Golan Levin: Welcome back, every­one. Hi. I’m Golan Levin, direc­tor of the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon and direc­tor of the Art && Code fes­ti­val. This is Art && Code: Homemade, and we are thrilled to intro­duce our third speak­er and final speak­er for this evening, Dr. Andrew Quitmeyer, who stud­ies inter­ac­tions between wild ani­mals and com­pu­ta­tion­al devices. He directs the Digital Naturalism Laboratories in Panama, also known as the Institute for Interactive Jungle Crafts, where he blends bio­log­i­cal field­work and tech­no­log­i­cal craft­ing with a com­mu­ni­ty of local and inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tists, artists, and engi­neers. Andy Quitmeyer. 

Andrew Quitmeyer: Awesome! Thanks so much for hav­ing me. I’m real­ly excit­ed about get­ting to talk in this whole thing. So yeah, like he said I’m gonna talk today about biocraft­ing com­put­ers. We’ll explain more of what­ev­er that means in a sec­ond. But hi, I’m Andy. That’s me. I look at how we can use art and tech­nol­o­gy for inter­act­ing with nature and try­ing to do this in the wild. And I run a lit­tle lab­o­ra­to­ry with my part­ner Kitty here in Gamboa, Panama called Digital Naturalism Laboratories, or our alias, the Institute for Jungle Crafts. 

And I’m real­ly excit­ed for this whole event because I want­ed to try a dif­fer­ent talk than kin­da my nor­mal talk here, and this seems like a fun venue to do it. And instead of just show­ing lots of dif­fer­ent projects and things that we’re doing with fun jun­gle robots—I’ll still show jun­gle robots so don’t wor­ry, you won’t miss out. But I want­ed to get a lit­tle bit more into the phi­los­o­phy of what is going on here and why we’re doing some of this stuff. And for us this all real­ly kind of boils down to basi­cal­ly the inter­ac­tions between three spe­cial things in our world. This is crea­tures, con­texts, and tools. 

And so crea­tures, you know about these crea­tures, they’re these delight­ful lit­tle bun­dles of pro­tein. They cap­ture ener­gy from the envi­ron­ment, they con­vert it into heat, and more of themselves. 

And that’s pret­ty much kind of a def­i­n­i­tion of life, of liv­ing things. But one of the coolest things about these liv­ing crea­tures is that they come in an incred­i­bly huge vari­ety. They all have dif­fer­ent super pow­ers, and sens­es, and abil­i­ties, and we’re still learn­ing about those. 

And the rea­son there’s so many dif­fer­ent types of cool crea­tures in our world is because of the vari­ety of the envi­ron­ments that they evolved in. The envi­ron­ments around the crea­tures all pose dif­fer­ent oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges. And the crea­tures change and repli­cate and fill nich­es in these con­texts in order for them to sur­vive and just con­tin­ue. That’s the rea­son why you know, in wet places things are good at swim­ming and have gills and breathe under­wa­ter, right. That’s how fish work. And that’s the rea­son why in like scary places, things are good at hid­ing. They have camouflage. 

The key con­cept here is that con­texts sculpt what­ev­er is inside them. And in order to deal with these dif­fer­ent con­texts, liv­ing things have to devel­op tools. And for our pur­pos­es your tools are sim­ply any­thing a liv­ing crea­ture uses to inter­act with its environment. 

It’s this bat’s lit­tle tongue for get­ting the nec­tar out of that flower. The tools of this fish are its gills and it flip­pers for nego­ti­at­ing the con­text of its watery envi­ron­ment. Or the tool of the cam­ou­flage that these katy­dids have devel­oped all over. 

It’s the rea­son why agoutis have this kind of behav­ioral tool of using leaves in order to hide their meals for lat­er. An octo­pus can use a coconut to pre­tend to be a coconut. A crow can use a piece of garbage to have fun. You have tools that’re for hav­ing fun. A sloth’s unique hands help it sleep in trees. 

These are all amaz­ing dif­fer­ent tools. And this is per­haps a broad­er def­i­n­i­tion of tools then you might be used to. You might be like those oh, those are sens­es, or those are body parts, those are instru­ments. Or those are inter­faces. And in biol­o­gy some peo­ple refer to the tools that ani­mals have as their prox­ies for engag­ing with the con­text, or the extend­ed phe­no­type. But we’re going to make no such dis­tinc­tion on the func­tion or promi­nence of these things that let us reach out from our­selves. For our pur­pos­es, all tools are sim­ply exten­sions of our­selves. And every way in which life can engage with the world out­side of it is just anoth­er inter­face, anoth­er tool. This is how peo­ple look, right, when they use tools. 

So this is all great. These fun lit­tle crit­ters, run­ning around in neat places, doin’ stuff with the tools that they have. But there’s a sub­set of these crea­tures that’re a lit­tle bit prob­lem­at­ic. And that’s humans. You’re prob­a­bly pret­ty famil­iar with these. You spend most of your time being one, I think. Humans are crea­tures, too. And they cap­ture ener­gy, and repli­cate, and spend a lot of their time try­ing to find out what makes them spe­cial com­pared to all the oth­er liv­ing things in the world. Yeah I’m a human, I’m obvi­ous­ly so much more spe­cial. But how, exact­ly?

And it turns out when­ev­er humans make a met­ric that tries to prove their superiority—oh, we have lan­guage, or we do agri­cul­ture, we do tool-making—we usu­al­ly end up just find­ing oth­er liv­ing crea­tures actu­al­ly real­ly already do this also. Honeybees wag­gle danc­ing. Leafcutter ants doing agri­cul­ture. Chimps using sticks as tools. 

So what does make humans actu­al­ly spe­cial? Well one, we’re prob­a­bly the crea­ture that spends the most time think­ing about how spe­cial we are. And the sec­ond is our abil­i­ty to utter­ly oblit­er­ate all oth­er life around us. And this is kin­da like the short­cut, the easy—the cheap way out of becom­ing spe­cial. You just kill every­thing else. 

And this pen­chant for oblit­er­a­tion and exclu­sion that humans have, it ends up even cre­at­ing two dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories in this con­cept of what a con­text is. And this is dif­fer­ent place where things could hap­pen. We now human spaces and wild spaces. Human spaces means basi­cal­ly oth­er crea­tures aren’t allowed in. No, agoutis, you stay out. This is a human zone. 

Or, if we do allow oth­er crea­tures, oth­er life­forms, it’s only the ones that we can real­ly des­ig­nate and con­trol our­selves. And by defin­ing human spaces like that even then forces us to invent this con­cept of nature. 

And this is all based on this idea of exclu­sion, exclu­sion and con­trol. Human spaces are where we make all the deci­sions. And wild places, or some­times nat­ur­al” places, are those where we nev­er had con­trol or we’ve giv­en up con­trol, some kind of frame of ref­er­ence. And of course no space is per­fect­ly one of the oth­er cat­e­go­ry. There’s a spec­trum of exclu­siv­i­ty, and the type of exclu­siv­i­ty depends on your dif­fer­ent human cul­tur­al back­ground and stuff. You know, some peo­ple might have a super clean house, it still gets infest­ed with ants. But it’s the spec­trum of exclu­siv­i­ty that humans do which is kin­da weird.

And now we have this brand new tool: com­put­ers. They can run bil­lions of com­mands that we tell them to do. And it’s the first time in human his­to­ry we actu­al­ly have a medi­um we can tell do stuff and it does stuff. But that’s super dan­ger­ous, right? Because the things that we do as humans already tend to be hor­ri­ble. There’s my lit­tle Roomba just going around exter­mi­nat­ing life. 

And this kin­da brings the main prob­lem of our lit­tle sto­ry about crea­tures, con­texts, and tools. You have humans, and they’re very pow­er­ful and self-centered. And they use their tools to mod­i­fy their envi­ron­ments and exclude and oblit­er­ate oth­er life­forms. And I want to help peo­ple fig­ure out ways to give up some of this con­trol. And my hope is that there’s some­thing in this new pro­gram­ma­ble medi­um that we can use to some­how build con­nec­tions with all the oth­er life­forms around us rather than rein­forc­ing separations.

And so, my ini­tial thought was okay if I want­ed to know about oth­er types of life­forms, I should go hang out with field biol­o­gists. And what’re field biol­o­gists? Well, they’re a type of human so I’ll already be a lit­tle skep­ti­cal. But they’re real­ly inter­est­ed in what oth­er life­forms are doing. And they have dif­fer­ent tools that they try to use and extend their body with. And because they’re field biol­o­gists, they try to do their exper­i­ments in places where these crea­tures actu­al­ly live. 

And doing their research in wild areas, it keeps the crea­tures in their own envi­ron­ment. And the goal of this is it reduces unknown vari­ables that might come up if we had instead tak­en this ani­mal out of its envi­ron­ment, sep­a­rat­ed it from that envi­ron­ment, and used it in a human space like a laboratory. 

The oth­er side of this field biol­o­gy is by work­ing in the field it also immers­es the sci­en­tists in these very for­eign, not-that-human of spaces. And it lets their sens­es and tools be sculpt­ed and honed to all the details of that sur­round­ing con­text. We’re try­ing to actu­al­ly let our­selves be changed to help under­stand these ani­mal types of environments. 

But that also means these field biol­o­gists are con­front­ed with the huge task of how do you make sense of any­thing if you’re actu­al­ly going to be try­ing to study every­thing, you know. The con­text in every pos­si­ble thing and the infi­nite num­ber of vari­ables around you that you have to deal with. 

And one of their main respons­es, these field biol­o­gists, is to get crafty. So field biol­o­gists are usu­al­ly con­front­ed with—from a human point of view—very strange tasks. For exam­ple, I want to make a bat go through a three-dimensional acoustic maze. Or I want to see their tongue move­ment when they pol­li­nate flow­ers, so I need some sort of crys­talline faux nec­tar flower surrogate. 

Or, I want to hold a sin­gle tad­pole egg that I can rotate and vibrate, and also the hold­er is opti­cal­ly clear. But there’s usu­al­ly not that many ready-made tools around just for these cas­es. If you go to Walmart and you ask for a tad­pole hold­er that’s opti­cal­ly clear, they might not have what you’re look­ing for. And like not­ed frog biol­o­gist Dr. Karen Warkentin says, she stud­ies frog embryos. That’s not some­thing that there’s stan­dard tools for. 

So, they have to get crafty. And these biol­o­gist usu­al­ly have to end up then craft­ing their own tools. And these could be tools craft­ed com­plete­ly from the ground up, like these very metic­u­lous tún­gara frog mod­els made by Barrett Klein for these frog robots that they use. Or by mod­i­fy­ing indus­tri­al, com­mer­cial, or nat­ur­al mate­ri­als, kind of hack­ing them togeth­er to make new ani­mal inter­ac­tion tools. 

But, they often have to craft their devices them­selves. That’s kind of the bot­tom line. And the rea­son about this craft­ing is like Dr. Warkentin notes, is because there’s a lot of ques­tions that in order to ask, you actu­al­ly have to make stuff. So you have to make stuff in order to ask a question. 

And the real­ly neat thing about that is for sci­en­tists, for these field biol­o­gists, the tools they cre­ate actu­al­ly are the embod­i­ment of a ques­tion. Which I think is kin­da love­ly. But as we all know if you’ve craft­ed any­thing, when you’re mak­ing some­thing it does­n’t always come out exact­ly how you orig­i­nal­ly thought. Like oh, things change. And those changes are also going to change your ques­tion at the same time. So in order to main­tain the integri­ty of the ques­tion, you have to fig­ure out ways in which you’re craft­ing your tools effectively. 

And so, the craft­ing process, this biocraft­ing” as we might call it, it nec­es­sar­i­ly includes doing things like rapid iter­a­tions, where you’re sculpt­ing and refin­ing these sci­en­tif­ic tools to the exact spec­i­fi­ca­tion of the crea­ture, the envi­ron­ment, and the ques­tion that you’re asking.

And then at the same time, doing this type of work on site is very impor­tant. Dr. Warkentin here notes again in inter­views that we had with her, if every design requires a trip to Boston and her field site down here in Panama, it’s gonna take for­ev­er and the tools are nev­er going to get quite to the point where you want them. 

So this way of biocraft, of rapid­ly build­ing your own tools, iter­a­tive­ly, and on site, is done so in order to ask the ques­tions for your envi­ron­ment. It’s all done in order to main­tain this research integri­ty. And the rea­son why this works is because tools are bidi­rec­tion­al. And what does this mean? It means that…you know, this is kind of a weird con­cept but we often think of our tools as things that we use to change the envi­ron­ment. I am a human. I have a ham­mer. I smash things. I’m in charge here,” right?

But like the clas­sic idiom goes, to the per­son who has a ham­mer every­thing looks like a nail. Your tools actually…they don’t just allow you to change the envi­ron­ment, they change you. They change us, and they change the way that we see the world, we inter­act with the world, they even change our whole bod­ies, and our sens­es. So, ham­mers let us squish things, yes, but they also turn us into thing-squishers. This is my per­sona now, a thing-squisher. The leaf that the agouti was using to hide its food, it’s also using the agouti as a tool for plant­i­ng the babies of this tree that it’s from. 

And the tools that we’ve cre­at­ed some­where, they all take on these char­ac­ter­is­tics and assump­tions from the con­text in which they were built. And so by craft­ing and cus­tomiz­ing their tools at these field sites instead of at stu­dios far away, or lab­o­ra­to­ries far away, biol­o­gists are actu­al­ly work­ing to help their tools become better-suited to the con­texts and the research prob­lems, and their own orig­i­nal curiosi­ties that came up in these field sites. 

But now there’s a whole new type of tool that sci­en­tists can incor­po­rate. And per­haps it’s not a tool but it’s a crea­ture, right? Computers are a lit­tle fun­ny. Just like a liv­ing crea­ture, com­put­ers can sense things. They can cre­ate stim­uli. They can react to their environments. 

And we call when you have sens­es and reac­tions to things, those are called behav­iors. And whether these behav­iors come from nat­ur­al sys­tems or dig­i­tal sys­tems, by putting togeth­er these sens­es and reac­tions of this new dig­i­tal medi­um that we have, it can help us under­stand the designs of both the crea­tures and the computers. 

And just like any oth­er tool, though, these com­put­ers are not devel­oped in a vac­u­um and they’re not being used in a vac­u­um. They take on char­ac­ter­is­tics and assump­tions from wher­ev­er they were cre­at­ed. And unfor­tu­nate­ly these pow­er­ful new dig­i­tal tools we have, they’re large­ly devel­oped in climate-controlled human-oriented environments. 

And the tools that we devel­op, that means that they’re main­ly get­ting feed­back dur­ing these iter­a­tions from these envi­ron­ments around them. And we have to kind of imag­ine like, oh will this work in the field? I don’t know. We build in all these assump­tions about what we remem­ber about the field, and we’re not actu­al­ly iter­a­tive­ly test­ing them as much. 

What’s more is, if com­put­ers then present incred­i­ble new abil­i­ties… Wow, I can track every sin­gle ant in the lab­o­ra­to­ry. And they work amaz­ing in the lab. But they’re not as robust to take on the chal­lenges in the actu­al world like oh, it does­n’t work because trees are round, this sud­den­ly means in gen­er­al that it ends up being the sci­en­tists and their organ­isms are the ones who’re forced out of the orig­i­nal envi­ron­ments and have to go into the computer-friendly human spaces. 

This is them mov­ing over. Goodbye, field. And this isn’t where the field biol­o­gists want to be. And it’s not real­ly that great for their sci­ence. And we see this in many oth­er dis­ci­plines, wher­ev­er com­put­ers are intro­duced. Computers can bull­doze the orig­i­nal goals of research and instead reframe every­thing in a way that bet­ter serves com­put­ers. You’ve all seen this like, Oh well, we need to do this because the com­put­er wants it this way.” 

And my thoughts are here just you know, maybe it’s the com­put­ers and the way that we craft com­pu­ta­tion­al tools that actu­al­ly needs to change instead of the peo­ple, instead of the envi­ron­ment, instead of the liv­ing creatures. 

And so part of this is kind of a pro­pos­al to…let’s devel­op wilder­ness tools in the wild. Let’s build com­put­er stuff in the wild. And of course, that’s the whole rea­son field sta­tions exist in the first place. To have human space right next to a nat­ur­al place, and let the sci­en­tists kind of shrink this gap between lab and field and kind of speed up these iter­a­tions that they can do. 

And I thought we should have the same thing for work­ing with dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy and nature for using com­put­ers. Get them into the nature. And so I made some ini­tial dig­i­tal biocraft­ing sta­tions,” we called them, when I was a PhD stu­dent. Which was most­ly me just squat­ting in parts of the Smithsonian’s field sta­tion here in Panama and set­ting up my own lit­tle sol­der­ing sta­tions and stuff and hid­ing them when we had to. And we kept devel­op­ing this. And we’d run work­shops about things, doing kind of basic inter­ac­tions between crea­tures and computers. 

Like wear­able inter­ac­tive fire­fly outfits. 

Or send­ing mes­sages through Morse code mes­sages through leaf­cut­ter ants with Arduinos. 

And this even grew into a full-time facil­i­ty where I’m at right now. We have a house in Gamboa right next to the Smithsonian and the rain­for­est, and we’ve con­vert­ed it into kind of an art/science/makerspace with con­struc­tion shops, 3D print­ers, laser cut­ters, pro­to­typ­ing work­shops, elec­tron­ics labs. We have a lit­tle art sci­ence gallery that’s where I’m in right now. Documentation equipment. 

And we help run field cours­es, do field site main­te­nance for the sci­en­tists here. This even includes try­ing to repair these ancient bridges that’re here for the sci­en­tists to get to their field sites. Kind of harsh conditions. 

And even doing fun projects like mak­ing wear­able ant farms and build­ing inter­ac­tive enrich­ment toys for local ani­mal res­cues nearby. 

We offer long and short-term res­i­den­cies when there’s not giant glob­al pan­demics every­where. More about that at dinal​ab​.net.

And the most impor­tant part, though, is this lab is right next to the jun­gle, and the forests, and a place where there’s these amaz­ing, won­der­ful creatures. 

But what if we want to get even clos­er? And so that’s where we start­ed get­ting into like, I’m get­tin’ hun­gry. I need to get in these nat­ur­al envi­ron­ments more and more. And so I was think­ing of how do we push this idea of craft­ing in the con­text even fur­ther. And I was try­ing to think of how we could shrink this lab and bring it clos­er to the field. 

So we have things like mobile stu­dios, where we lit­er­al­ly just try to put the lab into a box and drag it out with us like a big trail­er. So for exam­ple we’re work­ing on these portable rough-and-tumble jun­gle trail­ers with the local sus­tain­able archi­tec­ture com­pa­ny Cresolus here. And the idea’s we could loan them out to sci­en­tists and they could stay in the for­est at their field sites as long as possible. 

And they even float. We’ve even made oth­er float­ing mobile lab spaces, such as the Boat Lab, the community-made mod­u­lar float­ing hack­er­space for com­mu­ni­ty sci­ence projects we used to kind of draw atten­tion to an endan­gered coral reef in the Philippines. 

We also when I had some stu­dents, brought them on sail­boats that we con­vert­ed into float­ing mak­er­spaces to build dif­fer­ent types of sci­en­tif­ic tools. 

But there’s still some places that ships and vehi­cles can­not go. And so we can try to shrink this lab even more and push this into the idea of car­ryable stu­dios. And so these are ideas real­ly pushed for­ward by things like han­nah perner-wilson has made these amaz­ing mobile stu­dios that unpack and can store all of your elec­tron­ics and devices all togeth­er that you can then car­ry on things we call hik­ing hacks, where we would take a group of peo­ple. We would car­ry all the tools that would nor­mal­ly be in our lab, go to a sci­en­tist’s field site, and we’d live and work out there, design­ing and reflect­ing upon, and doc­u­ment­ing as many dif­fer­ent projects as we could while try­ing to stay as immersed as pos­si­ble in this field site, while we’re try­ing to make dif­fer­ent types of probes and tools for expe­ri­enc­ing the nature around us. 

But then, what if you don’t want to car­ry it? What if we push this idea even fur­ther and it’s just part of you? This is this idea of wear­able stu­dios. Again real­ly pio­neered by hanah perner-wilson’s incred­i­ble designs. We real­ized you can nev­er real­ly rely on any­thing in this world except that like, wher­ev­er you are, you’re at least going to be there. So if you turn your body into your stu­dio, and your body into elec­tron­ics work sur­faces that can be direct­ly incor­po­rat­ed and rapid­ly pro­to­typed upon. 

Having dif­fer­ent work sur­faces, sol­der on your knee, keep your infor­ma­tion in tat­toos on your body. You’ll have quick­er access and be able to go places you would­n’t be able to with a trail­er or even a large bulky backpack. 

And for me, this is kind of the ulti­mate goal here, where all of this leads. A future where one’s body, lab­o­ra­to­ry, and field site are all one and the same. And we can be walk­ing, pon­der­ing, curi­ous nat­u­ral­ist cyborgs with our dif­fer­ent hyphae reach­ing into every nook and cran­ny around us and con­nect­ing us to the things around us. And so that’s most of what I want­ed to talk with you about. We can answer ques­tions and stuff. I have lots more ran­dom oth­er exam­ples of stuff I can show but yeah, I would love to just get feed­back, and questions. 

Levin: Andy, thank you so much. This is incred­i­ble. I have a bunch of ques­tions stacked up from both the chat and also from my own thing here. But first I actu­al­ly want­ed to bring the atten­tion of the audi­ence to some­thing that you con­tributed to and also many of the oth­er speak­ers as well, which is the Art && Code zine which is down­load­able from the Art && Code: Homemade web site. 

And in par­tic­u­lar, you con­tributed this thing called the Touch Tire, which is a plan for a kind of capac­i­tive sens­ing tire. Apparently you used the met­al mash that’s inside of the rub­ber tire to sense the pres­ence of an agouti and then as the result of an Arduino sens­ing this agouti, I guess the agouti gets a show­er or some­thing like this. Can you tell us a lit­tle bit about this par­tic­u­lar con­tri­bu­tion and how it arose?

Quitmeyer: Yeah, def­i­nite­ly. So when you’re work­ing with a lot of wild ani­mals, like at the ani­mal res­cue we have an agouti and we also this 400-pound tapir. And so usu­al­ly elec­tron­ics, like I was men­tion­ing, they’re not usu­al­ly that durable. They’re kin­da wimpy. They don’t want to be out in a rain­storm. They don’t want to you know, get chomped up by a tapir. And so it can be hard to think when we’re doing inter­ac­tion design, a lot of the nor­mal inter­ac­tions we come up with—they’re like, Oh, this but­ton we’re going to press,” that has a dif­fer­ent let­ter on it or some­thing like that does­n’t real­ly work for a tapir. Or an agouti. And it also needs to be rained on and all this kind of stuff. 

And so I was try­ing to think of what’s the sim­plest inter­face we can use that peo­ple would have access to that would be real­ly rough-and-tumble, and durable enough to with­stand a lot of abuse but still allow for lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of inter­ac­tions. And I had this real­iza­tion that you know, there’s old tires all over the place. People have access to em. And I real­ized that tires I guess often have like a met­al mesh inside. And so you drill into it, and you can just put a chain through it, some­thing also inde­struc­tible but met­al. You can then send this chain, put it around a tree, send it over some­where, con­nect an Arduino to it safe­ly away from the tapir. In maybe a climate-controlled space or some­thing like that. And then you have this thing that you can real­ly beat up and chomp on or get rained on, and you can still get some data about who’s inter­act­ing with it in dif­fer­ent ways. 

And from that, at our ani­mal res­cue we have some show­ers that the tapir real­ly likes play­ing around in. Or you know, it hides their leaves in dif­fer­ent places. Different ani­mal enrich­ments to keep their brains going. We can trig­ger all those dif­fer­ent kinds of things like that. And so this is a kind of thing that I’m work­ing on right now through­out this upcom­ing spring. I hope to actu­al­ly get some of those going. So I’ll be post­ing updates when­ev­er possible. 

Levin: I’ve got a cou­ple more ques­tions. So one ques­tion is these work­shops that you direct. I real­ize we’re in a pan­dem­ic. But can you talk more about the res­i­den­cies and work­shops that you direct, and sort of who comes to them and you know, is this some­thing that peo­ple apply for. Tell us how these hap­pen, and how long they last, what peo­ple do.

Quitmeyer: Totally.

Levin: Is this where field biol­o­gists devel­op their craft­ing skills? I mean, like tell us about that. 

Quitmeyer: Yeah, that’s one of our goals. So we work of course with a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent audi­ences. So we were actu­al­ly sched­uled to host a bunch of peo­ple who maybe more iden­ti­fy as sci­en­tists or field biol­o­gists; they’re part of a tax­o­nom­ic orga­ni­za­tion. And we were going to host them last June to do a work­shop on build­ing dif­fer­ent sen­sors. But oth­er times we’ll do work­shops with maybe artists, and show them dif­fer­ent sci­en­tif­ic tech­niques and stuff that peo­ple are cur­rent­ly doing in the field. 

But usu­al­ly what we try to do is always just get a nice mix of peo­ple. So, at our house right here…our res­i­den­cy, our lab, our insti­tute for jun­gle crafts, we have two bed­rooms that we nor­mal­ly would host a res­i­dence in. But since the pan­dem­ic it’s been kind of locked off. But we had peo­ple here who were for instance a sci­en­tist study­ing bats, peo­ple study­ing soil microbes. And we had some­one who does designs for the reinas in Carnival. So like fash­ion design kind of stuff, but is also a very avid bird­er and bird sci­en­tist. So we try to mix that up a lot.

And so we do small­er work­shops and res­i­den­cies. We had a whole sched­ule lined up for both local res­i­dents, artists, and sci­en­tists from around here in Panama, as well as inter­na­tion­al res­i­dents and sci­en­tists. We even had some schol­ar­ship mon­ey to help them come that we’re just fund­ing from our own free­lance work that we’re doing here. But we had to can­cel it all last year, and unfor­tu­nate­ly Panama’s been under real­ly strict lock­down. Which is good that peo­ple are tak­ing it seri­ous­ly. It’s very unfor­tu­nate that the gov­ern­ment here is not doing things in smart ways. And so they’re launch­ing kin­da dis­crim­i­na­to­ry prac­tices against trans peo­ple and hav­ing this gender-based lock­down that basi­cal­ly effec­tive­ly impris­ons peo­ple who are non-gender-conforming. So that’s real­ly sad.

So every­thing’s stopped here. But hope­ful­ly it’ll start going again, and we can help host peo­ple. And then our biggest thing that we run is this thing called The Digital Naturalism Conference. And that’s where we’ll get like a hun­dred, try to rent out a place for…some semi-remote location—we did one in Thailand, we did one here—for an extend­ed peri­od of time with the goal of just let­ting peo­ple inter­act with nature. People have all kinds of dif­fer­ent back­grounds from that. People were com­ic book creators…basically every­thing. The only key thing was you were inter­est­ed in inter­act­ing with nature in some way. So if you go to dina​con​.org, you can actu­al­ly sign up for our mail­ing list and we’ll send out info in our lit­tle mail­ing list when­ev­er we have the res­i­den­cies and the con­fer­ence going again. Hopefully it’ll be soon, and peo­ple will all [be] safer around the world.

Levin: Thank you so much, Andy Quitmeyer. It’s been an immense plea­sure learn­ing about your work at the Institute for Interactive Jungle Crafts and Digital Naturalism Laboratories. Thank you so much. 

And for every­one else, this con­cludes our trans­mis­sion for Thursday evening. We begin tomor­row morn­ing at 10:00 AM United States Eastern time with Max Bittker with the Friday morn­ing ses­sion of Art && Code: Homemade. Thank you, every­one, and good evening.

Further Reference

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