The Trained Particles Circus

The Trained Particles Circus: Dealing with Attractors, Automatons, Ghosts and Their Shadows, Patxi Araujo, 2019 MIT Press, Leonardo Vol 52, Number 4

I have chosen to reflect on this paper because I am broadly interested in looking at the early cinema period of the 1900s-1920s in tandem with contemporary digital moving image, as well as thinking about particle systems and physics simulations in graphics as potential for metaphor or storytelling. This paper doesn't mention cinema, but cites other cultural phenomena from the turn of the century as part of 'An Archaeology ofTechnological-Artistic Media'. 


It is an accompanying text to a performance which is documented in a video: 

The 'artefact' or performance object contains many overlapping processes, which Araujo unpicks for us in his own words.

The paper begins with a generalised context of historic attempts and failures to rationalise the unpredictable nature of 'the real world' through scientific models. 'We could be reminded that we have built rational explanations of the world with systematic strategies 100 times before. And every time, we have hacked these explanations with uncontrollable fantasies.' I would like to know what Araujo means by the latter sentence: it surely does not refer to models being negated by unexpected natural anomalies, which is the focus of this paragraph. 

Araujo refers to his system as 'a software entity': I like how he names each element of the piece as an individual subject, keeping the figure of the automaton always central. Perhaps conversely, he later asserts that the system has ‘characteristic behaviors of a living being’ without explaining how that may be. It seems that the appearance and motion of the object is merely reminiscent of organic lifeforms, yet he maintains that it actually is ‘an organism’.

The circus is a device Araujo uses for a variety of purposes. The title is a reference to flea circuses, and he says that the motion of the particles is reminiscient of juggling, and that the human and machine elements play off one another (although the piece is, in fact, not interactive).

Overall, the statement is certainly interesting and well researched, but in my opinion, sometimes over-ambitious in its assertions about the qualities of the artwork.

This paper is also particularly valuable to look at, being an example of an art-object outcome that has been made informed by a process of research and theory. The next assignment for our research and theory module is to produce an 'artefact' in the same way.