San Marcos,
16:27 PM

CSUSM Art Professor Shares Win for Global Award in A.I.

Lucy HG Solomon, an assistant professor of media design at Cal State San Marcos, has shared the Lumen Prize for Digital Art, an international award that was handed out in London on Sept. 27. 

HG Solomon is a member of the art collective Cesar & Lois, which won in the category of Artificial Intelligence. The group’s project is called "Degenerative Cultures," a work that integrates artificial intelligence with organically growing fungal systems.  

The work spanned multiple universities, involving HG Solomon at CSUSM and Brazilian media artist Cesar Baio with i-DAT at the University of Plymouth in England and Federal University of Ceará in Brazil. Jeremy Speed Schwartz, an associate professor of digital media at Alfred State in New York, collaborated on the project’s development.

“In building a hybrid biotechnological system, Cesar & Lois recognize the importance of nature’s logic," HG Solomon said. "By reorienting technologically mediated systems to the logic of nature, we move against the fast currents of climate change.”

At the suggestion of Betsy Read, professor of biological sciences at CSUSM, HG Solomon and Baio worked with biologist Scott Morgans with the fast-growing networking organism Physarum polycephalum, commonly called slime mold. 

"Biologists tend to be creative experimenters, a lot like artists,” HG Solomon said. “Scott Morgans worked with me to try new substrates, new ways to grow the slime mold on books. He took the art project as seriously as any other lab experiment. This merging of art and science is something that my CSUSM colleagues in art, media and design, Kristine Diekman and Judit Hersko, also take on; each of us addresses climate change in our work. At CSUSM, I am part of a community of interdisciplinary thinkers.”

Baio got a sense of this community.

“Our project benefited from Lucy's ability to build bridges between different people and ideas, and it flowered in the interdisciplinary atmosphere at CSUSM, where we moved fluidly between biology, art and even literature," he said. "We developed the project across continents, incorporating students from CSUSM and from my university in Brazil."

The hybrid experiments in the CSUSM biology lab launched the project Degenerative Cultures, a system in which slime mold is grown on top of physical books, with the organism tweeting as it grows. The tweets become less and less clear as the slime mold grows over letters and covers words. The books that the slime mold “reads” are texts about humanity’s inclination to control nature. The resulting readings are tweeted by the organically driven system at the Twitter handle @HelloFungus. 

“Our goal is to integrate fungal systems and human technological networks in order to reconsider and even reformulate those systems, HG Solomon said. 

HG Solomon and Baio took the resulting Twitter feed from one fungal reading to the literature and writing workshop of CSUSM associate professor Sandra Doller, where students analyzed the Twitter feed and asked, “What is the fungus trying to say to us?” One of the comparisons students made is that the fungal readings resemble poetry written by artificial intelligence.  

For more about the project, go to 

About the Lumen Prize 

On the night of Sept. 27, the world’s preeminent digital art prize gave away $11,000 in prize money at the ceremony, honoring artists from around the world who are creating their work with the latest digital tools. 

Once a year, the Lumen Prize for Digital Art celebrates the best art created with technology through a global competition, exhibitions and events worldwide. This year’s jury panel was composed of Foteini Aravani (digital curator at the Museum of London), Louise Lawson (conservation manager of time-based media at Tate), Irini Papadimitriou (digital programmes manager, V&A Museum, London, and head of new media arts at Watermans, London) and Fei Jun (head of media lab at China's Central Academy of Fine Arts). 

“There’s a lot of fear and worry today about how A.I. will affect our lives,” said Carla Rapoport, founder of the Lumen Prize. At the same time, these same tools can create real joy when artists engage with them. This is what art is all about. Each year, Lumen Prize winners break barriers in the art world, and 2018 provides another excellent example.” 

Quote from Lumen Prize jury on "Degenerative Cultures":

“Often the most interesting work comes at the borders between disciplines. This is a witty concatenation of modern disciplines with huge satirical potential."