Digital Organism

The responsive digital organism in a Netherlands forest


In Drenthe Province in the Netherlands, approximately 7.5 acres of forest are lit up at night by over 1000 pulsating red lights. The lights will communicate with each other, and are meant to behave like a flock of birds, a school of fish, or a single “ digital organism.”

Each battery-powered light called a “Pixie ” is nestled on a diamond-shaped wooden plaque and contains a microchip that sends signals to alternative Pixies within the forest. every silicon chip is equipped with certain “behavioral rules” that tell the Pixies how often and how quickly they should send signals to surrounding Pixies.

Smaller groups (not more than 8 people) who visit the installation in the village of Drouwen are given 2 Pixie lanterns to carry into the forest. when the forest Pixies detect the lantern Pixies, they’ll light up, as if recognizing a new cell in the organism.

This project was developed by Olav Huizer, Joachim Rümke, Jelle Valk, and Joachim de Vries, who together form the Dutch artist collective WERC. As a group, the artists hope to connect the digital and physical worlds.

The digital organism project was initially designed with a music festival called Welcome To The Village as a light installation that lit a dark trail on the festival grounds. Valk told that Drenthe officials heard about the installation and decided to subsidize it in order to extend forest visiting hours at night.

There are a complete of 1,250 Pixies within the forest, and no 2 Pixies are exactly alike. WERC says an independent agency performed an ecological check before the organism was put in, to make sure it wouldn’t affect the environment. the light intensity was adjusted from the festival lights to reduce the impact of light pollution.

The installation only turns on at night and sleeps during the day. The project can only be on view during the fall and end in early Jan. WERC says it’ll run every Oct to Jan for the next four years.

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