Concept sketch of Kodame by Mikhail Mansion 2017

Since 2015, artist collective Natura Machina has been building nature-driven, kinetic sculptures with the aim of playfully reimagining our connection to the natural world.

As artists, technologists, researchers and educators, we take a special position in this investigation on nature and cultural. That is, we see the cross-disciplines of technology, research, and art as a culturally viable means for exploring new ideas that intersect nature and design. We believe this can lead to enhanced thinking about environmental sustainability and novel solutions. With this frame of mind, we have been working on a series of kinetic installations that aim to represent nature, and thereby connect cultural and natural systems as a single medium of experience. Through an artistic medium, we attempt to interrelate concepts of form, material, poetry and motion, with the physical forces of nature. As artists, we make choices on how to enact those properties within a selected context, where we transpose signals from a natural environment into the built environment. In this way, we explore how everyday materials and objects can engage people with natural phenomena in order to create new experiences that blur the boundary between physical, digital, and environmental systems. Through these experiments we ask the question: how can ecologically-engaged art enhance cultural sensibilities regarding nature?

In building ecological works that aim to foster enhanced sensibilities for natural systems, we consider the role of cognition in this process. Cognition means that humans acquire knowledge, not only through mental faculties, but also their many physical senses. Human senses play a big role in cultivating new perceptions. To this end, we attempt to create artwork that can connect human senses to outdoor living systems. Most of the world’s population live in built environments, and interact with manufactured materials throughout their day. We wondered if it were possible to enhance ecological sensing ability within these artificial settings, or in places that otherwise seek to control the aspects of lighting, temperature, sound, energy and data flow. The built environment presents certain challenges in this regard, because often such spaces attempt to direct the ebbs and flows of its occupants through prescribed cultural interactions—e.g, living rooms, cubicles, classrooms, jail cells, and checkout counters. 

We think that in order for sustainable design to take root, humans have to first cultivate an ecological mindset. We also think that artwork is a unique framework, as it can cross cultures and disciplines in order to help bridge embedded concepts of ecology, sustainability and nature, while proposing novel solutions for blending physical, digital, and environmental systems into a single experience.  

Natura Machina framework diagram by Kuan-Ju Wu, 2016