Hylozoic Grove was one of the most impressive and (literally!) moving installations presented this year at the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria. It is a creation of Canadian artist and architect Philip Beesley – who calls it ‘geotextile mesh’ – constructed with a help of quite large team of engineers and developers. The creation (or better, the creature) combines nature and technology into one electrokinetic intelligent environment. It consists of a dense net of the proximity sensors, microcontrollers and actuators, responding to the movements of its ‘guests’ with the gentle waves of its parts spreading over the whole structure.
The symbiosis of organic forms with high-tech materials makes the interactions – again, better called dialogues – of the installation and the visitors somewhat mysterious: do you watch or are you being watched?
I recall a strange mix of admiration, curiosity and fear with which I was entering the space of the installation – as you see, it’s sizable enough to absorb a few people inside itself. The interaction was not very obvious, and often left visitors puzzled if any ‘interactivity’ was demonstrated at all. But both the physical beauty of the space and its gently waving, vibrating moves created a very special ambience, memorable and powerful.
There was no any sense of what we can describe as a ‘gameply’, no scripted rules or other such things (at least, I didn’t find any). I don’t want to say that there always should be such things, but I also noticed that such a noticeable purposelessness of the creation was a bit difficult to deal with for people who interacted with the system. After a few first probing moves, and not being lead to some sort of purposeful experience, many people were leaving, wowed yet slightly confused – “Is this it?”. Kids did play with it, although some with their very typical brutality, trying to squeeze or even torn apart the ‘leaves’.