Installation (generative digital environment)

Installation by Tanja Vujinovic
3D objects, generative modelling: Tanja Vujinovic
Unity3D programming: Tanja Vujinovic, Gaja Boc, Sara Bertoncelj Čadež
3D objects of carboniferous plants: Dariusz Andrulonis for
Consulting: Dr. Vid Podpečan, Department of Knowledge Technologies, Institute Jozef Stefan; Jan Kušej
English language editing: Derek Snyder
Production: Ultramono and SciArtLab, Department of Knowledge Technologies, Institute Jozef Stefan, 2019

This virtual environment is populated by plants that echo the Earth’s flora from hundreds of millions of years ago, specifically, the plants of the Carboniferous period that now constitute coal fields. 

As is widely recognised, our age, aptly named “capitaloscene” by Donna Haraway, is detrimental to the environment and health of all living organisms. 

Use of fossil fuels has been repeatedly proven detrimental to the Earth as a whole, yet hope persists that if we completely end our use of fossil fuels, we might reverse some of the effects of global warming and try to restore some of the damage we created over the last two centuries of industrial progress. 

Forests of the Carboniferous age consisted of many relatives of contemporary plants – conifers, horsetail, and ferns. Some of the plants, like the early relatives of ferns, could grow to forty meters high. Lepidodendron trees had bark that resembles scales. Fossils of this plant sparked the imagination of our ancestors and might even be responsible for the imaginary construction of dragons.

Although declining, coal is still widely used in industry, not only for direct energy production but also for numerous industrial applications and derivatives; it remains a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.

Carboflora environment is connected to tracking the quantities of harmful particles in the atmosphere. Its levels are reflected in the way plants inhabit the virtual system. Properties of virtual plants are connected to a database that tracks air quality in almost real time. More than 10,000 stations throughout the world constantly send data about various pollutants like PM2.5, PM10 (small and big particulate matter), O3 (Ozone), NO2 (Nitrogen dioxide), SO2 (Sulphur dioxide) and CO (Carbon monoxide), as well as the AQI (air quality index). Upon opening, the application chooses the closest physical location and maintains the various properties of plants according to the numbers being sent from the database. 

Plants as a sort of timeless ur-forms echo the past and possible future within which we might curb our polluting emissions.

Technical description

Carboflora was developed in the Unity 3D game engine using the free version of the software over a period of five months. Research was followed by modifications of digital objects, construction of the virtual space, programming, testing, and debugging. Some of the objects being used in the virtual world were developed using a variety of other commercial and open source software applications dedicated to modelling, generation, and manipulation of 3D computer graphics. A few of these also included the possibility of developing custom patches for generative development of particular forms, of which some became physical objects through the technique of 3D printing. One class of virtual plants consists of the reconstruction of Carboniferous plants made by scientific illustrator Dariusz Andrulonis which he generously donated to the Carboflora project. Dariusz's plants are used in Carboflora without the complex original materials he made: because of the high polygon count, they had to be optimised and simplified in order to be placed in the game engine. All objects within Carboflora were homogenised through using the same uniform white material, just as are the physical objects within other installations of Sphere2, in order to bring forth several conceptual elements that constitute the platform “past-future tense of futurism” and “technological optimism” with references to ancient Greek gods of medicine, medical equipment, and biomimetic patterns of natural plants.

There are five scripts for five separate categories of air pollutants. These scripts were assigned to separate three-dimensional objects. At the initial testing phase, five objects were set to react to incoming data, with the possibility of expanding the number of objects that react to data for larger sets of virtual plants.

In addition to the main script that connects to the World Air Quality Index database and separate scripts for each pollutant, a system of tagging is also used. Tagging of particular objects enabled the general script to find and control the properties of trees-objects that should reflect the air quality.

Five virtual trees are growing, depending on the values within each category of particles measured at a particular physical location. When the application is opened, the IP address should choose the nearest physical location provided by the World Air Quality Index database.

Each object-tree has an attached script that controls the size of the tree as well as a tag that enables the main script to find it.

Trees assigned to track data are programmed to change their size every 0.5 seconds. Their size is also recalculated in relation to the average daily amount of particular pollutant. This script is invoked every hour. If there are more particles than average, the trees remain lower, and if there are fewer particles than average, the trees grow larger.

The terrain of Carboflora containing all objects is covered with the Navigation Mesh. A first person controller (FPC) with attached camera is devised as an instance of a simple artificial intelligence agent, so it can move through the terrain, avoid particular objects, and enable the generation of sound textures in real time. The script attached to this navigation agent is optimised, so it can find the best appropriate path for moving among the objects and reaching a particular target. These targets are pre-assigned, so the agent needs approximately one hour to move through all currently assigned spots while creating the sound composition in real time. The radius of sounds spreading from objects is predefined and differs in each case. The movement around Carboflora’s terrain is also limited with implementation of contact colliders.


Leslie, Esther. Synthetic Worlds Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry. Reaktion Books, 2005.

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Sauquet, Hervé, et al. “The Ancestral Flower of Angiosperms and Its Early Diversification.” Nature Communications, 2017.

Prusinkiewicz, Przemyslaw, and Aristid Lindenmayer. The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants. Springer-Verlag, 1996.

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MetaGarden Sphere2

A garden "is never a garden of merely private concerns into which one escapes from the real; it is that plot of soil on the earth, within the self, or amid the social collective, where the cultural, ethical, and civic virtues that save reality from its own worst impulses are cultivated. Those virtues are always ours."

Robert Pogue Harrison

What will our future gardens, the gardens of the third millennium, look like?
Will they be made of objects, machines, and living beings that synergistically maintain their flexible systems and communicate with their surroundings?
MetaGarden is an ongoing project that reflects upon a complex relationship of humanity and its technologically fortified environment of nature-culture, and focuses on a particular issue within each installation.
Through MetaGarden Sphere2, I attempt to examine not only what exists within our lives, but also what multiple possibilities and changes might emerge in biopolitical, social, and environmental domains. 
Throughout history, the garden as a sheltered environment has been re-emerging as a special location for human contact with nature, recreation, and rethinking of mythologies, social relations, and allegories. 
Gardens have never held unitary functions or forms. Filled with idealised flora and fauna or devised as minimalistic environments, gardens would sometimes induce ecstatic feelings or provoke meditative immersions and reflections. The classical Greek Epicurean school promoted understanding of the world through the tending of gardens and, instead of overcoming, it was all about transfiguring nature and self-cultivation. Epicurus viewed gardens as places in which reality could be reconceived and reimagined. 
Michel Foucault thought of gardens as the perfect heterotopias – the other places, detached from ordinary life. Within gardens, we immerse ourselves in relationships with living and non-living objects or non-human agents, and seek in them the forms of transitional, comfort objects. Gardens infuse us with molecules and affect our senses, but we also infuse gardens with our states of mind and impose forms onto nature. Gardens echo our lost contact with nature brought forth by the rapid development of industry and technology. They are associated with regeneration of human beings, our reconnection with nature, and the notion of care and cultivation of both ourselves and our nature-culture environments. 
Since the very beginnings of civilisation on Earth, humans have turned to plants for food, shelter, and medication. Recreation in nature has always been advised in the form of walks(1), meditation, observation of plants, breathing of the healing air in the woods, and tuning in to the countless signals and chemical communication channels of the surroundings. Gardens might be seen as networks of engineered man-made and natural elements that promote the flow among non-human and human agents.
Jean Luc Nancy's concept of synaestetic touch that underlines the necessity to pay special attention to senses other than vision, like touching and smelling, might pave the way for cultivating a novel attitude towards nature in the post-digital world. 
Gardens might also be microcosms that temporarily separate a person from the rest of the anthropocentric world and enfold one into their special texture. As Michel Foucault would say, “the garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world.” (2)
What might our future habitats look like? Are we going to seal ourselves off from the atmosphere due to pollution and live in chambers that look like an Apple parking building or Amazon Spheres? If so, who will be able to afford the type of hi-tech water, air purification, and maintenance of plant growth inside the future farming facilities? Such future chambers may enable us to experience the world of “wilderness” to its fullest in a tamed form, devoid of any danger, disorientation, darkness, and of anything uncontrolled. Aquaponic gardens for industrial production of plants operated entirely by robotic agents offer a glimpse into a potential future scenario. 
Utopian ideas have occasionally sprung up of an idyllic garden spreading around the whole Earth, like the one envisioned by futurist Jacques Fresco with his Venus project. We might be very far from such a scenario, but we could at least work towards curbing environmental pollution and providing everybody with access to clean natural environments. A potential way towards the MetaGardens of the future is co-creation with nature and the engineering of upcoming civilisation informed by bionics and biomimicry. Biomimicry, the term coined by Janine Benyus in the 1990s, is the outlook that strives not to extract from nature and domesticate it, but to create solutions learned from the ideas that appear everywhere in the natural world. As Benyus writes, some of the core principles of nature are that it runs on sunlight, uses only the energy it needs, fits form to function, recycles everything, and rewards cooperation. These principles, i.e. functions of nature, should be embedded in the materials of future design – from apparatuses to buildings and infrastructure.

MetaGarden Sphere2 is an ecosystem inhabited by futuristic machines as ur-forms that take care of humans and our environments. These objects, synthetic being-devices, are inspired by paleobotany and artificial intelligence technologies, plasma physics and nano-structured materials. Through the virtual world and physical installations, I explore the twists between synthetic and natural. The works tie past with future and merge concrete elements from science and history with mythology. As the title suggests, I also draw inspiration from numerous metaphors rooted in gardens and their essential components. The works that comprise Sphere2 are Carboflora, Fontana, Genera, and Arbora. Carboflora is an endless virtual simulation, within which virtual flora grows according to measured readings of air pollutant levels. Fontana cleans water by employing plasma, while a little fountain disperses the plasma treated water into the air. Genera cleans the air by channeling it into an assortment of nanotubes. Arbora analyses emotional states through voice and responds by generating binaural sound.

1) “We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.” Seneca, XVII.
2) Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces.” Diacritics, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.


Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces.” Diacritics, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Sense of the World. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Lowenhaupt Tsing, Anna. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Pogue Harrison, Robert. Gardens, An Essay on the Human Condition. The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Ponting, Klajv. Ekološka Istorija Sveta Životna Sredina i Propast Velikih Civilizacija. Odiseja, 2009.

Leslie, Esther. Synthetic Worlds Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry. Reaktion Books, 2005.

Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the Trouble Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.

Benyus, Janine M. Biomimicry Innovation Inspired by Nature. HarperCollins, 1997.

L. Annaeus Seneca, Minor Dialogs Together with the Dialog "On Clemency"; Of Peace of Mind; Translated by Aubrey Stewart, pp. 250-287. Bohn's Classical Library Edition; London, George Bell and Sons, 1900.