Contribution to the exhibition Le Rêve des Formes, Palais de Tokyo, June 12 – September 12, 2017.

David Chavalarias, Jonathan Pêpe and Thibaut Rostagnat – Interactive installation 2017

Our digital societies leave multiple traces on the web and social networks, which accumulation constitutes the basis of an intelligence collective.

Like the slow and continuous fall of calcareous water, which leads to the formation of stalagmites, this accumulation of knowledge on the Web generates shapes that follow the hectic evolution of the news.

Designed by artists Jonathan Ppepe and Thibaut Rostagnat, both graduates of Fresnoy, in collaboration with mathematician David Chavalarias, the installation Stalagmemes aims to make perceptible the traces of our collective intelligence.

It features trogloxen creatures whose forms are issued from the analysis of the online debates on climate change. They grow according to the attention that we, collectively, give to them on the web at the moment when the spectator considers them. The installation relies on video game technics to transpose the collective phenomena into a poetic space, inviting the viewer to a question about the origin of these forms.

This installation is based on the ISC-PIF Multivac platform

Special thanks:
Lukas Trüniger, Paul Guilbert, Riwal Pacquentin, Jade Journeaux, Solène Haquette, Cave of Saint-Cézaire, Cave of balsam, obscure Saint-Vallier, Eric Prigent, Maziyar Panahi, Scan Factory, Fabrice Peronne.

Co-production: Palais de Tokyo – CNRS (Science in Pocket project).

With the support of: the Nord Pas-de-Calais Region, the Île-de-France Region (DIM), the City of Paris (Émergence-s program)

Genesis of the project

The Stalagmèmes project was born of the meeting between Jonathan Ppepe and David Chavalarias during the cycle « Uncertainty of Forms » organized by the Fresnoy in preparation of the exhibition. Jonathan Pêpe then presented his installation Exo_biote, a work aimed at inventing a typology of possible forms and movements by diverting technologies developed in“soft robotics” technologies.

David Chavalarias’ concerns about the reconstruction, analysis and visualization of collective social dynamics have found in this work a fertile ground for an encounter between these two universes. The ambition was to make perceptible, even tangible, the forms generated by the social dynamics in which we take part and which transcend us in the form of a collective intelligence.

Everyone has already seen the colonies of ants that find the nearest jam jar and go there following a path that seems well marked. For this, they coordinate via pheromones deposited on the ground when they move. The anthill is one of the first forms of collective intelligence studied scientifically (Bonabeau et al 1999). It itself, as a « superorganism », generates forms, such as the paths taken by the ants that compose it.

The concept of collective intelligence is thus closely linked to the notion of stigmergy, a phenomenon of decentralized coordination of a group of individuals via traces left in the environment.

Humanity has been using stigmergic processes for millennia. But these processes have become central to the evolution of our culture since the advent of the web and new technologies. Nowadays, everyone can leave traces visible to humanity as a whole (blog posts, articles, comments, notes, likes, etc.) that are likely to influence the behavior of a large number of congeners, whereever they are on earth.

What forms of collective intelligence emerge as a result of this unprecedented scale change? What traces are left in our digital and natural environments? How can they be represented?

The intuition that this form of collective expression should be treated as a living form in its own right has led us to the question of the modalities of interaction with this organism. The universe of video games and 3D numerical modeling then appeared to us as possible bridges to this collective human-intelligence interaction, and a co-creation with Thibaut Rostagnat and the virtual universes that he develops then imposed itself as an evidence.

Stalagmemes & phylomemies

Stalagmemes relies on new methods of analysis of the digitized corpora developed by David Chavalarias: the reconstruction of phylomemies. A phylomemy is a reconstruction and a visualization of the evolution of a set of themes as they are discussed within a corpus of texts.

For Stalagmèmes, David Chavalarias used a corpus of several million documents from the Climate Tweetoscope, a platform for the continuous analysis of debates on climate change on the web, developed at the CNRS Institute of Complex Systems of Paris Ile-de-France (Chavalarias, Panahi, Castillo 2015). This system was conceived for the exhibition Le Climat à 360 ° at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, which was at the period of the COP21.

A branch of phylomemy has the form of a network whose nodes are stages and variants of a given debate. It unfolds over time with the evolution of the debate it represents.

It is a poetic representation of these branches that is given to see in Stalagmèmes. Their forms have been reworked and staged by Jonathan Pêpe and Thibault Rostagnat to make them organic and end up with stalagmèmes.

The scientific description of the branches of phylomemia used in Stalagmèmes is available on this page.

Extrait d’une phylomémie reconstruite à partir de données Twitter et web sur le changement climatique. En haut, un branche particulière. En bas, d’autres exemples de branches avec des morphologies spécifiques. Source : David Chavalarias 2017.

This reconstruction of phylomemy is the first to rely on data of this nature (Twitter + web). It reflects in a new way the evolution of the attention of social networks and the web for climate change.

The growth of phylomemies in Stalagmemes is driven by data collected in real time by the Multivac platform of ISC-PIF (project leader: Maziyar Panahi), also used in the Climate Tweetoscope (~ 500,000 tweets analyzed per week). A branch begins to grow in nearly real-time when the debate it represents is discussed on the web. If you want to know which subjects grow the stalagmemes of the exhibition, consult the description of the branches of the original phylomemy.

Some debates are very lively on the web and associated stalagmemes grow rapidly in the installation, others on the contrary are more confidential and will take longer to develop. The spectator can then perceive the differences of collective attention to the various themes related to climate change. Renewed awareness or confrontation with these debates makes him more able to express himself on the subject, and therefore, to participate in the growth of stalagmèmes.

Between 2015 and June 2017, Multivac has collected a corpus of more than 70 million tweets with associated web content specifically addressing climate change issues. You have the trace before your eyes.