Museum of Mutant Species

Slide deck

Abstract:  The project deals with the effect of increasing pollution and it’s effect on plant life and potentially other dependant species through the lens of design fiction. During the course of this project, we created mutant species of chickpeas based on predicted pollution levels and their effects on these species. We created a future world, where temperature rise has lead to destruction of food crops and a mutant form of the chickpea is grown. This superstrain mutates in response to its environment and grows wild everywhere. A museum in the future, documents the ‘history’ and preserves lines of mutant species that are safe for human interaction and study. The project took on the form of found footage, in the form of a trailer for this museum. We utilised LSTMs, RNNs and extrapolation to generate predictive models and exposure to UV, microwave, benzene, arsenic and lead at controlled levels to create the mutant chickpea strains.



Concept, design questions, goal:  This project was motivated by multiple goals. At some level it is motivated by our attempt to expand our notions of what is possible in the cultural landscape of reality through the use of science and technology as a medium at large. The relationship we have with botanical lifeforms, is complex and poorly understood. The project was also an exploration of this relationship and its many aspects. What forms will life take in the years to come, given the extent and impact of human activity and its far reaching consequences? How does the non-human respond to the human? In what way can we realistically deduce futures and narrate this story of the years to come? We also explored the idea of non-reality through the lens of design fiction to create worlds not through sensory immersion, but suspension of disbelief.  The goal of the project was to answer all these questions and explore the mentioned directions, in order to create a commentary on possible futures.


Research:  Fiction is often free from the limitations that events in reality are bound by. But we were interested in building a plausible thread to connect the two. Through this, we intended to build a bridge from the familiar to the unfamiliar, that would allow making the transition in a comfortable manner. The research focussed on scientifically sound methods of deduction and extrapolation – reality can yield unexpected, strange and weird results, one that even fiction may not – and as a result, we studied long short term momery networks, recurrent neural networks, historical patterns of pollution, human activity and science fiction related to speculative futures. We focused on the values of change and reclamation, in works that dealt with speculative futures. What kind of values do they think will survive? Why? How will humans react to change? What about the non humans? Through our research and predicted values of temperature, we arrived at the decision to create a mutant chickpea- as absurd as it may sound, this was justified by the fact that the chickpea can stand harsh weather and will survive a global temperature rise that rice and wheat may not. Such seemingly absurd notions were looked into deeper and incorporated with narrative structures, to develop our response.


Audience & experience: The video is meant for anyone who is interested in speculative futures and would experience a commentary on the same in a gallery setting, or in a setting where it is unintentionally stumbled upon, like a lost artefact. The user has no real active interaction with it , it being a video. The workflow would be more of an internal reflection that would occur or the initiation of querying into what has been just witnessed, and therefore highly dependent on the audience. The goal however, is to evoke a response of enquiry and discomfort to some degree about the future that is being built.


Technical Production:  LSTMs and RNNs were used to predict future values of benzene, lead, arsenic, UV and microwave radiation. Chickpea seeds were then exposed to controlled levels of these substances, as predicted. This created mutations in the resulting saplings. These saplings were used as scale models for giant chickpeas (which they would be, as made evident by their accelerated growth rates) to create a museum space with mixed reality elements in the form of projection and the use of faux-holograms (created with acrylic and projection). Visuals were generated on cinema4D for artistically representing the changes in the future ‘history’. Some of the visuals were also generated using processing, such as the genetic algorithms.


Prototyping & testing: Creating mutations in the chickpeas took some effort and creation of an electron gun and a UV chamber. An old tube tv was broken and the tube used to make an electron gun, controlled by 8 electromagnets.
Rest of the prototyping involved creation of a scale model of the museum space and documenting it. The visuals were generated on Cinema4D and processing.
Testing involved asking people what kind of world did they think this was situated in and pretty much what they felt on watching it.


Some of the feedback was

1) A bit dark and depressing, which a trailer wouldnt be. (maybe the future IS a dark and depressing aesthetic. it’s going that way already … ?)

2) effective in terms of the aesthetics, sound could use more work (sound could definitely use more work)

3) Give this into an archival treatment.

4) More context, maybe?

We plan on making more trailers for more mutant species, which will result in this possible future, by incorporating the given feedback. We also intend to explore less ominous treatments, for future iterations.