philip beesley: hylozoic soil.

This is insane. Hylozoism is the philisophical doctrine that matter is inseparable from life, which is a property of matter. (I had to look it up, I’m not going to even pretend that I knew that off the top of my head…). With that idea in mind, that at the core of all matter is an undeniable essence of life, Toronto digital media artist and experimental architect Philip Beesley created “Hylozoic Soil.”


The installation is so eerily organic and minutely-detailed it’s almost hard to believe it was designed by a person and not borne of nature. It’s like it should be living in a cave somewhere. It’s exciting yet freaky, fascinating but a little dreadful. You have to watch this vid to believe it…

“Hylozoic Soil” won first price at the VIDA Awards, an international competition fostering works of art created with artificial life technologies. The text describing the project on the VIDA website is absolutely amazing. Here it is in it’s unedited glory:

“The glass-like fragility of this artificial forest, built of an intricate lattice of small transparent acrylic tiles, is visually breathtaking. Its frond extremities arch uncannily towards those who venture into its midst, reaching out to stroke and be stroked like the feather or fur or hair of some mysterious animal. In keeping with Beesley’s own description, his enchanted environment complies with the laws and cycles that determine the millenial assembly of a coral reef, with its cycles of opening, clamping, filtering and digesting. Capacitance-sensing whiskers and shape-memory alloy actuators create a diffuse peristaltic pumping motion, luring visitors in to the eery shimmering depths of a forest of light.

Hylozoic Soil implements a distributed sensor network driven by dozens of microprocessors, generating waves of reflexive responses to those drawn into its vast array of acrylic fern stalagmites. Different levels of programmed activity encourage the emergence of coordinated spatial behaviour: thirty-eight controller boards produce specific responses to local action, while a bus controller uses sensor activity collated from all the boards to command an additional “global” level of behaviour. The forest thus manifests a haunting, breathing organicity, as it stirs to envelop and charm its human explorers. In keeping with the tradition of biologist artist Ernst Haeckel’s Riddle of the Universe (1899), which traced actions of organic and inorganic nature alike back to natural causes and laws, Beesley’s Hylozoic Soil stands as a magically moving contemporary symbol of our aptitude for empathy and the creative projection of living systems.”

Holy shit. Anything with “capacitance-sensing whiskers and shape-memory alloy actuators” is more than fine by me

Via Come Up To My Room


  1. as if I weren’t already stalled enough you bring me this breathtakingly awesome thing, I think I will go back to bed and start drinking and forget about art making altogether, this may be one of the most beautiful things I have ever ever seen!


  1. […] also thanks to this blogger for showing me the amazing work of Phillip Beesley! This installation is absolutely […]

  2. […] philip beesley: hylozoic soil. « shape+colour "Holy shit. Anything with “capacitance-sensing whiskers and shape-memory alloy actuators” is more than fine by me" (tags: artificial-life VIDA installation art emergent ALife) […]

  3. […] first collected Added 18 Feb 09 from Flag as inappropriate or […]

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