That Which Lives In Me is a visual experiment looking into the nature of interaction between living biological beings and their virtual technological environment. Each of these systems has a time of its own; their temporalities are not equal to each other and they are difficult to synchronise. It cannot be known in advance how exactly the contention between biological and virtual systems will manifest, but we can feel confident in saying that, by and large, a unified system will prove troublesome: the different temporalities cannot coexist amicably.

Augmented Reality
Our project employs Augmented Reality technologies. This is a contemporary research field that enables observers to expand the field of vision by means of virtual elements.

A digital camera picks up the image of the environment and sends a signal to the computer. The information is processed by a special program that augments the conventional image with the virtual one by using pattern-recognition algorithms.

Thanks to these technologies, we can superimpose computer data on the live video footage in real time. The effect produced on our senses makes it difficult to tell the “augmented” world from the real one. The main features of this virtual technological world are fast response and full interactivity.

In our installation, we make use of giant African snails, Achatina fulica. The Achatina is the largest land mollusc, with its shell capable of reaching 30 cm in size. The achatinas are native to East Africa, but today they are bred all over the world as pets.

The achatinas have a modest sense of sight enabling them to see at a distance up to 1 cm. Short antennae in the lower part of the head serve the snails for gustatory and olfactory perception.

The achatinas are smart creatures. They have an ability to map the environment in their brain while they search for food. In spite of their size, the snails crawl quite slowly, about 1 cm/min. Their sluggishness is extremely important for our project.

Exhibit creation
For the purposes of the installation, we have made a special terrarium in which the snails live. Its main component is an acrylic hemisphere. The terrarium also accommodates a digital video camera, lighting fixtures, and a heat-sensitive element.

Another element of the structure is a ring with an access hole for taking care of the snails. This is connected to the hemisphere following the jigsaw puzzle principle. The achatinas are heat-loving animals, so we have made provision for a heating and ventilation system, which maintains a permanent climate inside the terrarium.

In the centre of the structure is a rotating stand on which we can arrange the landscape with snails. The motion of the stand coordinates the inner biological time of the achatinas with their spatial displacements, registered by the Augmented Reality apparatus.

Electronic auras
For many peoples of the world, the image of a snail represents incompatibility of the inner and the outer spaces, and a snail shell symbolises frozen time. Reconstructing this metaphor, we have “augmented” the shells of giant African snails with a certain kind of "electronic aura"—an interactive layer of digital visual information.

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This information is output to the screen in real time, and its layout is determined by behaviour of the snails themselves: the dynamics of their displacements inside the terrarium and the intensity of their inter-communication.

To make the "electronic auras" dependent on the snails’ behaviour, we employed additional software and hardware means. This technical setup enables information about the objects being observed to appear directly over the image obtained from the video camera.

Alienating effect
The giant African snails are primarily nocturnal animals. We took advantage of this specific feature of the achatinas to create an alienating effect. We programmed additional transmissions of “electronic auras” with a 9-hour phase delay, thus separating the “auras” from the “real bodies” for a considerable period of time.

Along with the interactive information-and-biological hybrids, the spectator can see on the installation screen a nocturnal recording of the "electronic auras" slipping by, in isolation from the bodies. These become signifiers of digital solitude and the abandon of physical matter.

In our visual experiment, we not only show the concept of mediated reality in real time, but also outline the boundaries of applicability for these technologies, liberating spectator perception from the mechanical rhythm of interactivity imposed by the life that surrounds us.

© 2011, NCCA, Kaliningrad
The National Centre for contemporary arts gratefully acknowledges the generous support
of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, Ford Foundation (The Moscow Office),
and The Dynasty Foundation (Moscow) in funding this project.
Web-site by Sergey Sorokin.