Biomer Skelters, Thiel/Pappenheimer

<< Manifest.AR is Turning FACT Inside Out


Biomer Skeltersby Tamiko Thiel and Will Pappenheimer
is being shown as a work in progress in Manifest.AR’s

“Invisible ARtaffects”  June 13 – September 15, 2013
FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool, UK

Part of Turning FACT Inside Out – FACT’s 10th anniversary exhibit


“Biomer Skelters,” Tamiko Thiel and Will Pappenheimer, 2013

“Biomer Skelters,” Tamiko Thiel and Will Pappenheimer, 2013


Biomer Skelters was commissioned by FACT Liverpool in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University. Read on for the full proposal:

Biomer Skelters (“biome” + “helter-skelter“) is a personal wild growth forest-to-rainforest AR ecosystem propagator designed initially for the Liverpool area. The system is designed to speed up the process of reforestation in the County of Merseyside, turning participants into “Biomer Skelters*” as they start to spread vegetation in their wake. Increased propagation causes increased helter-skelter and dense plant growth. Cultivation of virtual plant life is driven by a range of individual participant states and activities indicated by bio sensing and volition. The overall artwork in process seeks to completely  cover the Liverpool area with forest biomes.

“Biomer Skelters” mARp filling Liverpool with augmental vegetation,
visualization, Will Pappenheimer, 2012

Through a number of its interrelated parts as AR performance and physical installation, this project reflects societal interests and concerns involving plant-based ecosystems, from urban reforestation and farming to oncoming ecological diversity and disturbance attributed to global warming. Questions circulate throughout this artwork about what in the plant world is considered to be natural, local, practical, and controlled versus foreign, invasive, mutated or chaotic.

Liverpool, both past and present, has a vibrant interest in botany and horticulture. The city’s extensive worldwide shipping history spawned extensive botanical and tree collections, while recent resurgences of alternative farm production and state-supported forestation suggest the return to localized food production and an abiding interest in city greening. Imagery and events related to this background inform the content and activities of this project.

Final Exhibition Proposal:

  • FACT ground floor AR viewing station: The Manifest.AR “periscope” will allow visitors to see the vegetation planted on the ground floor by previous participants. If we are able to cover the ground floor and first floor with soil, and the walls with ivy, the real environment plus the virtual trees in the augmented reality environment will turn FACT into a dense, helter-skelter forest biome. The physical presence of garden materials such as soil and plant specimens, as well as botanical artwork (such as framed prints and paper sculpture planned for the first floor) is intended to expand and blur the line between what is considered “virtual” and what is considered “real” in this project. Through this principle we accentuate the augmented reality virtual proposition’s connection to an imminent future as well as existent Liverpool initiatives and histories.
  • FACT first floor exhibit: The soil on the ground floor leads visitors up the stairs to the Manifest.AR exhibit on the first floor. “Biomer Skelters” would use the outside wall of the Gallery 2 entrance as well as the Collaboration and Engagement space opposite the bar on the first floor as its permanent exhibition space. A more specific mockup and diagram of this section of the exhibition will be forthcoming.

The exhibit would include:

  • A large monitor showing the propagation status and documentation (screenshots and video) of “Biomer Skelters” at different locations in the city of Liverpool, including footage of the “Biomer Skelters Games.”
  • A grid of 24+ A4 sized framed botanical art prints of mutated plants
  • Cutout printed paper sculpture of mutated biomer skelter plants and foliage from 3D models
  • Real plants (on loan from botanical collections in Liverpool)
  • A second large monitor showing the interactive mARp of “Biomer Skelters” projects throughout the city.

Mutations of the Sessile Oak, art prints by Tamiko Thiel, 2012

“Biomer Skelter” mARp: All vegetation planted in the city will be visible on the interactive online mARp (mARp = “AR map”). This will be displayed on a large monitor at FACT, but is also viewable via the Internet on PCs and on mobiles. People who access the mARp on their mobile devices can additionally go to a location where there is “Biomer Skelters” vegetation, launch the AR app and then see the results of their and others’ propagation as augmented plants.

Projects and collaborations under discussion include:

  • Collaborations with local groups in the County of Merseyside that address urban gardening and reforestation issues, to help visualize changes – real or fantastical – in the landscape and in the use of urban space in the city. (See list of potential collaborators below.)
  • A project addressing Mr. Roscoe’s Secret Garden of tropical plants. This large botanical collection has been scattered throughout the county, and much of it is not publicly viewable. Imagery and information on this collection has already been incorporated into the “Biomer Skelters” project to increase public awareness of existing parts of the collection and where they are located in Merseyside. In our meeting with Donna Young, Curator of the Herbarium at the World Museum (National Museums Liverpool), we looked at dried pressed specimens of the original plants grown in Roscoe’s botanical garden. She has identified numerous specimens from the collection that we have incorported as exotic invasive plants into the current “Biomer Skelters” propagating system.

—————-Visit to the Herbarium at the
World Museum, Donna Young, Curator.

Dried specimen of Roscoea purpurea, a plant from the
Genus Roscoea grown at Liverpool Botanic Gardens 1823,

named after the botanist William Roscoe (1753–1831).

  • The Biomer Skelters Games: Public games can engage the public in thinking about the old forest growths that are being lost and the possible long term effects of global warming. Participants select their team – either “Indiginators” who plant native English plants, or “Exoticators” who plant invasive exotics from Mr. Roscoe’s Secret Garden (courtesy of the World Museum botanical collection). Using heart rate sensor technology, participants walk the city planting a trail of virtual vegetation in their path. The “relax to win” strategy compells them to control their heart beat at an ideal rate for planting – neither too fast nor too slow.  Each team tries to take over the city space of Liverpool with their biomer.
  • Virtual Hedge Maze Game: In the tradition of English hedge mazes and labyrinths, we are planning a collaborative project with Jennifer Welch to create an invisible AR configuration for Rope Walk Square or the Plaza in back of FACT. Included is an idea of using a simplified diagram of Jennifer’s brain (drawn from MRI scanning to detect her particular irregularities) as the pattern. The AR trees will appear to grow throughout the duration of the exhibition. Strategies for making sure participants do not cross the lines are being explored. The project envisions participants wandering through the square in an attempt to follow an invisible path.

Neurobrainmaze, Jennifer Welch


  • “Biomer Skelter Games” Event: A special game event will be held during the opening week of the final exhibition. Participants are divided into two teams, one with the goal of planting a maximum of native species, the other with the goal of maximizing exotic and mutated plants in the city. One member of each team is equipped with a heart rate sensor; the other members are responsible for viewing, monitoring and documenting the vegetation propagation in progress. The “relax to win” game play will insure that if participants become too excited and move too quickly they will merely propagate vegetation belonging to the other team.
  • “Biomer Skelters” Personal Game inside and outside FACT: During the course of the exhibition, visitors interested in participating in the “Biomer Skelters Game” can be equipped with a heart rate sensor on the FACT ground floor. They can practice planting vegetation inside FACT itself, and then can go out into the city of Liverpool and propagate vegetation in their path through the city. Just as in the “Biomer Skelter Games” event, the rate of their heartbeat, measuring excitation, determines how much and what type of vegetation is propagated.
  • “Biomer Skelters” Locative Planting Events: A few propagation  events taking place during the course of the exhibition will allow participants to select the types of vegetation they wish to plant and where, rather than this being determined automatically via the “Biomer Skelters” system. This use of the personal “Biomer Skelters” propagator is intended to address the interests of particular locations and Collaboration & Engagement events where particular types of plants might need to be placed more accurately. Another envisioned event would be to fill the Liverpool Tate Gallery location with vegetation as a commentary on the English “Walled Garden.”  A few tests made while in Liverpool in June suggest that the visual juxtaposition of the Tate galleries filled with vegetation is likely to be very striking.

Software Development:

  • Biomer Skelters” Biosensor Propagator: Utilizes heart rate readings via a chestbelt sensor to determine levels of vegetation propagation. Heart rate is understood as a suggestive indicator of a participant’s physiological and psychological state in terms of interest, calmness or excitement. At this stage of development we would like the increases in propagation to be linked to a decreases in heart rate, indicating calmer states. (Similar to a Relax To Win game scenario. To prevent participants from simply sitting in one place we will require a minimum walking speed in order to plant.) During the Biomer Skelter Games competitive event the type of vegetation generated would depend on the participants’ team affiliation as well – either old forest growth, exotic species or mutations through global warming.

Ropewalk Square Skeltered, visualization, Tamiko Thiel, 2012

  • “Biomer Skelters” Locative Planter will allow users to plant selective vegetation at the place where they are standing. This version of the project software will give a wider group of participants an opportunity to contribute, add a level of informed selection, and allow for visualization of urban gardens. The selection of and information on types of vegetation in this version of the software will encourage more consideration of particular species related to the overall project background in terms of history, Collaboration & Engagement and artists’ extrapolations.
  • “Biomer Skelters” Programmatic Planters: A few related custom software add-ons are likely to be developed for different “Biomer Skelters” events. A “Biomb” under consideration might be a quick automatic propagator bomb that spreads a large volume of vegetation out over an area localized around the participant, particularly during the “Biomer Skelter Games” event. Access to this “weapon” would be limited such that it is not overused.
    The “Hedge Maze”game will require specialized AR time-based growth programmed vegetation as well as various game triggered objects to ensure participants are following the maze pathway.

Granby Triangle Resistance Gardens



Collaborators include:

2 Responses to “Biomer Skelters, Thiel/Pappenheimer”

  1. willpap Says:

    Interesting discussion on Skype today with Roger and Anna and Tamiko on how bio sensing technology is viewed by and described to audiences for this exhibition; it’s two sides: creative/generative vs surveillance, active vs passive, doing things vs having things done to you, playful vs sinister, cyborg as Superman or cyborg as Frankenstein. Roger was reporting an instance where during a presentation of ArtSense one or two audience reactions were along the lines of this technology as being set up for its negative uses. In the exhibition we don’t want to neglect either side though we probably need to push towards presenting more of the active, playful active and generative use of this technology.

  2. willpap Says:

    * Or maybe just Superman just as our contemporary state of living with and iN technology.

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