Abstract

The live art of theater remains curiously missing from ALife art history, despite the fact that its very existence is poised on the cusp of the living and the artificial, and on the modeling of life as artefact—what can be called the containment-versus-continuity dilemma. How far one seeks to affirm autonomy of the creative artwork or, in contrast, how far one seeks to affirm its continuity with its supposed real-life contexts is a question that has forever haunted theater, and that has naturally come to haunt ALife and ALife arts. Investigation of the boundary separating observers from modeled systems is as core to research into the live art of theater as to ALife research. This brief article seeks to open up discussion on links between ALife, ALife art, and the live art of theater, through key thematic threads that traverse these domains: their modeling of universes, the open or closed nature of the resultant modeled systems, and their implications with respect to observers, definitions, and instantiations of life regarding non-life or death as well as attributions of liveness to emergent synthetic biology and metamaterials.

1 Introduction

Like definitions of life, definitions of ALife and ALife art are wrought from enunciative frameworks that evolve in response to changing scientific and social contexts. As we become increasingly part of “living technology” [9] and increasingly aware of its sociocultural implications, diversification of approaches to this polysemic domain to open up broader, transdisciplinary dialogue is imperative. ALife may be viewed as serving to theoretically model and thereby enhance our understanding of life, or conversely, to cultivate creative productions that are themselves destined to become instantiations of life, and thus active agents in our own existence. As living technology, it involves software (e.g., evolving computational processes), hardware (e.g., reproducing and evolving robots), wetware (e.g., self-reproducing and evolving protocells), and mixed networks made up of some or all of those classes.

In his widely referenced 1989 foundational article on ALife, Christopher Langton saw human synthesis of alternative life forms as the only way to get beyond carbon-chain-chemistry-bound experience in order to distinguish life's essential properties [27]. Given the limited likelihood of our encountering organisms whose different physical chemistries might be compared with our own, this synthesis is necessary to extend reflection otherwise limited to exemplars of the carbon chain to which we belong. Some ALifers consider creation of unknown life forms to demand a discrete space like that provided by computational modeling. For Louis Bec, “the conditions for bringing about technological biodiversity, for the creation of unknown forms of life and post-biological virtual worlds, can (thus) only come about in a new, truly and totally artificial space” [4]. In contrast, developers of artificial autonomous agents consider their viability as ALife instantiations to be predicated on their capacity to adapt to real-world environments, as in situated and evolutionary robotics, which bear out Langton's desire to “build models that are so lifelike that they would cease to be models of life and become examples of life themselves” [18].

These positions span vastly nuanced stances, partly because ALife is such a strongly interdisciplinary, evolving field, and partly because it is no easier for the ALife community to agree on definitions of life than for anyone else: “What is alive to a chemist, an engineer, or a computer programmer may be quite devoid of life to a painter or a mariner. […] For science, a viewer-specified projection of “life” would count as a metaphoric application of the term. Yet, in the absence of a widely accepted definition of life, the boundary between metaphors and literal interpretations blurs, depending on who is using the term and the context in which it is applied” [17]. Foucault dates formal recognition of the “invisible focal unity of life, from which the multiple seems to derive, as though by ceaseless dispersion” back to the 19th century advent of biology [22]; this historical conceptualization contrasts with harder ALife terms that define life as covering “a cluster of properties, most of which are themselves philosophically problematic: self-organization, emergence, autonomy, growth, development, reproduction, evolution, adaptation, responsiveness, and metabolism” [11].

Attempts to grasp the relations between life and ALife and explore the blurred boundaries between metaphor and literal interpretation have prompted reflection on artistic world-building, including Wheeler's study of Rothko's paintings [42], Dorin's analyses of creations by Kandinsky and Steve Reich [17], Boden's discussion of creative computational legacies in art [12], and Bedau's writing on the implications of ALife for the arts [8]. Theater is however largely missing from such endeavors: Pickering's account of Pask's “ontological theatre” [32], and Salter's positioning of cybernetics within performance technologies [37], remain exceptions. This absence is curious, given that theater's very existence is poised on the cusp of the living and the artificial, and on issues of modeling and framing life as an artefact—what can be called the containment-versus-continuity dilemma. Like ALife and ALife arts today, arts (including the performing arts) raise questions of autonomy with respect to their real-world anchorage, that is, questions that require the identification and negotiation of boundaries, and of associated principles of inclusion and exclusion. Their in vivo implementation of action makes live arts comparable to artificial life: Both “expand our sense of what can emerge from what by constructively exploring what is possible” [7].

These questions are here discussed with reference to theater, artificial life, and ALife art. In its attempt to reach beyond entrenched representational approaches and debates about the inherent liveness of computational simulations, this article argues instead for imaginative strategies leading to more agile conceptualizations of ALife, drawing on those provided by the ancient live art of theater. Section 2 describes our propensity for modeling universes. Section 3 addresses the distinction between open and closed systems, linking first- and second-order cybernetics, and the latter's integration of the observer, to the crafting of artefact-observer relations that are key to theater. Section 4 addresses life and death and our sempiternal ruses to get beyond them, evidenced by symbolic modeling strategies encountered throughout live arts, ALife, and biotechnological ALife art avatars pregnant with contrived organicity. Finally, Section 5, on metalife borne by novel metamaterials, opens onto conjectural realms of life in parallel or alternative ecologies.

2 Modeling Universes

For the zoosystematician Louis Bec, “in the artistic as well as the scientific areas the aim of modeling is to produce a median object situated between the data and the modelmaker. As the bearer of variable, manipulable parameters this median object allows for the processing of emotional, imaginative information in an artistic setting in the same way as for logical, rational information in a scientific one” [4]. Theater is one of our most resilient means for modeling life as artefact, via thousands of years of shaping median objects through framing and containment systems. Theatrical containment is designed to isolate live actions—of humans and other beings, elements, and imagined entities—to make them aesthetically appreciable. In order to be effective, art must differentiate itself as a system and is thus subject to a logic of operative closure like any other functional system [30], though it is hard to separate strictly theatrical apparatus from the wider social apparatus—tangible and intangible—that is its context: “What precisely constitutes the limits of the apparatus that gives meaning to certain concepts at the exclusion of others?” [3]. How do we determine where stage, theater building, cultural quarter, and related infrastructure start and stop? That theater's nested boundaries are so diverse and contingent makes it an interesting comparator for ALife containment systems, particularly as regards attribution of observer status.

The specification or foreseen emergence of some kind of vantage point is a prerequisite for modeling a median object, since it is this point—or points, where viewpoints are multiplied or switched—that, by proxy, lets us observe a model. Objectivity and the creation of a shareable artefact is only achievable if the observer(s) can be excluded from the object of scrutiny, yet the effectiveness of such exclusion remains debatable insofar as investigators of a system affect and are affected by it. Purported exclusion by integrating the observer(s) into a larger picture leads to a paradox of potentially infinite regress, which the endophysicist Otto Rössler seeks to resolve by placing an explicit internal observer within the model universe, as in a molecular dynamics simulation of an excitable system, which acts as a simplified observer inside a larger, similarly simulated artificial universe. Without this device, according to Rössler, “one realizes that the world is necessarily defined only on the interface between the observer and the rest of the universe. Since this interface is inaccessible as an object, there seems to be no solution left for internal observers like us. We cannot step out of our own world in order to adopt the role of a ‘superobserver’. Hence we cannot understand the world” [36].

The assets of Rössler's model universe are encapsulated within a larger picture, where encapsulation designates provision of an outer shell to protect and stabilize a vulnerable entity, allowing transfer and translation of contents, whose integrity is thus conserved. Encapsulation of model universes solves the “superobserver” problem, that is, the problem of how to separate ourselves from our milieu in order to observe and understand it. In a similar vein, Aristotle pointed out that the vital milieu, that which is closest, tends to be rendered invisible or upstaged by that which takes place. Aquatic animals ignore their milieu: Water is what they always see, and therefore never see unless they are removed from it, in which case they perish [39]. Model universes allow us to perceive our milieu by framing and setting it at an observable distance without our perishing through the act of separation. Such distanciation makes a creative cut in addition to that implemented by the initial act of perception, as per von Foerster's assertion that “the environment as we perceive it is our invention” [21]. How this cut is made, and what kind of permeability it affords between environment and perceiver, or observed model and observer, are equally crucial questions in ALife and in the live art of theater.

If performances are construed as discretized cultural artefacts, then theatrical apparatus is operational when it secures adequate closure of artistically framed actions from their real-life contexts; live art's fortuitous aspects, however, jeopardize such closure in physical and dramaturgical terms. Relations between framed action and an observer's world cannot be unambiguously encoded, because the action triggers ultimately unknowable responses from its observer. Live art's specific rhetorical or “semiotic technologies” [24] engage us in an oscillation across material and symbolic manifestations, provoking perceptual multistability: “The meaning that the perceiving subject attaches to the object's phenomenal being generates an ensuing chain of associative meanings not necessarily related to what is perceived. […] One cannot foresee which meanings will be generated associatively; one cannot foresee which meanings will direct perception to which theatrical element” [20].

Negotiation of boundaries and related principles of inclusion and exclusion are as essential to theater as its entanglements of observed and observers. The quandary of the theatrical cutoff is wryly evoked in Diderot's paradox of acting, where admiration for an actor who is compellingly “himself” when playing a part is coupled with suspicion, since “If he's himself when he is acting, how can he cease being himself? If he wants to cease being himself, how will he seize the exact point at which to place himself and to stop?” [16]. Enactments of the limits separating theatrical from real-world behavior can themselves act as dramaturgical drivers: Parades and carnivals literally play on the social distinctions that boundaries incorporate [31]. Live art containment systems, be they concretely instantiated or encoded in cultural imaginaries, form an interface that must be renegotiated with each encounter to yield shareable perceptions and experiences. That said, their more or less formal qualities are no guarantee of the effectiveness of their contents: A street performer's gestures to carve out viable space in indifferent terrain may instantiate a frame that is all the more convincing in its precariousness, while performers solidly confined by a proscenium arch may singularly fail to engage their audience.

Art derives from the encoding or abstraction of preexisting materials to constitute a formal system identified by its boundaries, that is, the exclusion of non-encoded (or non-encodable) qualities: “A model is a relation between a natural system s and some suitable formal system m. […] It is established through an encoding of qualities or observables of s into formal or mathematical objects in m. A model stems from an encoding of a natural system into a formal one. It is an abstraction of the system that ignores some non-encoded qualities. The natural system, s, is open to modalities of interaction with the environment, whereas m represents this system isolated from those modalities” [19]. While inclusion/exclusion in science seeks to clarify and dispel ambiguity by eliminating aspects of s, art seeks to derange and disrupt normal or literal interpretations of objects encoded in m to generate affectively communicative, unforeseeable meanings, often grounded in paradox and trickster cunning: “Communication through art […] is inherently ambiguous (semiologists speak of polysémie) independently of whether or not the divergence of observational possibilities was planned in the sense of an ‘open work’” [30]. Converging vantage points may guarantee consensus and conventions in other human dealings, but the thwarting of robustly stabilized convergence may itself quite precisely be a goal in the arts.

3 Playing with Open and Closed Systems

Celebrating life by framing it as a creative endeavor goes back to early rituals honoring or vying with its supposedly divine sources in traditions including animism, pantheism, and monotheism. Shifts from theocentric rituals to anthropocentric theatrical creations to project real and ideal visions of life are the subject of Victor Turner's comparative symbology, which addresses nonverbal symbols in ritual and art, going beyond the ethnographic limits of symbolic anthropology to include symbolic genres of large-scale contemporary societies. Turner tells us how theater lets us literally play out and with liminal cultural structures and concepts, upholding our capacity to adapt to change. To make sense of our many-layered everyday life, we must value the enactive subjunctive as-if world of symbolic or fictitious play, together with the needless risk of acting and interacting. Whereas the rigidification of symbols into logical operators, and their subordination to implicit syntax-like rules, blind us to their creative potential as instigators of human action, comparative symbology aims “to preserve this ludic capacity, to catch symbols in their movement, so to speak, and to ‘play’ with their possibilities of form and meaning” [40].

Ludic ambivalence in the performing arts raises permanently vexed questions about the nature of their observational frameworks. The “human measure of all things” in theater is a complex, evolving array of cultural apparatus and metrics, whether the measured subject be an observable actor-protagonist, or the observer of the latter. Like ALife art artefacts, live artworks display degrees of closed- or openness that change as a function of the apparatus used to instantiate them and the perspective from which they are viewed. A generic definition of such apparatus is Bec's skenabiotope, “an artificial space specially constructed to enhance the spectacular activities of certain organisms and/or models. It is a dispositif, a system whose parameters can be manipulated, provoking programmed or random behaviours. One might say that it is constructed quite precisely to study and amplify certain types of theatricalising or theatricalised behaviours in artificial organisms” [5]. The skenabiotope is a system for cultivating new forms of liveness whose observability is enhanced by their staging.

Organisms and/or models whose deployment amplifies theatricalizing or theatricalized behaviors can, as a corollary, “amplify our capacities as observers and actors in the physical world” [13]. For Cariani, such effects cannot be produced by computational ALife models, whose mathematically based formalism anchored in functionally closed-state devices precludes openness, and thus genuine emergence. Thermodynamic models are likewise questionably open, given the possibility, however theoretical, of predicting the evolution of their strictly material substrate. In contrast, in systems that foreground the observer, the “emergence-relative-to-a-model view sees emergence as the deviation of the behavior of a physical system from an observer's model of it. Emergence then involves a change in the relationship between the observer and the physical system under observation.” In such cases, “matter has as many properties as one can measure, a given object can support radically different types of behavior, depending on how one has chosen to observe it” [13].

Characterization of emergence as the “problem of specification versus creativity, of closure and replicability vs. open-endedness and surprise” [13] affords analogies with the emergence associated with theatrical liveness. It is through its negotiation of closure versus open-endedness, or replicability versus surprise, that theater acquires its singularity as live art: “The artist must (therefore) observe his emerging work in anticipation of its observation by others. There is no way of knowing how others (which others?) will receive the work through their consciousness. But he will incorporate into the work ways of directing the expectations of others, and he will make an effort to surprise them” [30]. In its celebration of often rehearsed action, live art stages repetitions of human gestures and behaviors that are all the more valued because of our gnawing sense of their fragility. Actors and publics vacillate (and thrive) where the closed, controllable parameters of a given theatrical apparatus meet the slippery vitality of the “here and now,” that is, the in vivo tipping point between human and material mastery and error. This is so whether or not a performance is scripted or improvised, since “

According to one's viewpoint, a given live art construct may seem radically demarcated from or cohesively continuous with the world inhabited by its observers. For example, other-worldly features of 16th century court ballet, its extravagant costumes, floats, and sets, and its intricate scores and recitations may conjure up an allegorical dream realm that eclipses everyday reality. But from another perspective, such performances merely prolong the luxurious other-worldliness of court life, as much in evidence in everyday parades of royalty as in formal theater events. In 19th century naturalist “slice of life” dramas for bourgeois theater-goers, depicting working class existences soberingly subservient to their own, a sense of real-world continuity hangs on audience readiness to avow the grim verisimilitude of witnessed events. Postdramatic theater since the 1960s revitalizes connections between live art and its real-world anchorage, replacing plot-led dynamics with alternative kinds of engagement between actors and audiences [28]. Ad hoc live art creations also challenge traditional theatrical bracketing or containment; anti-institutional performance [35] and the exacerbated mediatization of Debord's “society of spectacle” [15] fabricate frames that condition their perception: “[But] even if the performers staged the work entirely for their own sake, it would still be an art that experiments with its own boundaries, and it would still be communication addressed to an audience, albeit an audience tending toward zero. To produce observability is to communicate order within a formal arrangement that doesn't come about spontaneously” [30]. Theater and ALife, and thence ALife art, design and implement formal arrangements that augment emergent qualities and processes, to catalyze and make observable novel arenas of liveness.

4 Artificial Life and Death

As an architectural and dramaturgical containment system, theater's codified physical or symbolic boundaries allow the paradoxical creation of action that is reproducible as repeated performances, yet never twice the same, given its real-time contingencies. Its simultaneous abstraction from and embeddedness in reality makes this action creatively potent: “Restored behavior is living behavior treated as a film director treats a strip of film. These strips of behavior can be rearranged or reconstructed, they are independent of the actual systems (social, psychological, technical) that brought them into existence. They have a life of their own. […] Originating as a process, used in the process of rehearsal to make a new process, a performance, the strips of behavior are not themselves processes but things, items, ‘material’” [38].

Live art’s license to ignore the truth or source of its behavioral raw materials allows immortality to be staged through conventions of playing out life and death—proved by the curtain calls of pantheons of slain characters: “It is an obvious feature of stage productions that the final applause wipes the make-believe away” [23]. Death offers recognizable narratives frequently used as points of “natural” closure, as in spectacles recounting life stories with dramatic endings that form a quasi genre, including public displays of martyrdom in Nero's Rome, climactic death scenes of modern dramaturgy as in Hamlet or Macbeth, and postmodern spoofery of faked last gasps as in Claire Marshall's sixty-minute endurance dying scene in Forced Entertainment's Spectacular (2008) (see Figure 1a). Punch's resurrections and pacts with the devil are his trademark, and Tadeusz Kantor's Theatre of Death, with its indistinguishable mannequins and ghoulish actors, claims that life in art can only be expressed through an appeal to death [25]. (Refer to online supplementary materials at www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/suppl/10.1162.ARTL_a_00175.)

Figure 1. 

(a) Robin Arthur and Claire Marshall in Spectacular, Forced Entertainment, 2008. Photograph by and courtesy of Hugo Glendinning. (b) Effulge, by Yunchul Kim and Fluid Skies, 2012. Photograph courtesy of Vida-Telefonica Foundation.

Figure 1. 

(a) Robin Arthur and Claire Marshall in Spectacular, Forced Entertainment, 2008. Photograph by and courtesy of Hugo Glendinning. (b) Effulge, by Yunchul Kim and Fluid Skies, 2012. Photograph courtesy of Vida-Telefonica Foundation.

Everyday life and discourse tend to reference notions of death as the counterpart of life and, by opposition, as a way of defining it. Death is a biological reality and a complex symbolic construct associated with our self-consciousness as living beings and our apprehension of mortality. Machines and computer programs, on the other hand, break down and become obsolete, making ALife survival a formally codified parameter and/or measure of viability. Real-life and theatrical visions of death consequently seem far removed from formal principles of operational closure, yet insofar as artificial life definitions are circuitously tied to immeasurable notions of “lifelike,” concepts of mortality ultimately remain entrenched within even the most computationally abstract systems. Along with their ability to metabolize, reproduce, and undertake self-repair and adaptation, living and ALife beings are characterized by the fact that they die.

Death is a central feature of Thomas Ray's ALife milestone Tierra (1989–), a simulator occupying a block of RAM (the “soup”), containing a reaper mortality function [33, 34]. As memory fills, the reaper kills creatures by deallocating their memory according to their position in a queue. Newborns enter the bottom of the queue, and the next condemned creature is at the top. The reaper moves flawed algorithms up to more swiftly reach the fatal peak while vigorous algorithms live longer, though they face increased probability of death with age. Tierra's unforeseen evolutionary explosions are well documented; of interest here are the questions of openness and closedness on which Ray's digital ecology depends, and their analogies with those encountered in the artificial life of theater (eloquently addressed by Whitelaw [43]). In his biologist's dream to create a self-replicating, open-endedly evolving system, Ray naively imagined that computer instructions might “live” inside a personal computer containment facility whose disk drives and serial port would be protected by “metal bars.” Alerted by his Santa Fe colleagues to the risk of large-scale infection by freely evolving digital creatures, he instead simulated the operation of an imaginary computer within a real one so that the organisms, “in their competition for memory space in a virtual computer, could use a nonfunctional computer language, one that worked only in the model. If someone attempted to liberate the creatures and use them outside this theoretical cage, the code would not work” [29]. As in the worlds of play, art, and theater, Tierra's inherent vitality requires negotiation of its interface with the real world outside. Its framing system, that is, its modalities of closure of the containment facility, secure the evolution of its synthetic ecological content.

Synthetic biology research where artificial life forms generated in vitro (e.g., genomes) are introduced into live, naturally occurring host materials (e.g., bacterial cells) produces hybrids that challenge notions of functional closure and differentiation, stretching “the boundaries of life and of machines until the two overlap to yield truly programmable organisms” [41]. ALife art using such resources must create the conditions—the cut—needed for its appreciation, to produce new sensors and observables, and thus meaningful insights: “New categories of perception and sets of sign-distinctions are created. Here new relations between internal perceptual signs and the world at large are brought into being…” [14]. This means mobilizing the rhetorical and semiotic devices with which we make and recognize meaning, using principles not dissimilar to those implemented in live art. Indeed, if theater is seen as a kind of model universe or modeling arena (skenabiotope) designed to spectacularly amplify behaviors, then the calibration of ALife art apparatus (i.e., the fixing of its limits for the purposes of its performance) might be seen as a kind of tuning comparable to that employed by theater.

In terms of staging, the frame ensured by the bioreactor containing the In-Potentia artwork by Guy Ben-Ary, Kirsten Hudson, Mark Lawson, and Stuart Hodgetts appears as crucial to its semantic and aesthetic impact as to its effective operative closure, hosting subversively, if not perversely, engineered living material. Applying induced pluripotent stem cell reprogramming techniques to foreskin cells to turn them into a functioning neural network or “biological brain” is, to quote its creators, “an absurd thought experiment,” but also a way of spectacularly “employing bio-technologies to address, and modify, boundaries surrounding understandings of life, death and person-hood” [10]. The combination of crafted wood, aged brass, and glass used to house this “human brain” exudes sophisticated steampunk and quasi-skeuomorphic qualities, redolent of the sense of authority associated with the eighteenth century scientific apparatus that inspired In-Potentia's makers. At the same time, the bioreactor effectively sustains living contents with its tissue culture incubator, conveying evidence of its vital mission audibly as well as visibly by producing a soundscape from electric signals generated by the neural network. Limits of the apparatus whereby certain concepts acquire meaning at the exclusion of others are thus scenographically defined, to reveal the theatricalized and theatricalizing behaviors of these disquietingly repurposed cells. (See figures c-e in the online supplementary materials for this article.)

5 Metacreativity, Metamaterials, Metalife

Whitelaw describes ALife art as driven by a desire for absolute emergence and endless excess; it is a “metacreative endeavor” about making and being, where being is becoming other, becoming unknown [43]. Whether in ALife art or in art or in ALife in general, such endeavor tests our ability to identify fundamentally alien phenomena, which is invariably constrained by our cognitive apparatus and habits. As Ray concedes, Tierra as a synthetic construct may display behavior that, while lifelike, is perhaps more importantly characteristic of an alternative form of life: “What we see is what we know. It is likely to take longer before we appreciate the unique properties of these new life forms” [29]. Recognition of alternative life, or “Native Life in an Other biotope” [6], demands cognitive terms and frameworks that operate at the borders of the unknown and the unknowable, like those provided by art.

Beyond models predicated on encoding preexisting natural elements to establish the formal boundaries on which any system depends, research into metamaterials—artificial materials not encountered in nature—is generating media whose tunable, active, metamorphic behaviors challenge our notions of lifelikeness as much as biologically derived media. Such research features in the magnetohydrodynamic installation by the artist Yunchul Kim and his Fluid Skies art and science collaborators, an award winner in the 2013 edition of the Vida Art and Artificial Life Competition. Referencing Bachelard's metachemistry [1], which states that “true chemical substances” are the products of technique rather than bodies found in reality, Effulge (Figure 1b) is a composition of six framed tableaux vivants containing nano-size paramagnetic particles, which are dispersed in a colloidal state and attracted by magnetic fields; other non-reactive particles are carried by the agent particles, collectively forming black hollows and shiny structures of metallic filaments in response to regular blasts from an air pump. A three-dimensional colloidal photonic crystal controls the propagation of light, functioning as a wave gate: When light is diffracted in the colloidal sphere, three-dimensional filaments build diverse, constantly changing structures. Effulge's austere polyptych panels are offset by its baroque life support system, built of mysterious translucent ducting and pump mechanisms, which animate the work visually and auditively—switching sounds, sighing of the bellows, and so on. “This fluidscape organically grows into perceptible and imperceptible worlds, bringing about its own constant metamorphosis. […] Metamaterials are tunable, transitive, and active. What was previously regarded as imaginary and fictive has been realized. […] In these experiments, materials go through several transitional states, in which they transform their own materiality” [26].

While Effulge is ostensibly a closed work whose ALife qualities are essentially metaphorical, the metamorphoses of its unfathomable materials convey an uncanny dual sense of lifelikeness and otherness that opens up new realms of expectation and meaning. It is ironic that this overwhelmingly sensuous staging of matter in the making should so faithfully declare its dues to Bachelard, known for his aversion to image and metaphor: “A science that accepts images is, more than any other, a victim of metaphors. Consequently, the scientific mind must never cease to fight against images, against analogies, and against metaphors” [2]. Yet if aspects of a modeling relation can be made accessible to a community of observers through calibration processes [13], one might construe the staging of Effulge as a way for us to tune to the eerie vitality, the artificial yet palpable life manifested by subwavelength behaviors of metamaterials, evolving materially and symbolically within the manipulated parameters of their skenabiotope.

6 Conclusion

By positioning theater as a live art containment system whose premises and practices can inform approaches to ALife, this brief article attempts to open up a transdisciplinary dialogue needed to effectively address living technologies and their implications. As a mutagen for the collective imagination, art extends our capacity to entertain notions of life-as-it-could-be [27]. Its creative blurring of boundaries seeds metaphors whose influence can prompt real action and interaction, thus modifying the cognitive scaffolding or vantage point whereby we effectively engage with the world. If art in general, as a system that produces emergent phenomena, is destined in its ALife forms to move beyond “the rigidity of its technological substrates,” that is, beyond its gallery or computer confines [43], then live art's skenabiotopes that amplify the theatricalized and theatricalizing behaviors of artificial organisms might indeed provide unique insights for the modeling of ALife and ALife art universes.

Acknowledgments

The author thanks the anonymous reviewers. Longstanding thanks are also due to the Vida Art & Artificial Life competition, run by Fundación Telefónica (Madrid), and particularly to the associated colleagues Monica Bello, Nell Tenhaaf, and Simon Penny.

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Author notes

*

University of Sussex, Arts B 156, Brighton BN1 9QN, UK. E-mail: s.j.norman@sussex.ac.uk

Supplementary data