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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Parolin

imaginative symbiosis through materials, thresholds and collectives: part 1


I would like to start this post by saying that the starting point was quite different from how I later wanted to develop this research. Somehow, the binomial with which I wanted to observe the behaviors of imagination, namely that of human - machine, began to appear restrictive to me as I delved deeper into the meanings of intelligence and thought generation. Therefore, it seemed necessary to think and include everything that can be considered a creature: humans, plants, animals, fungi, machines, and so on. Creatures started to be the object of my studies, and so did the biomes in which they lived and thrived.

I want to specify that the use I make of the words creatures and biomes is to take as something that recalls the function of an infinitive soft container: it keeps getting filled without ever spilling, it takes the shape of whatever its content is.

This is part one of my research, I hope you'll find something interesting in it!






There are membranes, surfaces, through which it is possible to access different realities, to immerse oneself, to understand, to comprehend, and to empathize. A sort of parallelism is established between animal-machine-man-plant through the mirror membrane as a means to develop interrelationships.

Creatures exist within two spheres that pulse with their own movements. These environments intersect in a continuous exchange of information and interactions. We call these environments, the natural world and the digital world, biomes. Living within these biomes contaminates our cognitive imaginaries: the images and ideas that populate our minds are the product of our sensory experience of the natural biome as much as the experience that comes from the digital one.

The digital realm is now a space where we live and interact; it offers immersive experiences that challenge the boundaries between what we consider sensible, tangible reality and what we consider virtual reality. In cases like virtual reality and augmented reality, the biomes enter into a state of symbiosis, dissolving the division we are accustomed to attributing to them.

Canadian artist Jon Rafman, investigates the human experience and its relationship with Artificial Intelligence; the result of his work is a form of escapism from the reality in which humans are completely immersed:

In the future, the difference between virtual and real will seem obsolete. In fact, it may be quite difficult for the next generation to understand this dichotomy at all. It’s already the case with pre-existing technology that spillage often occurs. VR just affords a greater degree of immersion. For example, when I see a beautiful sunset, it often reminds me of a sunset from Skyrim. It’s really that sense of the uncanny that I’m referring to again – that feeling of déjà vu that comes from encountering something you’ve already experienced in a digital environment. We’re approaching the next layer, where you can both escape from reality both optically and haptically, through touch. You have to take it seriously, though: it’s not just a kid picking up a video game. These things are tempting and seductive, because there is something inherently there that should be critically looked.

Thom Bettridge, Skyrim Sunsets: Artist JON RAFMAN on Exploring VR with Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, in 032c, 24 luglio 2015,

Valentina Tanni in Exit Reality explores this form of escapism from reality through the digital network, which manifests as a type of depersonalization primarily caused by visual collages and auditory techniques that trigger physical responses. These stimuli are so powerful that they transport the mind to other places, beyond what is part of tangible reality, something that exists on the threshold between the two environments. The user sinks into the screen and beyond it.Tanni also explores other techniques that use the digital realm to escape from reality or find comfort within it, effectively generating a sense of shared community on social platforms. Consider the images that arise under Internet aesthetics, such as those of the #Dreamcore genre, which bring together thousands of users in feelings of nostalgia and familiarity without actually physically participating in those images.

This escape from what we consider true reality only increases immersion; it is a response to a world that becomes increasingly difficult to inhabit.

Valentina Tanni, Exit Reality, Roma, NERO, 2023

Through the digital biome, individuals can survive, experience, and form relationships. We live to connect.

Instead of escaping from reality, let's imagine touching, physically entering, and deeply engaging with the digital to immerse ourselves in the "more than human" world, beyond the natural, also existing within the enticing digital space.

It’s not talking about conquering unexplored places but about coexistence, about learning to live together through symbiosis of creatures and biomes. It's a continual flicker of our existence across multiple dimensions and effects, a perpetual movement towards sharing.

Something that I found to be very similar in content is “Cantico delle Creature” by San Francesco D’Assisi, a collective prayer wrote based on the vision of universal brotherhood among every creature, an ode to the beauty and harmony of creation. In this religious vision, humans play a central role; today, we might interpret this centrality as a form of anthropomorphism. The stars, the moon, water, fire, air, and earth are humanised to allow us, humans, to develop an emotional bond with these elements, and in their personified descriptions, we find similarities with corporeality, drawing us closer and evoking emotions in their presence. Personification serves to emphasize the beauty and dignity of every aspect of creation and to reveal the role of every creature in the grand harmony of existence. The text celebrates each creature for what it is intrinsically. Humans are called to safeguard, to preserve the harmony of creation rather than selfishly exploit it. The joy expressed in the text is the result of the harmonious existence of the whole, in which each subject of creation uniquely contributes to the beauty and balance of the entire system. It's a vision of unity, where every creature is seen as part of a universal family, fraternity and coexistence are the keys to realizing a full and harmonious life. In this sense, the “Cantico” invites reflection on our relationship with the world and the responsibility to preserve this harmony.

The horizons of our experience are expanding thanks to interactions with the natural world and the digital world, influencing our understanding. The barriers that limit our knowledge and capacity for thought are intrinsic to the relationships we are able to weave with our surroundings, including all creatures.

Through human-machine interaction, the act of imagining, which also involves in some way representing and making visible, visualizing thought, interfaces with new vibrant possibilities. Concerns about artificial intelligence as a competitive machine stem from the same conception as the teleological evolution, where the most ruthless survive and dominate the chain of life forms. But if we hypothesize that AI is a tool to open us up to worlds, to connect and intertwine with other creatures, then it may no longer take on a macabre and destructive character, instead becoming a possibility to converge within the environment, to move away from the anthropocentric thinking that characterizes the contemporary era and recognize coexistence and interrelation with the whole.

The memories of artificial intelligence, human, animal, plant and others merge to formulate imaginative combinations: the experiences of creatures blend together to generate and imagine.

This action already exists in the contemporary world: platforms like Midjourney and DALL-E generate images that draw from digital memory but also from human input through the use of language. Thus, from this alliance, emerge images that result from symbiosis: words and memory become generative and combinatory engines. The created image can then be combined with others produced in the same way, creating an imaginative chain of human-machine collaboration that can expand indefinitely. This chain then adds to the experience and memory of both the machine and the human. We are surrounded by virtually inexhaustible imaginative possibilities.

The concept of a connected and unifying membrane that allows interaction within the entire system, where inhabitants recognize their similarities and differences, makes creatures participants in a game of mirrors where they emerge, immerse, and blur together. The mirror, material turned into a membrane, permeates us and connects us to a world that is more than human, where relationships develop and reflect, push beyond, creating a multitude of possibilities and connections. The mirror welcomes images, it is a receptor without transformation, reflecting and mediating entities; it is a communicative membrane. Observing through the mirror means contemplating ourselves and also everything around us. We become mirrors capable of reflecting not only our image but also storing others. In this way, we surround ourselves with presences and knowledge that become an integral part of who we are. Experiences converge in the membrane that envelops us; they are manifestations of the whole.

Emanuele Coccia writes:

Even to observe and hear oneself, it is necessary, for every animal, to construct its own image outside of itself, in an external space: it is in the mirror that we manage to become sensible, and it is to the mirror that we request our image, and not immediately to the breath of our bodies. [...] It is not enough to reiterate the impossibility of immediate self-perception. Instead, we must understand that we become perceptible, even to ourselves, always in a space somehow external, intermediary between the perceiving self and the perceived self; it is always outside of itself that something becomes experiential: something becomes sensible only in the intermediate body that stands between the object and the subject.

Emanuele Coccia, La vita sensibile, Il Mulino, Bologna 2011, p. 37.


Wanting to spoil a bit of what is coming next I'm adding the frame work of the research here:


Where I read and found the most loveliest things:

  • Thom Bettridge, Skyrim Sunsets: Artist JON RAFMAN on Exploring VR with Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, in 032c, 24 luglio 2015,

  • Vincenzo Cherubino Bigi, Cantico Delle Creature (Il) di Francesco D’Assisi, Porziuncola, Assisi 2008

  • James Bridle, Modi di essere - animali, piante e computer: al di là dell’intelligenza umana, Rizzoli, Milano 2022

  • Jay David Bolter, Diane Gromala, Windows and mirrors : interaction design, digital art, and the myth of transparency, The MIT Press, Londra 2005

  • Orphan Drift’s, If AI were Cephalopod, in OrphanDriftarchive, maggio 2019,

  • Emanuele Coccia, La vita sensibile, Il Mulino, Bologna 2011

  • Donna Haraway, Chtulucene: sopravvivere su un pianeta infetto, NERO, Roma 2020

  • Arnaud Maillet, Jeff Fort, The Claude glass : use and meaning of the black mirror in western art, Jeff Fort (tradotto da), Zone Books, New York 2004

  • Bruno Munari, Da cosa nasce cosa, Editori Laterza, Bari 2009

  • Bruno Munari, Fantasia, Editori Laterza, Bari 2017

  • Massimo Negrotti (a cura di), Capire l’artificiale - Dall’analogia all’integrazione uomo-macchina, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 1990

  • Gianni Rodari, Grammatica della fantasia – Introduzione all’arte di inventare storie, Einaudi ragazzi, San Dorligo della Valle 2013

  • Valentina Tanni, Exit Reality, NERO, Roma 2023

  • Laura Tripaldi, Parallel Minds: Discovering the Intelligence of Materials, Urbanomic, Windsor Quarry 2022

  • Elémire Zolla, Lo stupore infantile: con un inedito sui giochi dei bambini, Grazia Marchianò (a cura di), Marsilio, Venezia 2014


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