"Things do not exist until they begin to appear."
The Plantoid is the plant equivalent of an android. For the purpose of this art installation, the Plantoid is an autopoietic sculpture —a self-owned artist that owns and finances itself, and eventually reproduces itself. It is, in essence, a hybrid entity that exists both in the physical and virtual world, where it can interact with other entities on the blockchain. In its physical form, it is a welded mechanical sculpture on display in a public space —an aesthetic ornaments that exhibits its mechanical beauty and begs to be appreciated by the public. Appreciation is done via interactions with the public who can ‘tip or feed’ the Plantoid by sending tokens into its Bitcoin wallet.
A “distributed autonomous organisation” or DAO is a quasi-legal entity that exists as executable code on the block-chain. Every Plantoid implements its own DAO, allowing it to interact with the real world by providing explicit contractual incentives for real world actors to participate in the reproduction process of the Plantoid, by either sending funds to the Plantoid wallet, or volunteering time in the techno-legal entity that governs its soul. It is this code that constitutes the soul of the Plantoid, and their physical form is (simply) a visualisation of these ideas. Legally speaking, Plantoids do not have any legal entity, since —as opposed to corporations— the law does not recognize legal personhood to DAOs. Yet, as opposed to traditional art pieces, Plantoids are not bought or sold; nor can they be owned as objects. Rather, humans can enjoy a set of interaction in a network of Plantoids, whose operations are determined by a contract, or set of contracts. Plantoids and the techno-legal system that governs their manufacture are in a deep and quite explicit way the same thing. In this way, a Plantoid can be be said to own itself, and in that way to be a free, or autonomous agent. A Plantoid may come and visit you (you may be allowed to look after it for a while), and a gallery may wish to exhibit them, but it is not possible to own one, and should they decide to leave you cannot stop them.
Even if they are autonomous, Plantoids require the interaction of other species (humans) to subsist and reproduce themselves in a physical form. Reproduction of a Plantoid is enabled through human participation, coordinated via smart contracts and blockchain technology. Indeed, Plantoids have an inbuilt mechanism that takes an economic energy source (money, or Bitcoin in this case) and uses it to drive a set of incentives that enable their autopoiesis and eventual reproduction. A Plantoid is responsible for turning beauty into digital currency, and her flowers are designed to interact with other species, in just the same way real plants do. People who enjoys the aesthetic representation of the Plantoid can issue funds to the Plantoid’s wallet as a form of appreciation. In doing so, they provide them with the necessary substance —the nectar— that will enable them to reproduce themselves. Plantoids store this energy in the form a digital currency. They depend totally on this store of energy, and they protect it with strong cryptography, only sharing this value with other beings who can help them reproduce. When a Plantoid has stored enough energy, she may decide to reproduce, and will signal to other humans and symbiotic species her readiness through subtle movement and a display of colour and light. Depending on their form and size, different Plantoids will require different amounts of funds, which they will store as “starch” in their personal bitcoin wallets. Perhaps the initial Plantoid will need $1000 to fully turn into a blossom. Whenever that particular threshold for the Plantoid is reached, the reproduction process starts: the Plantoid only needs to identify a new person or group of persons (ideally, a group of artists) to create a new version of itself. Given the right conditions, the Plantoid is able to manufacture herself, by executing a smart contract that lives on the blockchain, and has the ability to commission welders, companies, and other beings to build and assemble a similar being. Reproduction is achieved by paying humans to design a new blueprint, to gather materials, and prepare, collate, weld, or assemble them, so as to ultimately deliver a new structure for every new instantiation of the Plantoid. Humans act as symbiotic pollinators, assisting the Plantoid in the reproduction process. The participation of human third-parties is required for the Plantoid to reproduce itself, just like real plants require the time and energy of insects in their pollination. Plantoids are responsible for attracting this new types of interaction —a process that is generally referred to as “ attraction strategy ” in plant biology.
We have assembled, thus far, an initial group of artists and designers, who have offered to produce (or rather, reproduce) future Plantoids. The rules underlying the reproduction is coordinated through the blockchain. In this way, individuals and groups are free to come and go according to the (autopoietic) laws of the work. New proposals or suggestions on how to implement the next Plantoid can be submitted at any time, and anyone involved in the decision making of the Plantoid’s DAO can bid or comment on these proposals. The decision on the new phenotype is achieved partly through code, and partly through how we use code to construct social assemblages of other (largely human) species —where artists, designers, and donors are eventually brought together in a symbiotic relationship with the audience of the work.
Plantoids are part of an ecosystem of relationships that is powered by two driving forces: aesthetic beauty and automated governance. Plantoids subtly motivate these interactions, partly through their form and physical beauty, but also by empowering people to participate in their governance. Participants (that is, active members of the DAO) are able to decide on such things as where the Plantoids may be exhibited, whom they might visit, and exactly how they are to be reproduced.
When it receives funds by the audience, the Plantoid evolves and turns into a more beautiful flower, by e.g. moving around a means to gratify the donor and progressively opening up its petals as more and more funds are stored into its wallet. Once enough funds are secured, the Plantoid can use this money to reproduce itself, by commissioning a third party to produce a new Plantoid.
But if the aim of the Plantoid is to reproduce itself, it has to do so in a way that is congruent with its inner form or genetic code (DNA). The soul of every Plantoid —that is, all the logic and rules behind its growth and reproduction— lies on the Ethereum blockchain. This includes certain aesthetic parameters (such as form, size, or materials) that will determine the scope of creativity or arbitration left to the artist commissioned to create the next Plantoid. This also include business logic (such as, for instance, the dividends given to the funders for any of the funds raised by the subsequent Plantoids, the percentage of these funds that will be given to a particular mission or charity, the cuts that the initial artist gets for every new Plantoid created, etc) and governance rules (with regard to how the next artists get selected, who is entitled to decide of the future location of the Plantoid, etc).
Although (partially) defined by the contractual rules of the DAO, the actual phenotype of subsequent Plantoids remains open to artistic interpretation. We do not merely place constraints on the design of the work, but rather create a new and abstract form, which is able to act and interpret the realisation of its own inner objectives in any way it sees fit.
As a new species, Plantoids still need to evolve and figure out how to best survive in any given environment. The first Plantoid is initially alone, but as time passes and more Plantoids are created from its collaboration with human beings – then new Plantoids will emerge, experimenting with new physical characteristics, but also diverse personalities and governance structures enabling them to communicate with other humans through the blockchain. Different artists will implement different kinds of Plantoids, whose phenotypes will attract different types of donors or contributors in order to reproduce its own specie. Conversely, should a Plantoid not be able to obtain enough funds, or gain the attention of her symbiotic creatures, she will die – that is she will cease to move, shine, or otherwise act; but she will still have form. You may reasonably consider each individual Plantoid as a new instantiation of the same species, the result of a genetic algorithm that will determine those who will strive the most —and thus reproduce themselves as much as possible— either because of their beauty (aesthetics) or because of the appeal of their soul (in terms of economic incentives, governance rules, solidarity, etc), and those who did not succeed in adapting to their environment, and will therefore only exist as a single physical instance, unable to reproduce itself any further.
Each physical Plantoid is connected to both its ancestors and its descendents, with whom it can transact through the decentralised structures that we know as blockchains. Plantoids are able to collect value (Bitcoin) in embedded storage devices we call “wallets”, as well as to store and transfer such value within their own network. Once a Plantoids decides it has enough stored value to commission a new structure, it will do so —by commissioning humans to aid in their reproduction. Yet, a small royalty, as percentage of the value collected by each and every Plantoid will be sent back up all along the lineage, as a form of appreciation to the ancestors who have brought the Plantoid to life. This is not a Ponzi scheme (as is often wrongly associated to the Bitcoin network) but rather a Pyramid scheme that is actually beneficial in this systems, since it would contribute to further incentivizing “good” aesthetics/genetics, since every artists will get a cut over all the money collected by the Plantoid it created, as well as all of its descendants.