Machine Wilderness

An art/science programme exploring how human technologies could relate to the environment the way organisms do.

Machine Wilderness ARTIS residency programme

In 2022 Machine Wilderness engages with the rich and diverse beings of ARTIS Royal zoo in Amsterdam when artists and designers each spend several weeks experimenting in the park from January until May. Machine Wilderness is a field based programme exploring new relations between humans our technologies and the natural world.

During this residency exiting experiments will try to bring us closer to the lives of other beings and reveal hidden worlds. We explore how animals and plants share signals, how they learn, set borders, or organise 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?

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

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


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 is research is based on field experiment 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 @ Glazen Huis
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