Jenson, Sage, & Kuksenok, Kit (2020). How to Observe the Inner Space of a Complex Biological System through Speculative Simulation. Journal of Science and Technology of the Arts, 12(3), 9-24. 10.34632/jsta.2020.9489.

Open access:
full text freely available.

How to Observe the Inner Space of a Complex Biological System through Speculative Simulation


We present an approach for composition and performance with speculative complex biological systems. The goal of this approach is to incorporate not only the content of scientific work but the activities of scientific practice, specifically exploratory modelling with a computer simulation. We present the method, a conceptual framework and a list of exercises, and demonstrate its application in two generative art works. The framework distinguishes a system, its representation, and the human observers; this helps to clarify influences, material artifacts, and sources of tension. In Dismantling, a live performance using a simulation based on a model of the acellular slime mold Physarum polycephalum, we explore a shifting locus of agency during the performance between the observer and the representation. In Feed, a visual and sound installation representing addiction as a multi-scale process, we explore the generative tension of representation reuse to engage with different systems. The model specifications of biological phenomena are used as bases for interactive complex network simulations.

Timeline & Documentation

This paper is part of an ongoing collaboration with artist Sage Jenson, who developed the interactive simulation based on the slime mold Physarum Polycephalum.


Technical documentation of the Physarum Polycephalum model implementation Sage Jenson developed, which drew from 2010 paper by Jeff Jones, "Characteristics of pattern formation and evolution in approximations of Physarum transport networks"

Dismantling: exhibition and performance at Workshop on Forster, Berlin. (Full recording of the choreography.)


Exploratory Modelling with Speculative Complex Biological Systems An earlier article on the topic, presented at xCoAx2020, which was updated to be included in the JSTA publication. Included a recorded talk

Contributed invited co-authored chapter to the Future of Text edited volume (download here), "Biological Ink: Extending The Scribe Through Digital Simulation":

"...In this way, digital ink materiality has no counterpart in the realm of physical ink materiality. Digital ink allows the scribe to intentionally shift agency between themselves and the simulation; and to engage with the simulated system agency at a level of complexity and scale inaccessible in a physical handwriting medium."

(Top) Nonlinear behaviour of the system allows a diversity of structures to arise from the same underlying simulation mechanics and parameterization. (Bottom) Two frames showing how the scribe’s input deliberately induces an accumulation of energy, which then flows in ways the scribe has no direct control over.

Last Updated: Jan, 2021