ofxDesignedByNature by Vera Williams and Vera van de Seyp


What is natural, and what is artificial? The borders between nature, humanity, science and technology continue to blur. 

Today’s negative impacts of technology on nature are evident, but can we imagine a more positive future where technology makes nature stronger? Where nature and technology blend into symbiotic lifeforms, and augmented ecologies evolve? How can we hack nature for good purposes?

Creative researchers from the Leiden University Media Technology MSc program will imagineer new realities, combining nature and technology. This will not be a static expo, more a playful research lab that mixes scientific approaches to art with creative approaches to science, for all ages and audiences. The researchers work from personal inspiration and create physical works to explore concepts and engage the visitor, and to evoke ideas or questions. Many installations are interactive, some are early studies and prototypes, others will be more polished end products. The creative researchers will be around to discuss the concepts, inspiration, ideas and methods behind their work, and even hack some more on the fly. 

Dates & location:
Friday June 29, 15:00 - 21:30. Opening drinks at 18:30.
Saturday June 30, 12:00 - 20:00
De Samenscholing, Beatrijsstraat 12. The Hague.

Free admission. We would like to thank De Samenscholing for hosting this event. For more information, contact Peter van der Putten

Please support us by signing up to & sharing the Facebook Event


See below for the exhibiting creative researchers and their works. 

For more context, you can also check out the Portfolios on the right panel for some of the earlier exploratory projects worked on leading up to the expo. Past editions of the NMNT Open Lab Expo can be found in DARK MATTERS (2017) and here

// Ediacaran Dreamings // 
by Alexandra Barancova & Kees Sommer

Inspired by cephalopod neural networks, Chthulucene tentacular thinking and cooperation in evolution. Squids, cuttlefish, octopuses, nautiloids; this work is an investigation into these home-world aliens. Ediacaran Dreamings is a sensory representation of an autonomous coordinating system, inviting the audience to think with it. The piece is custom designed around the base structure, a serendipitous find on location.


// hypnagogia // 
by Jae Perris, Dorothy Marton, Matthias König

Hypnagogia is the experience of the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep. This transition may be attended by a wide variety of mental phenomena, including lucid dreaming and sensory experiences. These experiences can occur in any modality, individually or combined, and range from the vague and barely perceptible to vivid hallucinations. Inspired by our own hypnagogic experiences, we created a virtual tour exploring the boundaries of our agency and the limits of the universe.

 h y p n a g o g i a 

// Genetic Encryption //
by Vera van de Seyp & Vera Williams

DNA harbours all of life’s data as we know it. It’s a dynamic system: perpetually exposed to change, yet resilient to its adverse effects. However resilient, the DNA system is open to change as long as there is enough pressure to steer it into a specific direction. This is how life evolves. 

With our current digital society, data protection is becoming a rapidly more pressing necessity. There are many ways to encrypt your website, computer or phone, yet many passwords that are used are so simple even a human could hack them. Even random password generators are based on pseudo-random algorithms that are easy to crack by web crawlers and hackers. 

Can we steer the effectiveness of data encryption through the process of DNA mutation? We want to use the unpredictability of mutation as a tool for a password generator, in which visitors can each generate a unique and uncrackable password designed by nature.

// Happy Plant //
by Suzan Baraka & Donna Schreuter

Our lives are getting faster and we need tools to make everything more efficient and easy to facilitate our fast lives. We also want to be healthy and happy, and plants can provide for us some feeling of purpose. But sometimes it's hard to keep a plant alive. Especially in these modern times, while we run around, taking care of something other than ourselves can be a bit much. We have a solution! We call it 'Happy Plant' - order now

by Su Polatoglu, Sander de Jong & Winke Wiegersma

‘Its minuscule components are so smooth that one can barely feel it’. (Plato in Timaeus, c. 360 BCE.) 

The air [omni-present. ever-present. fugitive] we breath [subconsciously. autonomously]. 

Humans have the innate tendency to categorize [nature]. We categorize to understand, to visualize and to organize. What if we categorize the invisible? Air is a cocktail of intangible substances. It is ubiquitous, yet invisible. It is taken for granted yet it is the primary source of life. There is a lot of discussion around air. Allegedly, it is warming up, full of toxics, harmful, et cetera. 

Do we understand what air consists of, what these discussions are all about, when the air is so abstract, so ‘ungraspable’? 

Plato once associated the element of air with the octahedron, a geometrical shape of eight equilateral triangles, coining it the ‘Platonic solid’. We propose a 3D and dynamic taxonomy of air, constructed using real-time data from the Air Quality Index database. 

[IN] VISIBLE AIR will make the invisible visible, the intangible tangible.

// X, Y, Zephry// 
by David Cota, Pieke Heijmans & Gabe Webb

A gust from the sea propels a sailboat, sets the blades of a windmill turning, rustles a thicket of reeds or tussles our hair. We experience wind as a kinetic force, but can its sensations -- soothing and severe -- be translated into other sensory expressions?

// @whale // 
by Ayla Kolster, Tinka Zorge & Joëlle Zweekhorst

The deep blue seas have just become a little less dark and mysterious with the help of this new communication device. Come and chew the fat.

// Nightingale // 
by Nadine Roos

We are living in the Anthropocene. Even though humans are a technological species, many feel a deep connection to nature. Nature is rich and diverse. We feel in awe of it, we domesticate it and we overuse it. In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale 'The Nightingale', the Chinese emperor is mesmerized by the song of this bird and captures it. When the emperor and his court are admiring a mechanical nightingale, the living nightingale frees itself. Nature is substituted by technology.

Sounds around us are changing in a similar way. Natural biological sounds (biophony) are disappearing and overtaken by anthropophony, the controlled sounds created by humans. Many of these sounds are noise, originating from the use of technology. Both the consequences of these changes and the effects of noise on our well-being are unclear.

So can technology successfully take nature’s place? Listen to the sounds of the city of Nightingale. Every year, many visitors come here to enjoy its widely praised acoustic environment full of droning, humming and buzzing technologies. Now, you can even get yourself a CD to emerge yourself in these calming and highly anthropophony soundscapes at home. Perfect for a technological being like you.

// * //
by Lisa Pothoven

The simplest forms of nature are the essence of our universe.

(c) Music

// Reshaping //
by Giulio Barbero, Zhirui Hu & Gaia Manganello

Hectic changes have shaped the development of the urban landscape in the past centuries. As seen from above, infrastructures and green spaces merge to form a fascinating lattice in constant flux. But what's next? Let's ask a machine.

 / / DendroLuminescence / / 
by Sophie van Gennip, Romy Koch & Pieter Pierrot

In an attempt to escape the hectic environment of their urban life, even for a while, people seek salvation in nature; life in its purest form. Hoping for a moment of peace, you can relax near the lone trunk and admire its beauty, accomplished through simplicity,  and the absence of human’s interfering hand. But doesn’t your presence interferes even so with this serene place? Come and find out for yourself.

// Mathematical Anarchy //
by Monica Preller & Jichen Wu

We are arguing that the development of nature - in human perception at least - that typically fit into this schema: simple (orderly, rules, history - imagined by humans) ——— complex (diverse - can be seen by humans) ——— simple (orderly, created by humans). We usually use the middle part as the most standard framework through which we view nature. However, if we think twice, the left part should be the pure original nature (think about what “natural” means in “natural science”) Moreover, this pure nature is, in many extents, similar to the right part (artefacts, human imagination). 

We want to recreate this nature development in our project. This system we want to create, at first will be very simple in terms of behaviours. each audience will add more elements in this system. At certain points, new pattern will emerge, system will be more complex. Some new elements may even have butterfly effect on the system. As more and more new elements come into this system, the complexity begins to shrink. In the end it will be just like the beginning. We want all elements follow several simple rules from the beginning to the end. The audience is able to change his own elements and these certain elements are able to change the system. However, the development of this system is not affected by any audience or elements.

Photo credits Genetic Encryption, XY Zephry, *: Soyun Park, Instagram @herphotoof


The Hacking Nature Open Lab Expo is the final event of the first year New Media New Technology class of the Leiden University Media Technology MSc Program.

In media technology one trend, technology or fad quickly follows the next. For anyone with an interest in media technology  and creative science it is important to be up to date with the latest and greatest, from augmented reality to bioengineering, and from fabrication to responsive environments. However it is equally important to be able to critically reflect on these trends, to connect these to classical discussions, and to identify what is really novel and what is merely a hype. Only then we will truly be able to research and imagineer for the future in non incremental ways.

The New Media New Technology (NMNT) class explores the latest media and creative research technologies and concepts, organized by more timeless themes such as new media history, social relationships, space and intelligent perception and action, so that these technologies can be placed into perspective and context. The course follows a tinkering approach and is a mix of lectures and practical assignments, and students are asked to create works that incorporate a new technology or concept and motivate why it is not just a gimmick or hype. Prototypes and end results will be presented at an exposition open to the general public.

New Media New Technology is a course in the Media Technology MSc Program at LIACS, Leiden University, The Netherlands. The Media Technology MSc program is a place where students are encouraged to formulate their own scientific questions, and to translate personal inspirations and curiosities into their own research projects. To answer these questions, students create actual products, because we are convinced that by doing and creating, new scientific insights into the underlying question are encountered. 

Lecturer and Curator: Peter van der Putten
Teaching Assistant and Expo Production: Stijn van Vilsteren

Past editions of NMNT can be found here.