular way to represent this complexity simply. However in A-life, there is often a larger claim that 'life is a formal property' rather than a property of the actual material.
The genre of investigation in the field of A-life, is to build virtual/environments with as many parameters as computationaly feasible, thereby, not only simulating the growth of the plant, but also the environment it is growing within, and, in fact, whole ecosystems.
The ONETREES e-trees use a different strategy. Accompanying the MUTATE CDROM is a CO2 meter that plugs into your local serial port. It is this that controls the growth rate of the trees. It is the actual carbon dioxide level right at your computer that controls the growth rate of these virtual trees.
This is a radically different representation strategy. Rather than building a virtual world to represent complexity, this project punctures between the virtual and the actual environment. In so doing it will create an informal network of data collection. This network of peoplet and technologies will provide on the ground, so to speak, measures of the CO2 levels in as many different contexts as people who get the MUTATE CDROM.
One might ask why is it interesting to have a motley crew of technoartists, curators and weirdoes actually plugging in CO2 meters and growing artificial trees. The intention is actually different from other popular and populist forms of A-life, like SIM ANT; SIM CITY; etc, and the illusion of godlike control over the complex interactions that create cities, ant colonies, and other complex social and material conditions.
The e-trees of the ONETREES project can be compared on the ONETREES website. Each tree will upload into the impossible geography of the website, suggested by the image on the lower right of the screen. Here the comparison between the simulated growth of the e-trees can be made. A comparison that, although not rendered in the scientific genre of graphs and nonspecific precision, may provide a meaningful representation of the varying levels of CO2, nonetheless. Furthermore data from the b-trees will be here to facilitate ways to understand the growth of both.
However these e-trees never get to represent the complex phenomena of tree growth and environmental interactions. They can never be called A-life. They are always and already only simplifications of the complex phenomena rendered by the instrument of the network of actual biological clones. They are always, though empirical, only representations of a much richer complexity. Always simpler, never mistaken for life itself, nor A-life. This is the critique embedded in the project.
The juxtaposition of the actual biological and the electronic clones will frame the often overlooked issue that life is actually a material property, that Alife is another form of representing life, not the form, and that complexity is irreducible, by definition.