systems synthesis
award-winning installation
Sonae Media Art 2019,
Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado
Lisboa, Portugal

"A pulsing drone of fans, oscillators and rustling leaves resonates from Systems Synthesis by Porto-based collective Berru, nature and technology held in attempted symbiosis.

An ecosystem of wild urban flora, roughly two metres in diameter, has been uprooted from an abandoned city lot and carefully transplanted into a gallery of the MNAC. The varieties of spontaneous vegetation included grow without human care, intent or intervention, thriving in empty lots, pavement cracks and abandoned construction sites. Surviving with varying levels of sunlight, water and disturbed soil, these ruderal plants are part of a disregarded urban ecology, growing in unkept or unused areas of disinvestment or speculation rather than in parks, gardens or green spaces.

Native and non-native species such as Ipomoea purpurea, Cortaderia selloana, and Arundo donax have adapted to tolerate high levels of stress, growing profusely in otherwise undesirable environments, yet often only considered weeds or evidence of neglect or dereliction.

Berru have constructed an algorithmically controlled environment of inputs and outputs to monitor and regulate the basic conditions to sustain these plants. A self-regulating system creates a stable equilibrium between the elements that govern the life of plants such as light, co2 levels and humidity.

The data is transformed by a series of interfaces into controlled variations of light, air and sound. The light in the space, for instance, is based on the daylight conditions of the plant’s original habitat, transposed to the gallery as an accelerated approximation of the movement of the sun throughout the day. A series of fans produce wind in three directions, the intensity and corresponding pitch controlled by an algorithm simulating the conditions of the plants’ original location. The resulting movement of the plants in this wind triggers an array of sensors suspended in a grid, transforming the movement into clusters of relative sound harmonies, their amplitude and pitch regulated by repetitively swaying leaves.

Biological computation connects these two systems: urban biota is maintained through a series of technological interfaces that, in turn, depend on this organic life for its purpose.

As a real-time system monitored and sustained by inputs and outputs meant to be kept in homeostasis (a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements), Systems Synthesis alludes to the history of technological mediation of systems, from plants to entire economies. Berru’s interest is in the allegorical and metaphorical devices that define our
relationship to nature and technology in the age of information. It is through interfaces and assemblages that knowledge can exert control over nature, but it is also through these that we have access to the natural world both as system and resource. Systems Synthesis pro- poses a deceleration of our technological sense of time through organisms whose evolution is patently slower, in opposition to our increasingly instantaneous temporality, contesting the velocities through which everything seems to move in our interconnected information era.

An art collective founded in 2015, Berru works in the fields of installation, digital art and moving-image media, frequently working with digital information, interfaces, machines and electronics. The collective functions as a platform for artistic experimentation, exploring intersections between art, science and technology that enable a viewer’s immersion in the work of art."

João Ribas