Creative Works

 50 Shapes of Slime
     Installation @ Liminal Space (April 2022)
     Oskar Elek and Weston Mossman

50 Shapes of Slime 50 Shapes of Slime

As the project of Liminal Space grew, constraining it to a traditional performance format no longer felt adequate. Curated by the Santa Cruz based musician Weston Mossman aka Swayor, we reformulated the space into a fair, full of live music, painting, new media and other related endeavors.

50 Shapes of Slime was an interactive installation that brought together dozens of impromptu artists of different skill levels. In this mixed media project a real-time simulation of Physarum polycephalum 'slime mold' (similar to the music-reactive variant) was projected on a surfboard canvas, creating diverse organic patterns. The participants were invited to paint on the surfboard with fluorescent markers, without any explicit instructions. Some chose to follow the patterns generated by the simulation, some ignored them. Either way, the simulation was fed a video capture of the surfboard, and interacted with the participants' drawings. This has created an ongoing feedback loop between people and the simulation.

The result of several hours of this collaborative effort is a uniquely painted surfboard exhibited at the place of happening, 11th Hour Coffee in downtown Santa Cruz. Although capturing many diverse themes, the drawings share common qualities of chaotic organicity, perhaps imprinted by the projected simulation that unknowingly united the participating artists. Thus this work dissolves the boundary between the artist and the medium, and distributed the locus of creativity across many minds and the machine.

 Rhizome Cosmology
     Interactive Online Article (Spring 2022)
     Oskar Elek, Joseph N. Burchett, Angus G. Forbes

Rhizome Cosmology

Rhizome Cosmology is created with Polyphorm, an open-source software that combines an interactive implementation of a 3D Physarum machine, and a simultaneous volume visualization of the generated structures.

Polyphorm has enabled novel scientific results through its ability to create detailed 3D density maps of the Cosmic web from sparse cosmological data: catalogues of galaxies and/or dark matter halos. Our main findings include the attribution of a major portion of the intergalactic medium (IGM) to the large-scale filamentary structure of Cosmic web, and an explanation of an unusually large dispersion measure of a so-called fast radio burst (FRB) event.

The value of this project comes from its interdisciplinary nature. By documenting and mapping its story in Rhizome Cosmology through the lens of visualizations, we wish to inspire the curiosity to explore new connections between different scientific disciplines. We also hope that our story will be useful to those who aspire to invent other such methods, in the quest to understand the world — both 'above', and 'below'.

[ICON]Rhizome Cosmology

 Liminal Space
     Music-reactive Visual Show @ 11th Hour Coffee (Winter 2022)
     Oskar Elek and Weston Mossman

Liminal Space Liminal Space

Liminal space is a place of transition. It is a threshold, a locus of searching but not yet knowing. It is a space where flow and transformation takes place.

In collaboration with the Santa Cruz based musician Weston Mossman aka Swayor we have created a series of audio-visual performances in which science meets art. Swayor's soothing ambient electronic music have been complemented by an improvisational, procedurally generated visual show full of patterns and colors. A short clip of this performance is available here and the full recording here. The purpose of Liminal Space is to create an atmosphere of idea melding, where the audience becomes part of the show, whether through playing their own instruments, experimenting with the visual setup, or participating in community art.

On the technical level, the visual aspect of the show is implemented in Touch Designer as a custom compute graph. It implements an expressive variant of the MCPM model which mimics and generalizes the behavior of Physarum polycephalum 'slime mold'. The resulting simulation reacts to music through pulsing and twitching motions, and additionally takes an image input that represents 'food' for the virtual organism. This input can be a simple geometric shape, a video capture of the performance space, or a pre-rendered fractal animation, and we use a combination of all these options throughout the performance.

[ICON]Liminal Space Capture

SDSS 0.018<z<0.038 SDSS 0.018<z<0.038

 Biomimetic 3D Printing
     Data Physicalization (2021-22)
     Drew Ehrlich and Oskar Elek

Nature presents us with an incredible variety of networked structures: rhizomes formed by tree roots, fungal mycelium networks, animal circulatory systems, and of course, neuronal networks.

It seems undeniable that networks are one of the universal structures of reality. Humans construct networks of many kinds, and in 2021 these networks are becoming the dominant part of our lives. Even the Cosmic matter that makes us all is organized in a kind of structured flow that follows the distribution of itself through gravitational interaction.

To give some of these networks physical shape, we use different kinds of 3D printing. For example, stereolitography (SLA) can produce robust structures as long as they are interconnected and don't contain too many overhangs. The pictured prints were generated from 37 thousand galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey catalog. We use the Polyphorm software to generate density-field approximations of the Cosmic Web, and subsequent meshing and slicing of the data.

This is an ongoing project, please contact us if you're interested to know more or contribute.

 Physarum Telam
     Winner of the Art Award @ Artificial Life (June 2021)
     Issei Mori*, Oskar Elek*, Joseph N. Burchett, Angus G. Forbes

Physarum Telam

Physarum Telam is an interactive online installation reimagining our team’s research project Polyphorm. Through Physarum Telam we celebrate the slime mold, its awesome weirdness and inexplicable familiarity. For an undifferentiated yellow blob, it boasts remarkable skills: learning, adaptation, navigation. But in spite of these outstanding abilities, it is Physarum’s appearance that makes it instantly recognizable amongst earthly living forms.

In order to reproduce its yellow slimy translucent exterior, we designed a custom physically based appearance model dubbed Slimex. This composite model consists of two components: a glossy surface BSDF representing the organism’s thin transparent membrane and a volumetric scattering model representing the yellow-pigmented cytoplasmic fluid. The images computed by Monte-Carlo path tracing using Slimex provide physically realistic depictions of Physarum, or rather, its imaginary 3D equivalent.

Physarum Telam takes the audience on a tour around the Cosmic Web data generated by Polyphorm. In this interactive online application the observer can freely navigate and examine the data rendered with a standard 3D volume visualization technique called maximum intensity projection, or MIP in short. The style of MIP will be familiar to most, as it is commonly used in medical and scientific 3D visualizations. In addition to the dataset, the visualization also contains several spherical nodes functioning as portals: when clicked, the camera smoothly transitions to the respective node position, and switches to one of the images pre-rendered by Slimex. This novel view of the data reveals to the observer the true nature of its original inspiration: a humble yellow squishy blob with affinity for connecting, for bridging things.

[HTM]Physarum Telam            [HTM]ALIFE Presentation            [PDF]Extended Abstract

As Above - So Below

 As Above - So Below
     Digital Print @ MAH Santa Cruz (Spring 2021)
     Oskar Elek

The exhibition: In these uncertain times, it's more important than ever to come together to create, celebrate, and heal. The daily lives of people all over the world have changed dramatically in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19. While shelter in place orders have many people spending more time indoors, others continue to live and work outside the home with caution. "In These Uncertain Times" has showcased the creativity and resilience of Santa Cruz County’s response to shelter in place and the COVID-19 global pandemic. Through community-sourced artwork, individual stories and objects from the MAH’s history collection, the exhibition explore the ways that creativity and community can support us through times of uncertainty.

The work: What is our place in a displaced world? How to find connection when our most outstanding shared condition separates us? We set out to answer such questions from a Cosmic perspective. Inspired by nature, we imbued a computer algorithm with the power to connect. The result is a simulation of an ancient organism called Physarum polycephalum ‘slime mold’ applied on a grand scale -- 37,600 galaxies interconnected by tendrils and filaments, joined together in a single vast structure, the Cosmic web. The microscopic and the macroscopic, bridged by universal scale-independent network structures. And with us, humans, right in the middle: slicing the Cosmic web bottom-up, we get images with uncanny resemblance to tomographic scans of our own brain. Again a network, billions of neurons teeming with individual activity, yet united in a desire for place and meaning. Even in uncertain times, we don’t stop looking for connection.

Technical description: The images of the Cosmic web are rendered by a scientific visualization software Polyphorm, developed in 2020 by computational media and astrophysics researchers from UC Santa Cruz. These results have led to several scientific publications in top journals in the fields, expanding our understanding of these (largest known) cosmological structures.

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