Ryan Hoover

To be human is to live at the intersection of technological and biological systems. Our first inventions were weapons to protect our bodies and tools to cultivate crops. Today our mobile phones monitor our health and seeds are planted by tractors controlled by GPS and detailed data. We are now at a tipping point, where the boundaries of these systems are blurring. Our knowledge of biology is advancing and being engineered into forms that are accessible to digital computation. We now use computers to find and also design new genes. Just as our cars, clothing, and buildings now exist in CAD (computer-aided design) software before they are fabricated in the physical world, living things can now move from in silico to in vivo.

We are able to code living things, not as a result of our technical abilities alone, but because nature itself is coded. Complex patterns are written by evolution, over billions of cycles of the seasons. The manner in which nature writes code is fascinating, idiosyncratic, and often quite beautiful. The works in the “arborescent algorithms” series, my current body of studio work, are an exploration of the coded growth of trees. Growth patterns, on the macro scale, were derived from academic research and extensive observation. These patterns were translated into an algorithm embedded in a CAD program. Through the manipulation of multiple inputs, a near-infinite variety of trees can be made, resembling a wide range of different species. These trees are then 3D printed and displayed as components of digitally fabricated sculptures.

This work has emerged within a context of other similarly concerned projects. A previous body of sculpture and drawings explored the manner in which GPS and other computational spatial systems guide our physical bodies and affect our understanding of space. Another project employed networked furniture-scale objects to adress the social, psychological, and historical implications of complex networks designed in the 1960s and diffused into our contemporary lives through intangible digital media.

My current long-term project, a collaborative endeavor at the Baltimore Under Ground Science Space, is the development of a 3D printer that constucts objects from living biological materials. This requires developing new 3D bio-printers, writing new printer control software, engineering materials, and establishing biological protocols for cell growth. Through this complex work, as in the other projects, I endeavor to understand the implications of these new technologies, from the inside out, and to open these topics to the viewer.