The Bush Soul (#3)

Interactive Art Installation


by Rebecca Allen  

The Bush Soul (#3)

The Bush Soul (#3) is the third piece in a series of interactive artworks that explore the role of human presence in a world of artificial life.


In West Africa there is a belief that a person has more than one soul and that there is a type of soul, called the “bush soul”, that dwells within a wild animal of the bush. In this work a person’s “soul”, represented as a sphere of pulsing energy, enters a virtual world (the virtual bush) that is alive and responsive. The world’s inhabitants are brought to life through programs that define their behaviors and desires. A character can be endowed with "feelings" towards any object in the world. These feelings drive a character’s movements and affect its reactions.


Communication and interaction between characters occur through gestures, sound and the emission of energy. As in real-life, feelings and resulting behaviors can change based on certain interactions or due to time-based events. Complex social environments can emerge from the interaction of simple behaviors.


A haptic, force-feedback joystick provides both navigation and tactile sensations. It serves as a connection between your physical body and virtual soul. Through the joysick one can feel the “energy” of the environment as vibrations emanate from certain creatures and significant places in the virtual world.


As you explore the environment you may inhabit the body of certain artificial life forms. Your soul may also be expelled from a creature’s body if the creature so desires or through the push of a button.


The Bush Soul introduces the idea of a spirit or presence of life represented as a form of energy. It is assumed that all objects and creatures have an aura of energy that surrounds them. This concept forms a major component of the interface metaphor.


In this work the artist has created a living abstract world. The world and its creatures are intentionally designed to merge both an organic and synthetic aesthetic. This work presents a model of human interaction that utilizes multiple modes of sensory input (visual, aural, tactile) while exploring our relationships with virtual environments and their inhabitants.


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The Emergence Project

and the Bush Soul

In order to create this piece, it was necessary to first build the underlying framework that would support a “living” virtual environment. This was accomplished with a team of UCLA computer science and design students who assisted in the development of a software system called Emergence.

Emergence is a PC-based, proprietary real-time 3D software system that supports an active, responsive, networked, virtual world. It includes a sophisticated “behavior scripting language” used to define the desires and behaviors of artificial life. The Emergence Project, funded by a research grant from Intel Corporation, focuses on aesthetic issues in the design of innovative, interactive virtual environments.


While this work draws on the language of video games it presents an alternative artistic exploration of behavior and artificial life. In this world one does not win or lose or collect points. The experience is more like that of a visitor observing and exploring an exotic foreign place. One does not need to control or dominate the world, in fact, optimal interaction requires a person to learn about the environment and its life forms in order to best communicate.



The Bush Soul #3  by Rebecca Allen



Loren McQuade

Eitan Mendelowitz

John Ying



Daniel Shiplacoff

Damon Seeley

Karen Yoo

Vanessa Zuloaga

Jino Ok

Pete Conolly

Josh Nimoy


Sound Design:

Mark Mothersbaugh -Mutato Muzika

Franz Keller

Jay Flood


Technical Support:

Maroun Harb


This work is partially funded by a grant from the Intel Corporation.