Kerosine chronicle. Fungus, olfactory relationships among robots


Fungi, viruses and bacteria manage to survive in conditions that are extreme for us, feeding on sometimes unthinkable substances. Amorphotheca resinae, for example, thanks to its ability to grow on a variety of inhospitable substrates, finds fuel tanks a favourable habitat in which to proliferate by feeding on kerosene and diesel fuel. The metabolism of this fungus then transforms the smell of the fuel in which it has settled. It is precisely this specific olfactory aspect that the work of the Russian art group Where Dogs Run has focused on. In the installation “Kerosine chronicles. Fungus,” four robots equipped with a fuel tank infected with amorphotheca resinae coinhabit a space. A series of sensors that monitor the pH, gas, and fuel level inside the tanks affect the behaviours of the robots, which can thus take on different modes of interaction: fuel conservation (escape), fuel seeking (hunting), exploration (walking), over-fueling (altruism), and passive waiting. The machines use ‘olfactory’ sensors to find each other, following the highest concentration of kerosene fumes. When two of these machines meet in a corresponding mode such as hunting/altruism, a fuel switch from one to the other could be triggered, with one lighting the fuel burner and the other being charged with the corresponding heat generator. Just as in social interactions between humans, unpredictability in agreement or disagreement between machines affects the communication of the whole group, defining an arena where coexistence between natural and synthetic organisms is all but taken for granted. Communication and collaboration skills are tied to one’s temporary status and other ongoing dynamics, in a dance where the organism is ready to tango with the automaton. Benedetta Sabatini


Where Dogs Run – Kerosine chronicles. Fungus