charcoal drawing of crusteos lichen on a rock

unnamed and still

a lichen-based artificial intelligence

Many lichen have not been named in any language.

Some have been given names following Linnaean taxonomy, usually using Latin or Latin-sounding genus and family names.

Some might like to remain unnamed.

two pen drawings of lichen with text on each representing something an unnamed lichen might say

what is this, in a nutshell?

I'm an artist creating an interactive narrative artwork made from the perspective of a lichen.

The work presents a lichen's worldview on autonomy, borders, naming, colonialism, bodies, technology and territory.

Current so-called Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are built using 'neural nets', imitating the human brain. This work is built from prothallus, areole and thallus, considering intelligence from a species where a border is a connection not a division, where decisions are collective, not siloed.

Currently selling drawings and fundraising for the final time needed to complete this.

a pen drawing mapping out different phrases of text for a video game

the edges

As an artist, I learn from others, both human and nonhuman, and try to imagine new worlds from different perspectives.

Artlink Fort Dunree is an artist residency programme in Co. Donegal, Ireland. They supported me to conduct artistic research in 2022, where I visited once each season. I spent time with the lichen Fuscidea cyathoides. This crustose lichen looks almost flat against the surface of the rocks it grows on. But under a microscope, worlds of canyons and mountains are revealed.

The lichen grows in white shapes, with solid black edges that resemble rivers or the borders of countries. What look like edges are actually the protozoa, the fungal body of the lichen, in a living, growing, feeling border.

This story is about the edges where it seems like nothing happens.

macro photograph of lichen with broad and many narrow border-like shapes

research

Lichens are complex, made up of symbiotic partners, usually fungi and photosynthesising plant. To learn what a lichen might tell me, I represented it in as many ways as I could. I scanned it with a portable scanner, drew with ink and charcoal, photographed it and placed it under a microscope. I wrote a computer program to generate lichen-like shapes. I drew it with a tablet and animated it.

All of this was artistic research, helping me to understand another world, and to reposition my own. They kept telling me the same thing: that I don't understand borders at all.

More information about this project is at this page on my website.

microscope image of lichen, white and black

borders and colonialism

Artlink is located beside an old military fort that 'protected' the British-controlled colony from possible landings by French ships in the 1800s. Today, the place is close to the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This border is contentious for so many reasons, but learning from the lichen I started to think that the border is maybe more alive, more malleable than we think.

Borders are porous. As philosopher Vinciane Despret implies, they are where everything interesting happens.

a scan of lichen on a portable scanner with a squished yellow flower at the top of the image

interactive narrative

Since 2023, I have been designing a HTML-based interactive narrative artwork. This work is a conversation between you and an 'artificial intelligence' (that does not use AI) representing an unnamed crustose lichen.

A name creates a border, a colonised itentity that fixed something as a static being. I decided that the lichen would have a personality that is more influenced by its own being than by the actions of the audience, so the program makes weighted decisions on its responses. There are so many possibilities scripted that it would be nearly impossible to have two conversations with the lichen turn out the same way.

The interactive artwork is being built in HTML, CSS and JavaScript to work in browser.

This webpage is for information and a fundraiser to support the work. You can also contact me through my website.

pencil drawing with map of decision tree for a lichen with a personality

why crowdfund?

The lichen is a symbiotic being. Its constituent parts come together. I also need to bring together some constituent parts, and I don't have enough income to make this happen.

This work takes time, particularly to finish the script, interactive elements, and to add accessibility through recorded voices and testing. I need time to complete the visuals, interactive elements and writing, and I need to hire voice actors and accessibility testers to complete this and make it available to as many as possible.

There are currently three ways to provide financial support if you are able: buy an original artwork, donate to the project on ko-fi, or support me more long-term on liberapay.

pen drawing of lichen that looks like borders or rivers on a map from above

artworks sale

The artworks are drawings made to order. Each is unique and features the lichen with a line of text from the interactive narrative.

They are hand-drawn in pen and ink on 300gsm Arches rough cotton paper (unframed). Each will be approximately 20x10cm although there will be some variance. The quality of the paper and inks will create a preservable object. The works will be a little like the image below, but as each is unique then it will feature different text and visual.

two pen drawings of lichen with text on each representing something an unnamed lichen might say

supports to date

The initial research was supported by the art organisation Artlink and part funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and Leitrim Arts Office.

If you'd be willing to support me more regularly for ongoing art projects, you can donate on my ko-fi or on my Liberapay account.

collaborators

The wonderful folk in various places

artlink

and everyone

financial support

people or organisations who helped fund the work