Knobby Clubrush: Robotic Art


This piece is part of the ALIFE 2021 Gallery

Please see also:

  1. Sun setting over Knobby Clubrush
  2. 24 hours over Knobby Clubrush
  3. Promo Video

Artwork credits
Artist: Marília Bergamo (artist and researcher), UFMG, Brazil. E-mail: <>
Collaborators: Jon McCormack and Elliott Wilson – Sensilab (

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I present a robotic experiment that recognises the premise of plant behaviour, this computer artwork, titled Knobby Clubrush, was inspired by a native plant of Australia. Plants are considered ‘colony intelligence’ organisms and are also interesting examples of systems in nature. This artwork is a simulation of complexity in robotic structures that aims to raise poetic perception. 

The scientific field of neurobiology recognizes that plants have evolved as sessile organisms, for this reason, their bodies are modular without individual organs, and this distinction from the animal world has created obstacles to recognizing them as intelligent organisms. While the solutions for survival in plants are frequently the opposite of those developed by the animals, they are also able to mimic and negotiate, and their intelligence resembles networks. According to Mancuso (2018), approaches in design and engineering are usually based on animal functions and concerning various situations may not be an improvement. 

I, as an artist, regard ​​computing as a form of co-authoring in the development of poetic works, where the code is autonomous in decision making. In Knobby Clubrush robotic sculpture computational creativity is the internal engine that allows the piece to behave autonomously. Knobby Clubrush approach to computational creativity is both biological and social systemic creativity that echoes a viewpoint that stresses plants as colony intelligence systems (McCormack, 2019, Saunders, 2019). Knobby Clubrush was elaborated in three different stages, which took almost 10 months, in each stage I considered a balancing between the form and technical challenges.

The final assemblage is composed of nine agents, and a modular structure is 3D printed to join each agent. All cables from the sensitive area to the root are organized with a steel matter and green cables covered on a dry plastic isolation film. The cables are organized with terminations that are connected to a shield and a controller board. In Knobby Clubrush I concentrated plasticity of matter in the top of the agents, where a casing was necessary to be mechanically capable of aerodynamic movements and protect the sensitive parts. It was a decision that went smoothly on this artwork, as the development of forms generated by generative instructions to be directed printed. As a result, to generate the Knobby, a pattern of cones was created by code. All cones were created with small holes on the top to permit air and wind to affect microphones and temperature sensors, all present small differences on the sides of holes and inclinations of Z axes. A second layer of the same pattern is used to create an internal space inside the knobby. In Knobby Clubrush this pattern is random, but it represents a potential to implement results of well-adapted agents to be transmitted to future generations. 

In Knobby Clubrush robotic experimentation many aesthetic perspectives could be considered, but one comes as an addition to my work as an artist, the botanical point of view. In Botanical art, there is always a tension between the artist’s perspective and the representation/reference which works as an illustration of the scientific content. The final assemblage presented here comes as an illustration of the potential it has in computer arts, once it is a scientific exploration and also a conceptual piece of art. On top of it, computer creativity plays an important part in making the artist’s intentions not deliberately fulfilled, and co-authorship takes place on sculpture behaviour. The development of such a complex piece demonstrates that concepts of autonomy, biology, science, art and diversity are an inspiring field for computer artists, not only in the field of computers itself but in the continuous search of understanding the world that surrounds us. 

Due to Covid-19, the Sensilab was closed and became inaccessible to 3D printing. As a result, no more than one piece of the knobby was created. (March 2020 – PDF presentation)

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Mancuso, Stefano. The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior. Edição: Translation. New York, NY: Atria Books, 2018.

McCormack, Jon. “Creative Systems: A Biological Perspective.” In Computational Creativity, edited by Tony Veale and F. Amílcar Cardoso, 327–52. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2019.

Saunders, Rob. “Multi-Agent-Based Models of Social Creativity.” In Computational Creativity, edited by Tony Veale and F. Amílcar Cardoso, 305–26. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2019.

Amateur record of the work:
More images:

This piece uses Adafruit’s MPU-6050 6-DoF Accel and Gyro Sensor, Silicon MEMS Microphone Breakout – SPW2430 and a TCA9548A I2C Multiplexer. An Arduino Shield was specially developed for Knobby Clubrush, this shield contains the necessary connections to join the distributed parts of the agents to the root system, and all that was controlled by an Arduino R3 Uno Board.