Biomimicry Within Digital Arts and Technology

Biomimicry is a tool/discipline that can be used in many fields ranging from industrial design, architecture, engineering, math, and even computer science. Being from a graphic design background and practicing digital painting, I find myself struggling to find exactly where biomimicry fits within the digital aesthetics realm. Can a designer/artist practice digital arts in a biomimetic way, or are the digital arts just a good tool to perform and carry out biomimetic thinking within a digital space? Surely when you are 3D modeling a biomimetic building or product on your computer, you are aiding in the biomimetic design process, but the 3D modeling process itself isn’t the thing that is biomimetic, is it? Biomimicry, in root words terms, is the act of mimicking life. How literally should we take this? Is virtual reality a sort of biomimicry because it does just that; mimics life? Maybe it’s just a useful tool to aid in the design process. These are some of the things I hope to figure out in my studies, but I’m finding as I dig deeper that when approaching biomimicry with a digital aesthetics lens, that it’s not just about the design process and appearance, but also about how using digital tools can help learn or experience something in the natural world. It is possible that, like art, digital aesthetics is particularly useful to inspire, evoke emotions, and increase understanding using the natural world as a muse.

In her article, “Saraceno: Conversations on Biomimicry”, Anya Ventura takes quotes from people at MIT about how art can play an important role in the biomimetic process. One of these people is Sony Corporation Career Development Professor and Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, Neri Oxman. Oxman’s research is one that that combines generative design, digital fabrication, materials science, and synthetic biology. Her works aim to take design principles and behavior of the natural world and find a translation to be applied in artificial design using new digital and material technologies such as 3D modeling and printing.

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Neri Oxman, Fibonacci’s Mashrabiya (2009)

CNC milled zcrylic, Museum of Science, Boston 

In her work, Fibonacci’s Mashrabiya, Oxman combines the fractal Fibonacci patterns found in nature with the lattice designs found within the windows and screen walls of Mashrabiya Arabic architecture. Designs are then digitally generated and constructed, and the result is a screen that produces a vortex of light and air formed by the spiraling arrangement of openings in the surface. The environmental effects can be manipulated by changing the orientation and size of the apertures.

This structure created by Oxman is a good example of reimagining an existing artistic style using nature as inspiration in order to create a different outcome, and may represent a way in which biomimicry can exist within digital aesthetics through not only surface similarity, but also within the process itself using generative design.

For another example of bio-inspired generative design, I recommend checking out Günter Seyfried’s Mutants from Innerspace, in which Seyfried uses software to translate the computer code of a GIF into a synthesized DNA strand, which is then exposed to different environmental stresses, and then encoded back into a GIF showing a visual representation of the mutations that occurred. Certainly an interesting read that shows how today’s technology can help bridge the arts and sciences.

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Günter Seyfried, Clemens Grabher, Daniel Feurle,  Mutants from Innerspace (2008)

 

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