Creative digital studio Design I/O's massive installation Connected Worlds is a six part interactive experience featured in the New York Hall of Science. Its participants, particularity children, are encouraged to interact with this immersive system comprised of six separate but connected digital ecosystems, wired with 15 projectors, 8 MacPros , and 12 Kinects. With hand motions they are able to plant seeds that, when watered, grow into colorfully, otherworldly plants. Through the use of logs in the space's center, the kids can work together to divert the water from one ecosystem to another to let them all thrive. When an ecosystem is healthy, animals (equally vibrant and alien) take up residence there, feeding off of the plants and water.
"Visitors are also encouraged to make difficult trade-offs, such as deciding how to direct limited amounts of water across the entire eco-system to maximise impact. The aim of Connected Worlds is to encourage younger demographics to adopt a Whole-system Thinking approach to sustainability, learning about how a seemingly small action in one environment can have a global impact." Ross, Calum. (2015). LS:N Global: Connected Worlds.
This installations target demographic is children and as such seeks to provide a learning experience for them. The first lesson is about how ecosystems interact. The installation only has a finite amount of water so it would be unfair and selfish for one or two systems to hoard all of it. Consequently, it also shows the impact and reach of seemingly small and simple local efforts toward sustainability and the positive effects it can have. Placing a log to split a river in two, supplying two ecosystems with water is a small task that helps others flourish. This is to help them, and hopefully the adult participants as well, realize the importance of small efforts to help the global ecosystem such as recycling, driving less often, not littering, etc. We almost never see the outcomes of such actions and are as a result less likely to care to do them often or at all. But this installation is highly visual and therefore all actions have an effect that is almost immediately visible to the user. Zach Gage, the exhibition's game consultant, said this about the work:
“Part of what makes sustainability and environmental issues so difficult to lobby for is their phenomenal level of complexity. We have our best minds working on them, but we may still never completely understand how precisely nature works. With Connected Worlds, Design I/O was able to build a system of simple rules, but deep emergent complexity. Finding out the answer to where water is going, or why animals are showing up is often a multi-step process in an environment that is constantly changing. My hope is that children (and adults!) will leave Connected Worlds with more questions than answers, a deep respect for systemic complexity, and will continue to remember and interrogate their experience there for a long time thereafter." Gage, Zach. (2015). Connected Worlds.
With an increased relevance of bio-art in the last few years and with the general heightened awareness of environmental concerns, many artists have used many mediums to push messages of awareness and sustainability. However, a trend has been prevalent ever since Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and images of melting ice caps and polar bears floating on tiny blocks of ice: a very negative and frightening message relying on scare tactics and guilt. That isn't to say such campaigns and works are lying or that there message is ineffective or uncalled for, just that the more negative tones may make some viewers want to stay away from it and ignore it. But Connected Worlds' entire theme is very positive and focuses on how positive actions result in positive outcomes. Not only that but it makes the goal of environmental stability seem very possible and in the hands of the people.
Connected Worlds is not Design I/O's only interactive work based on the workings of ecosystems. In a similar vein is their other work, Terrarium. Instead of feeding the ecosystem through hand gestures to plant seeds and directing water through moving objects, here seeds are created through sound, changing appearance based on the sound. This one is not so much about sustainability, however, but is very much focused on creating a visual representation of a system, in this case the food chain. The user creates seeds and spawning plants which provide food for the fish. Once again, the ecosystem grows and develops based on the users input and fosters and understanding of how systems work and interact in a (comparatively) fast paced, visual way to give insight to processes an relationships that are difficult to see.
As stated before, there has been a surge in bio-art in the past decade or so. While some use the biological elements of their work simply as a unique medium, many take their biological components to make a statement about ecology in some way. One such artist who focuses on symbiosis and systemic relationships in nature is Amy Youngs. While she has many pieces covering this theme, one of the most visual and interactive is River Construct. The work features a closed system centered around a "river" that she constructed to flow vertically on a ladder. This river waters the plants providing food for the mosquitoes, fish, and rabbit that live i the enclosure. It also includes worms which she believes in the home make for a much healthier and greener solution to food waste. Hers is an actual, living, working system and not a digital one but all three of these works have the same basic principles. They are all stripped of their complexities so that viewers can easily view and understand how the system works, how each part is important, and how even a small change impacts the system as a whole.