MetaGarden:Tree/Bots*(Garden of the Elixir Pill), Installation (3D printed objects, custom-made glassware, rainwater, distilled water, silica sand, wood, generative software application, various substances, electronics)

Author: Tanja Vujinović
Production: Ultramono, 2018-ongoing
Executive producers: Tanja Vujinović, Jan Kušej (Ultramono)
Production and PR assistance: Urška Comino
Software, electronics, objects: Tanja Vujinović, Milos Roglić, Borut Savski, Stefan Doepner, Pero Kolobarić, Roman Bevc, Bevec d.o.o.
The project was realised with the help of the Cultural Department of the City Municipality of Ljubljana
Project consultants: Jan Kušej, Lenart Krajnc, Derek Snyder, Urška Dremelj, Stefan Doepner, Borut Savski, Jelena Guga, Milos Roglić, Maja Kodre, Aleksander Rečnik, Aleš Rode, Maja Berločnik, KAP Jasa (Saša Iskrić, Janez Vizjak)
Generative segment of the installation Garden of the Elixir Pill uses the text of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching translated by Tim Chilcott, 2005 (

* First exhibited under working title Garden of the Elixir Pill in exhibitions "Elixir Agens", MMC KIBLA, KIBELA, Maribor, September 2018, and "Elixir Distillers", Kapelica Gallery, October 2018

The emergence of elements, whether in systems theory, science or natural world, is a phenomenon in which large entities or complex systems arise from the process of interaction and self-organisation of smaller, simpler elements. Examples of such structures are the living systems of ant colonies or bird flocks, but they also include technological structures of individual elements having a certain amount of freedom of action, such as city traffic or the organisational phenomena in computer simulations and cellular automata that apply the concept of Boids, Swarm Intelligence (SI) and Cellular robotic systems. The Bots installation is presented in the form of cognitive map for understanding the state of things, for understanding our lifeworld of “ecotechnics”, to use Jean-Luc Nancy’s term. The Bots is a mix of Zen garden, sandbox, robot combat, and social involvement of non-human and human agents. The installation employs artificial units in cosmogonic maps in order to create an outlook of the past, present, and future constructions of the world.

The installation MetaGarden:Bots entails corresponding elements that make up a small universe inspired by Chinese “scholar’s gardens” and Zen gardens. Animism, widely present in eastern mythologies and popular cultures, offers an alternative understanding of artificial intelligence agents as autonomous beings and potential carriers of assigned consciousness. 

Inspired by the notion of frequencies that affect the elements in cosmos, three instances of bots generate frequencies that slowly fluctuate from two predetermined frequency points using pseudo-random algorithm and, by doing so, they gently affect the silica sand placed beneath them. The smaller bots, whose electronic circuits are partially made from the material they crawl on, the silica sand, move by the means of vibration and leave trail marks in the sand. The three bigger ones, which generate frequency vibrations, rearrange the sand underneath by gently emitting their own vibrations. The third level of the installation, the projected stage where virtual instances of bots exist, is the stage of simulation. Here, they act or appear in a remediating role. They try to explain the workings of the universe to themselves and to us, the audience, as well as to decipher the philosophical book Tao Te Ching, which has had numerous interpretations and contextualisations throughout history. Bots are regenerating Tao Te Ching using Markov Chain algorithm, continuously displaying different, reformed statements. The algorithm calculates probabilities of appearances of particular words from the original text or, more precisely, the appearance of words after the N word (the number for N chosen in this work is 2). It then generates new text by starting from random words from the original text and ending when it calculates that it has reached the end of a sentence. 

This action opens many questions regarding the construction of meaning in general, and especially regarding the efforts to create artificial agents capable of processing and displaying meaningful content that goes beyond mere calculations and statistical outcomes.

The setup of MetaGarden:Bots installation for the exhibition in MMC KIBLA, KIBELA in September 2018 was similar to its setup for the exhibition in Kapelica Gallery in October 2018. In Kibla, the installation additionally had glass capsules with packed substances (quicksilver, active charcoal, epsom salt, minerals) and the moving mountain-like element.

The Tree object has a vertical stream for the creation of medicament - the Pharmakon. It passed drops of rainwater from one vessel to a pre-made mixture of clay and Ganoderma Lucidum powder, and to a sea sponge placed at the bottom. During the second installment of this work, in addition to vertical process that this time included berries from European Black Nightshade plant, the installation had the vertical line of glass vessels hanging from branches attached to the tree. The vessels included rainwater and minerals Cinnabarit and Realgar, Boswellia Sacra essential oil, and Lead. These elements refer to historical examples of medicaments, like Spongia Somnifera as the sponge used to deliver analgesic and anesthetic medication in the past, while others were widely used in cultures all over the world for disinfection (Boswelia), protection and eventually minor health benefits (Cinnabarit), and purification rituals. The obvious potential of some of these elements to become poison relates to many properties of natural elements and medication, but it is the dose itself that determines the effectiveness of a substance. All of the elements used in this specific setting are employed to help us think about our complex entanglement with nature.

As a supporting installation, the MetaGarden:Station is meant to bring forth the elements used in the field while collecting particular substances. It contains the objects called Collectors, and it also expands on particular elements of other installation in the exhibition. Placed inside, the Collectors and other related objects serve to explain the details of the overall project. The Collectors as “objects-to-think-with” help us negotiate our relationship with nature, its many streams and fluxes, and enable us to think about measuring and tracking ourselves and our environment, as well as getting into homeostatic balances with our environment. 

The first installment of MetaGarden:Station in KID KIBLA showed many elements used in the making of MetaGarden:Machine installation: supplements, herbal extracts, vials and vessels for extractions, and other smaller equipment. The second MetaGarden:Station presentation included two examples of the Collectors objects – the glass vials inserted in the ground of a field and the glass bowls hanging from the branches of trees, both collecting rainwater for the installations. Prior to the second presentation, three actions were executed involving the attachment of glass collectors to kites in order to collect aerosol particles and waters. In Kapelica Gallery, the glass vials with steel frames, inspired by the shape of Typha plant, were placed in the gallery inside the two containers containing three types of plants (Arundo Donax, Typha, and Miscanthus sinensis). Arundo Donax and Typha were harvested from one of the locations where Collectors were placed to gather water samples. Inside the vials, I tried to make an open process of creating a (philosophical) medicament by inserting rods for measuring conductivity of electricity into the mixture of Ethanol, distilled water, and a piece of Arundo Donax reed together with a seed of Cannabis Sativa acquired in a regular health food store. The process was sonified, and the future versions of such installments will be developed in the direction of higher level sensitivity to minimise changes.

About the MetaGarden series of works

In “MetaGarden”, we actively engage in the post-digital panorama and our expanded nature, contemplating and recreating various technological amalgams of ourselves and our worlds. Vilém Flusser wrote about how futile the attempts are to artificially construct a dichotomy between nature and culture. His stance towards the nature, which we always comprehend through the lens of culture, contradicts the ideas of returning to the long forgotten, primordial “nature” or “source”, and undermines the prospects of objectively analysing the amalgams of nature-culture that we continually create.

Simulations are important for our understanding of the world in philosophical, scientific, and everyday sense, for they describe how models and maps stretch out over the layers of reality and explain the workings of the world. Without them, we would have a hard time understanding how mathematical formulas, laws of physics, anatomies of living organism or engineering structures function. In science, philosophy, and religion, there have always been different world ontologies and simulation paradigms that try to chart and explain how systems and networks of the world work. According to the Božidar Kante, what we now loosely call “nature” has long ago become an “organic machine”, but it still does not mean the complete transference of nature into “artifact”. Our physical environment is increasingly shaped by the capital, technology, and geopolitics, and these processes are being reflected in the so-called nature that we ingest or reproduce as lawns, gardens, and land or theme parks. The majority of domesticated animals, fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown in agriculturally advanced areas of the world are the fruit of planned manipulations of human resources, even if we exclude the work on genetically engineered species. Such cultivation highlights “non-reproduced nature”, which becomes a more important expression of value, representing something yet nonaffected by pollution or climate change. This process is part of the dramatisation of violence and excesses of technical reshaping that highlights the importance of nonhuman world for the maintenance of life. Different cultures give advantage to environments that, according to their opinion, contain important “natural” elements, not only for being aesthetically pleasing, but also for having a therapeutic role because they contribute to our healing faster than artificial environments do.

The MetaGarden addresses the questions of recreation and recycling. It deals with the construction of technological “other” by employing various anthropomorphic and abstract agents. The conceptual Objects A and B appearing in the project are inspired by the history of anthropomorphization and are, as Sherry Turkle would say, “objects- to-think-with”. Object A represents our striving towards the creation of a synthetic being, while Object B stands for the human being in transition – a robomorphic being, a cyborg-becoming-a-thing.

So far, ”MetaGarden” raised the questions of recreation and of different immaterial and transitory objects of both low and high technology. The future of wellbeing lies in the development of contemporary science and technology, as well as in our readiness to understand them and debate their many elements and implications. We often deal with the Pharmakon, fluctuating between poison and remedy, but also between the notions of clean and dirty, having in mind that the substances in our environment are the pointers of our homeostatic balances. The key questions regarding cleanliness and sterility are closely related to ecology and health and, as Mary Douglas states, they are transitory and culturally dependent questions.

Conclusions arising from the project so far are that various activities such as daily routines, usage of substances, and meditation were and still are used as methods of affecting and transforming one’s perception of the world and wellbeing. We are inspired by historical and contemporary examples of DIY biohacking and immersions into the rhythms of nature. By interacting with and incorporating various abstract and anthropomorphic agents, we try to recreate ourselves and intervene in our daily lives in order to find meaning and security.

After two public presentations of the installations (exhibitions "Elixir Agens", MMC KIBLA, KIBELA, Maribor, September 2018, and "Elixir Distillers", Kapelica Gallery, October 2018), and due to the nature of their development, I have decided to include them into a new, larger series of works entitled “MetaGarden”, which will be expanded in the future. The ‘Garden’ is a metaphor for the transitory encircled areas where installations envelope, while prefix ‘meta’ denotes the nature of these installations - they are transcending, and they reveal ongoing processes and changes. 


OPEN TEXT BY Jelena Guga, Merging of Code and Matter: MetaGarden by Tanja Vujinovic, December 2018. /// pdf ENGLISH ///