Carol LaFayette (Department of Visualization, Texas A&M University, USA), MFA, Frederic Parke, Ph.D. (Department of Visualization, Texas A&M University, USA), Tatsuya Nakamura (Texas A&M University, USA), Carl J. Pierce (Texas A&M University, USA)
atta is a 10-year experiment in the dynamic process of transforming a fixed subject into something shared across time and space. atta began as a Ground Penetrating Radar scan of a vast, Leafcutting ant colony, and has since been translated into VR experiences on several different systems, changing with time and platform. These experiences are at once visual and physical. It would not be possible to share the ant colony — without destroying it — unless we used an algorithm. For Balance-Unbalance, atta is an interactive experience on the Microsoft HoloLens. Using gesture, one can place the colony anywhere in the environment, move it around, and walk inside it. Voice commands can show and hide layers to better understand the spatial distribution of tunnels and fungus caches. atta takes cues from the dynamic system of a superorganism as a tutor text to inform reception in communities ranging from art to science. One of our goals is to see how far this ant colony might spread.
atta began in 2007 with a scan of a Leafcutting ant colony using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). As such, it derived from a specific subject and a particular form. After the process of mapping and translation was complete, we shared results with scientists, archives, curators, and faculty in K-12 and higher education. atta was also exhibited in art galleries and venues for artscience. A team of entomologists compared GPR with traditional methods of digging, scraping, and measuring tunnel openings, a process that destroys the nest.
In collaborating across disciplines to explore this ant colony, our first impulse was to create a single work, but instead, atta became a kind of fluid that seeped across boundaries traditionally more impermeable. atta’s acceptance in divergent domains is an interesting phenomenon. Rather than a group of single insects, an ant colony is best described as a superorganism. Similarly, facets of the atta project take on different roles and forms depending on context and audience.
These experiences contribute to an understanding of challenges and opportunities related to collaboration across disciplines. Sometimes a particular project is less important than a process—involving transformation, diffusion, and regeneration—moving with the pace of change in technology.
The success of atta depends upon translation between APIs, disciplines and languages: art, geophysics, entomology, and computer science. The word atta is a palindrome. It mimics the path of the ant from field to colony and back again, as well as the radar beam in its path from sender to receiver. Along the path, the colony is mediated by its means of expression, but it retains some particular quality of its creators — part ant and part algorithm.
Carol LaFayette is an artist who collaborates with scientists and engineers to invent unique ways to experience interconnections of flora, fauna, and phenomena in rural areas. She is PI of an NSF supported project to form SEAD, a national network for collaboration among the sciences, engineering, arts, and design, also supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Smithsonian Institution. Her artwork is in collections at the Museum of Modern Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the J. Paul Getty Museum. She has exhibited worldwide, including LAB ’11, Sweden;; SIGGRAPH;; Zebra Poetry on Film, Berlin;; Filmstock, UK;; and Solomon Projects, Atlanta. Reviews of her artwork have been published in “BBC Technology News,” “Chronicle of Higher Education” and “Wired.” She was awarded the Honoris Causa doctorate in Fine Arts from Moore College in 2016.
Frederic I. Parke, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Visualization, Texas A&M University. Fred’s current research focuses on the development of lower cost immersive visualization systems. His other interests include character modeling and animation with emphasis on computer facial animation. He has taught courses in image rendering, facial animation, foundations of visualization, advanced computer animation, computer hardware and software systems and computer graphics.
- LaFayette, C. (2009). atta, palindrome. Creative Data: Visualization, Augmentation, Telepresence and Immersion. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 16, 6 – 7. http://www.leonardo.info/LEA/CreativeData/CD_Lafayette.pdf
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