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Prix 1987 - 2007

Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Augmented Fish Reality
Ken Rinaldo

Augmented Fish Reality is an interactive installation of five rolling robotic fish-bowl sculptures designed to explore inter-species and transspecies communication. These sculptures allow Siamese fighting fish to use intelligent hardware and software to move their robotic bowls themselves. Siamese fighting fish have excellent vision which allows them to see for great distances even outside the water. They have color vision and seem to like the color yellow.

The most recent research into fish intelligence in a publication edited by Culum Brown at the University of Edinburgh discusses revisions of fish intelligence, which appears to be much greater than formerly thought. Fish are now regarded as “steeped in social intelligence”, “pursuing”—according to the report—“Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation”, while also displaying “cultural” traditions, cooperating with each other to look out for predators and obtain food. Fish are said to monitor the social prestige of other fish and to keep track of the relationships of other fish in their environment. It is now widely accepted that fish use tools and build nests, also that they exhibit “impressive long-term memories.” Fish have the ability to mentally map their environments while finding food, creating relationships with each other and avoiding predators.

This design employs four active infrared sensors around each bowl which allow the fish to move forwards and back and turn the bowls. By swim-ming to the edge of the bowl, the fish activates motorized wheels that move the robots in that direction. Humans interact with the artwork simply by entering the environment. In past artworks I have found that Siamese fighting fish move toward humans, presumably because they associate humans with food. Still, these are robots under fish control and the fish may choose to approach and/or move away from the human participants and each other. The bowls consist of a living environment of peace lilies, which help absorb the fishes’ waste fluids. The bowls and robots are designed to allow the fish to get to within a quarter of an inch of each other, allowing visual communication between the fish, both male and female. Small lipstick video cameras mounted at forty-five degree angles under two of the bowls film the interior of the fish bowls as well as the humans in the environment. These images are intercepted by transceivers and projected back onto the walls of the installation, giving human participants both the sense of looking into the interior of the tanks and of being immersed in the tanks themselves.

Siamese fighting fish are found in Thailand and throughout the Malay peninsula, and are called by the Thailanders “pla kat”, fish that bite or tear. Siamese fighting fish are particularly aggressive in the presence of other male Bettas. When they observe another Betta, they flare their gills and swim aggressively, and it is common for male Bettas in the same tank to fight to the death.

They are top breathers, which means they have to come up for air, allowing oxygen to come into direct contact with their blood. Male Bettas who are ready to spawn build extensive bubble nests which they use to attract females. Females that are ready to accept males allow them to bite them on the flanks. When the fish spawn, the female Betta is suspended upside down in a trancelike state, while the male wraps his body around the female in a U-shape. By exerting pressure, the eggs are dispelled and fall to the bottom. The males gently retrieve the eggs in their mouth and swim to the surface, spitting them into the bubble nest. This can continue for up to two hours with 60-70 embraces and the production of over 600 eggs.