Machine Wilderness

An art/science programme exploring if technologies can help us rejoin 'the Great Conversation' among life on Earth.

Machine Wilderness ARTIS residency programme

March 2022 / June 2022 field experiments @ ARTIS Royal Zoo

Residents: Driessen/Verstappen, Heather Barnett, Thomas Thwaites, Ivan Henriques, Antti Tenetz, Spela Petric and Ian Ingram.

Machine Wilderness is an artistic field programme exploring new relationships between people, our technologies and the natural world. Machines have become an intrinsic part of our world (according to some a second nature). But their presence is highly disruptive to the worlds of other beings on land, in the seas and skies. How can technologies relate more symbiotically with other living beings?

Residency programme: In 2022, seven artists join the Machine Wilderness residency programme exploring the rich and diverse worlds of animals, plants and microbes in ARTIS and MICROPIA. From March till June artists will each be experimenting for a number of weeks in the park to get closer to the lives of other creatures and reveal hidden worlds. Visitors can see them at work during their research or learn more in artists' presentations. By exploring the relations between technology and other life forms we investigate how animals and plants share signals, how they learn, set boundaries, or organize their lives. Through experiments and prototypes we try to find ways to engage with their worlds more deeply. Can machines help us rejoin the great conversation with life?

Machine Wilderness ARTIS is supported by: Stimuleringsfonds voor Creatieve Industrie, AFK, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Bankgiro Loterijfonds, Central Saint Martins.

Residency programme

Machine Wilderness Opening: March 11 17:00 – 19.00 ARTIS Planetarium

Residency Driessens/Verstappen: March 11 until April 01 2022

Student programme ArtScience Interfaculty: March 21 until March 31 2022, Why Look at Animals course led by Cocky Eek

Residency Antti Tenetz: April 02 until April 09 and June 20 until June 24 2022

Residency Heather Barnett: April 02 until April 14 2022

Residency Ivan Henriques: May 21 until June 9 2022

Residency Thomas Thwaites: May 21 until June 9 2022

Residency Špela Petrič: June 11 until June 24 2022

Residency Ian Ingram: June 11 until June 24 2022

Closing event: June 24 2022, Machine Wilderness art-science fair @ Groote Museum

During the programme the ZOOdio (click link for more info) will function as base-station for the Machine Wilderness residents. According to their research and experiments they will work in various locations in the park (and Ivan at MICROPIA). There are public moments on wednesday afternoons at the ZOOdio and the adjacent Ontdeklokaal, both part of the Zalmhuisjes located at the far end of the park.

Driessens / Verstappen

Can an artificial intelligence dream about nature?

Residency Driessens/Verstappen: March 11 until April 01 2022

Locations: ZOOdio and park at the Mandrills, Inca terns, Alpine ibex and Meerkats

Final presentation: Machine Wilderness fair, Friday 24 June from 11:00h to 17:00 at Groote Museum (Oostzaal)

Maria Verstappen and Erwin Driessens like to work with technology that is not entirely under the control of the artist, like the Spotter. The Spotter is an artificial intelligence that looks for animals and makes its own 'dream images' of them. For the Spotter, ARTIS is a paradise of unfamiliar shapes and colours, but Maria and Erwin have chosen four favorite spots: at the Mandrills, Inca terns, Alpine ibex and Meerkats. ARTIS of course has a long art tradition of observing and portraying animals: Natura Artis Magistra. The spotter also looks at the animals and slowly forms its own impression of them. Maria and Erwin document the development of that image in a video.

Maria and Erwin: "ARTIS has a long tradition of artists who work from observation. The drawings and sculptures of the animals are always idealised poses, in which the - for humans - characteristic external features are emphasised. Our Spotter looks differently: although the animal is recognised, for the machine each pose is equally valid. All observations are studied and processed into dream performances. The animations show how an artificial brain looks, interprets and fantasises. In this way, this AI art fits well into the long tradition of nature observation."

Read more about their residency-findings -->

Antti Tenetz

How do machines learn to recognize animals?

Residency Antti Tenetz: April 02 until April 09 and June 20 until June 24 2022

Locations: ZOOdio and park

Final presentation: Machine Wilderness fair, Friday 24 June from 11:00h to 17:00 at Groote Museum (Oostzaal)

Antti lives in Finland and calls himself an 'artist/naturalist'. He studies animals like wolves, reindeer, birds of prey and salmon, but also accompanies scientific expeditions as a guide through the landscape. Antti proposes to do an experiment in ARTIS with an artificial intelligence which is taught to recognise only Arctic animals. He then will introduce it to inhabitants of ARTIS. What happens when a computer that only knows reindeer and salmon, sees elephants and crocodiles? How does this relate to drawings by people who had never seen such animals, but only heard of them in stories from travellers, like the famous drawing by Dürer of the rhinoceros? Does naming species after something we already know affect our view of them? Is a sea lion really like a lion and a flying fox like a fox? Do we humans understand the unknown by comparison with the known?

Antti: "In Finnish, the one synonym of bear is Tapio, ‘the god (ruler) of the forest’. Animals have complex meanings. I coexist with them and I am driven into their world. Underwater with the arctic trout or freshwater pearl mussel, or in the air with the hawk, or the bear in the forest. When you are with them in a Zoo enclosure, the environment may be very different, but at its core the animal remains the same, existing on its own terms. You usually join them with extensions to your human capabilities; aided by technology like a dry suit or camouflage. Sometimes to join them means moving beyond the human sensorium with underwater cameras and drones with the wolf or the polar bear. Animals perceive the world in a species-specific, spatiotemporal, 'self-in-world' way; their Umwelt. Now I bring a machine that only knows the arctic animal world to the exotic world of ARTIS. How does a pretrained artificial intelligence deal with the unknown? How is the machine’s environment, its ‘umwelt’, formed? Where does it grab onto features? And can that world be made visible to us humans? Maybe this brings us close to medieval bestiaries, bestiarum vocabulum, compendiums of beasts. Maybe trough this we can work on a field guide for machines. A field guide to machine wilderness. "

Read more about what happened during Antti's residency -->

Heather Barnett

If we look at the zoo as a framing device how can it include other life forms?

Residency Heather Barnett: April 02 until April 14 2022

Locations: ZOOdio and gorilla house

Final presentation: Machine Wilderness fair, Friday 24 June from 11:00h to 17:00 at Groote Museum (Oostzaal)

Heather Barnett (living/working in London/UK) is an artist who works with interfaces between art and science. Heather is interested in emergent behavior of organisms such as slime molds and ants. As part of her residency at ARTIS, she intends to work with 'non-collection' animals in the park, especially ants. Through small on site interventions, she will make ant populations and their behaviour visible in the zoo. Heather has also developed workshops in which people playfully explore the organisational skills of ants and slime mold populations. The emphasis in her residency will be on enabling empathy for complex, collective behaviour. By focusing on the 'voluntary' animals in ARTIS, she wants to enlarge the frame through which our gaze is directed to determine what we perceive as special.

Heather: "Super-organisms and their collective intelligence are fascinating. Like the ants in ARTIS who are not officially presented there in the way the baboons or sealions are, but who live their on their own accord. Can I create situations that draw out ant behaviour and draw in human observers, like little ant theaters? Like little empathy machines?"

More about Heather's research at the zoo here -->

Ivan Henriques

Can we build together with living organisms?

Residency Ivan Henriques: May 21 until June 09 2022

Locations: ZOOdio and MICROPIA

Final presentation: Machine Wilderness fair, Friday 24 June from 11:00h to 17:00 at Groote Museum (Oostzaal)

Ivan wants to build a living sculpture for Machine Wilderness, together with microbes. This is not entirely new to him. He has also worked with living organisms in previous works. With this, Ivan tries to explore new ways of interacting and living together; new forms of symbiosis. He often merges biological and technological elements into a new kind of creature. He has been working with lab assistant Nele de Klerk from ARTIS-MICROPIA since October 2021, learning about microbes from her. The shape of the sculpture will change over time with the help of microbes. From strictly geometric by man, to fluid and organic by microbes. The sculpture is not made by Ivan alone, but is a collaboration between man and microbe, and the microbes themselves. Which microbes are eligible to build the sculpture together and what do they need to do so?

Ivan: "To research about living organisms we have to investigate further as there are plenty of interrelations, symbiosis between all organisms that will enhance the way we see and communicate with life forms. I am very glad to have this opportunity to work closely with scientists from MICROPIA that are embracing this project and working together in this challenge."

Read more about Ivan's experiment -->

Thomas Thwaites

How could you make a harmless car?

Residency Thomas Thwaites: May 21 until June 09 2022

Locations: ZOOdio and park

Final presentation: Machine Wilderness fair, Friday 24 June from 11:00h to 17:00 at Groote Museum (Oostzaal)

Thomas is a designer from the UK who often works in the form of experiments, like taking a holiday away from being human in his GoatMan experiment in which he tried to live like a mountain goat in a herd for a while. ARTIS is a patchwork of overlapping animal-, plant- and human territories. For Artis Thomas will attempt to design and construct a Harmless Car. Harmless to every living thing, everywhere, in perpetuity. Can we make a car wheel that is harmless to an ant? How can we make a car chassis from material which does not harm an ecosystem? We use 'attempt'’ because obviously this harmless object is an impossibility, but in making the attempt the artist wants to discuss the social questions of how harm from human activity is apportioned amongst other animals, what harm is acceptable and so on. In Artis Thomas wil weave a monocoque (construction technique without bracing parts) chassis for a full size family car out of wicker (reeds) as a first component to make a Harmless Car. He will invite passers-by to assist with the weaving while engaging people in the underlying questions of the project.

Thomas: "ARTIS is renowned for their imagination and care in considering how species can inhabit artificial landscapes, how enclosures for non-human animals can be integrated into the human landscape of the city: I see fascinating parallels with how we human animals live our own lives … Perhaps there’s something to be learned by thinking of ourselves as bounded by artificial landscapes and symbolic enclosures too."

See how the Harmless Car is growing -->

Špela Petrič

How do the politics of care between humans and other beings play out at the Zoo?

Residency Špela Petrič: June 11 until June 24 2022

Expeditions: Wednesday 15 June, 22 June from 10:00h to 13:00h at Papegaaienlaan

Final presentation: Friday 24 June from 11:00 to 17:00 at Groote Museum

Špela is an artist with a background in biology working in the Netherlands and Slovenia on questions concerning the relationship between humans and other organisms. Her recent interest in artificial intelligence and automation has compelled her to investigate sites of infrastructural care as places of intimate, embodied relations with intelligent machines. With a particular interest in plants and their carers (Ton Hilhorst), she will observe the day-to-day processes of maintenance to map the abstract machine that allows living beings to thrive outside their native habitats. The aim is to develop a participatory action that invites the audience on a performative ethnography of the ARTIS life support infrastructure, which will conclude in reflexive conversations about the entwinement of bodies and machines in the area of care.

Špela: "Zoos can be approached from countless perspectives, but I am particularly interested in exploring the hidden labor it takes to keep the unusual ecosystem vital and resilient. The politics of care between humans and other beings play out in the groundwork which sustains us - in the machineries and systems of care of such a place."

Locations: ZOOdio and park

Locations: This project is also part of Smart Hybrid Forms, a 2 year research programme in collaboration with Vrije Universiteit, Rietveld Academy, Waag Society, V2 and Zone2Source supported by NWO Creatieve lndustry: Smart Culture Kunst en Cultuur 2018, Smart Hybrid Forms.

Ian Ingram

Can robots and animals communicate with each other?

Residency Ian Ingram: June 11 until June 24 2022

Locations: ZOOdio, tropical greenhouse, papagaaienlaan

Final presentation: Friday 24 June from 11:00 to 17:00 at Groote Museum

Ian Ingram is an artist from Los Angeles with a great passion for both animals and robots. He builds small, sophisticated robots that try to communicate with wild animals, like squirrels, lizards or the pigeons in ARTIS. It is not always clear whether the animals understand the robots, but their attempts at communication are inspiring and give insight into relations between animals, robots and people. He wants to work with pigeons and build a machine that acts as a translator between the majestic Victoria Crowned Pigeon that nests in the tropical greenhouse at ARTIS and its distant cousins, the ordinary city pigeons that visit the park.

Ian: "The displacement activity--greatly simplified as a fill-in behavior when stimuli conflict or overwhelm--has played a role in many of my projects in the last decade as a way of creating meaning for non-human animals that have a theory of mind. It was discovered by the Dutch scientist Adriaan Kortlandt and he and his discovery are honored by a bench at Artis, where indeed he did much of his work. I am particularly excited to do a residency at Artis given this historical context and potentially with animals that are the great grandchildren of animals he observed in his studies. Of course, displacement activities are often exhibited (by humans and other animals alike) when we are confused by something and my robots can be confusing--ideally in a delightful and engaging way--so I hope they will elicit a lot of bemused displacement activities in the form of, for instance, scratching of the head, from the human audience at ARTIS, as well."

Read more about Ian's adventures in the Zoo -->

Why look at animals?

ArtScience Interfaculty course

Student course ArtScience Interfaculty: March 21 until March 31 2022

Lead: Cocky Eek, with guests: Kenzo Kusuda and Thijs de Zeeuw.
Students: Daan Boer, Pelle Schilling, Olivier Blom, Christine Gronborg, Andrzey Konieczny, Ziming Zhao, Jacob Wallett, Tom de Kok, Lola Brancovich, Myles Merckel, Simon Barette.

Final presentations: Machine Wilderness fair, Wednesday 24 June from 11:00h to 17:00 at Groote Museum (Oostzaal)

Course Content:
Animals differ from man. They are both like and unlike. In this course students will work in Artis zoo in Amsterdam. Animals can act as portals to otherly worlds, but many of us live separated from many of them. Our customary sensory order is not solitude; it co-exists with other orders. We think and operate differently in the presence of animals. How can we extend our sensitive and cognitive capacities by means of synthesizing and sharing perspectives with Artis’ inhabitants? Through an unfolding creative process, students will explore different ways of knowing and sharing. The title of his course has been appropriated from John Berger’s little book “Why look at Animals?"

Student experiments, observations, notes and images here -->

Machine Wilderness


Pioneers like Ismail al Jazari already made programmable automata around 1200AD. Complex machines have been part of our environment for many centuries. Human infrastructures came to really dominate the planet since the Industrial Revolution. The word that comes to mind is brutality. Edward O. Wilson described our current age of mass extinction as the ‘Age of Loneliness’ and in many ways our technologies in these shared and biodiverse environments have been extractive and greatly accelerate human impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem health. Our machines have in effect become technologies of loneliness.

Machines are built with purpose, which makes them an interesting measure of our ambitions. Machines populate a planet still teaming with a bewildering array of life, but we tend to create them only with human contexts in mind. In a world full of creatures we've only been talking to ourselves. What would it be like to think of them in a much broader, a much more biodiverse context? What if we include the other 99,99% of life?

Machine Wilderness aims to take a radical turn towards the great wealth of non-human life. What could an ecologically inclusive practice look like? How do we engage with the levels of complexity, subtlety and grace of life? What would machines be like if they related directly to plants and animals, fungi and natural processes? What could they reveal about the lives of other beings?

Can our tools help us rejoin the Great Conversation with life?

Machine Wilderness research is conducted through field experiments and in situ-prototyping.

Machine Wilderness is based on long-term research by Theun Karelse at FoAM and developed into a programme in collaboration with Alice Smits of Zone2Source. This programme is centered on public events - like symposiums, exhibitions or workshops- and fieldwork sessions where teams of people with diverse backgrounds and ways of knowing develop methodologies and prototypes of wilderness machines that try to engage with local environmental complexity.

These prototypes are not looking for technological fixes to environmental issues, but rather focus on the underlying rationale that shapes our thinking about the role of technology. The protoypes are not an end in themselves, but rather a means towards environmental literacy. Unlike bio-mimicri, nature is not seen as a source of inspiration for human design, but as biomes for technology to adhere to. A series of landscapes serve as case studies to engage with distinct sets of circumstances and local environmental complexity.

Machines are human artifacts that embody our ambitions and intentions. Robotic systems are particularly revealing because they have agency similar to biological organisms. This makes them a particularly attractive subject for exploration. The Machine Wilderness program starts from the viewpoint of organisms (and technologies) as interacting populations surfing collectively on the geological and meteorological currents that carry them.

previous activities:


Machine Wilderness residencies

residencies @ Zone2Source
may20/juli8 2018

Aim: an artist-in-residency & exhibition showing artistic research processes
With: Ian Ingram, Rihards Vitols, Jip van Leeuwenstein, Driessens/Verstappen


Machine Wilderness @ PiNG

workshop @PiNG Nantes dec 06to08/2017

Aim: Three day workshop with students and hackers in collaboration with Association PiNG and BeauxArtsNantes
By: Theun Karelse


Artificial Ecologies

presentation @MicroClima in Venice
oct 20t023/2017

Aim: presentation and fieldtrip in the Venice lagoon to explore possible fieldwork opportunities
With: Roland Fischer, Paolo Rosso, Alice Smits, Ivan Henriques, Theun Karelse



residency @ Nida Art Colony Sep 01t010/2017

Theme: Ecological Robotics, Biopolitics and Creative Practice, in collaboration with Migrating Art-Academies
With: Theun Karelse


Machine Wilderness @ Transmediale

panel discussion and workshop @ Transmediale festival
Feb 03to04/2017

Aim: exploring animal behavior as a basis for design
With: Theun Karelse, Matthew Creasey


Machine Wilderness @ V&A

exhibition @ Victoria and Albert Museum Sep 24to25/2016

Theme: digital design weekend, Engineering the Future
With: Ian Ingram, Matthew Creasey, Antti Tenetz, Spela Petric, Alice Smits, Theun Karelse


Pixelache Workshop

workshop at Pixelache festival Sept 22/2016

Theme: seeing city infrastructure from animal perspectives
With: Clemens Driessen, Theun Karelse


Ars Bioarctica

team residency @ Kilpisjarvi Biological Research Station June 18to30/2016

Theme: in-situ prototyping in relation to local arctic species
With: Ian Ingram, Antti Tenetz, Theun Karelse



presentations at PopinnPark June 17/2016

Theme: Robotics and Interspecies Communication
With: Ian Ingram, Clemens Driessen


The Periodic Table // Aromatope

workshop @ Montefeltro
May 21to22/2016

Theme: the ‘elemental’ tangibility of sensory design + sensory landscapes
By: Judith van der Elst


Symbiotic Systems

workshop @ Zone2Source April 29to30/2016

Theme: dye sensitised solar cells from local pigments
By: Ivan Henriques


Forest Bathing

workshop @ Zone2Source April 07to09/2016

Theme: sensory design + sensory landscapes
By: Judith van der Elst


Jynnweythek Godhviles

first Machine Wilderness workshop @ FoAM Kernow Nov 12to15/2015

Aim: first Machine Wilderness workshop exploring in-situ prototying methods
By: Amber Griffiths, Ivan Henriques, Judith van der Elst, Alice Smits, Theun Karelse


Artis Symposium

opening symposium @ Artis Royal Zoo Nov 02/2015

Aim: bringin together a wide array of speakers for Machine Wilderness
By: Prof. Dr. Gusz Eiben, Prof. Em. Petran Kockelkoren, Dr. Erik de Jong, Kenzo Kusuda, ir. Paul Roncken, Spela Petric, Xavier San Giorgi, Anouk Visser, Reinier Kop, Ivan Henriques, Judith van der Elst, Alice Smits, Theun Karelse