The recently released book, Meta-Life. Biotechnologies, Synthetic Biology, ALife and the Arts (MIT Press, 2014), includes an article that Nell Tenhaaf, artist, co-founder of VIDA and jury member since its beginnings, dedicates to the art and artificial life contest, entitled “Art Embodies A-Life: The VIDA Competition”. In this text, the author explores the characteristics of the union between art and artificial life through a selection of pieces that have won VIDA prizes. First and foremost, she warns, “there is no single feature that characterizes the unique nature of Artificial Life (A-Life) creativity in art”. It’s a series of features that can be found, according to Tenhaaf, in the various award-winning prizes. Autonomous behaviours, an active relationship with the surroundings and the combination of natural and artificial elements are some of the elements present in these projects that are “…calling into question the boundary between the living and the non-living”.
The author offers an interesting definition of the art of artificial life as the synthesis of interest in ever-emerging technologies, specialised research and a series of strategies that allow for creating “an artefact that has both aesthetic power and social relevance”. Tenhaaf sees ready-made substitutes for living processes in works of art and artificial life, insofar as they lead us to reflect on the objects that surround us and the way we establish relationships with them, sometimes projecting our emotions onto them as if they were living beings. Another way these pieces explore artificial life is through the questions that technologies raise, such as those of genetic engineering, simulations of living organisms in virtual environments, artificial intelligence and robotics. By means of experimental systems and interactive devices, artwork and artificial life bring the public closer to aspects of research that goes from the laboratory to the exhibition hall and establishes a point of connection between art and science. In this sense, a productive collaboration between artists and scientists is also established.
Nell Tenhaaf explores these ideas through an ample selection of pieces awarded VIDA prizes, including projects that have received a lot of attention like Dog [LAB] 01 (2003) by France Cadet (VIDA 6.0) and other less-known, but equally interesting, pieces such as PaCO – Poeta Automático Callejero Online (Online Automatic Street Poet) (2004) by Carlos Corpa and Ana María García Serrano (VIDA 7.0). Through these and other pieces, the author analyses the multiple ways in which art shapes artificial life.