Tardigotchi

SWAMP - Douglas Easterly, Matt Kenyon & Tiago Rorke

New Zealand

What is “Tardigotchi”?

“Tardigotchi” is an artwork featuring two pets: a living organism and an alife avatar. These two disparate beings find themselves the unlikely denizens of a portable computing enclosure. The main body for this enclosure is a brass sphere, housing the alife avatar in an LED screen and the tardigrade within a prepared slide.

A tardigrade is a common microorganism measuring half a millimeter in length. The alife avatar is a caricature of this tardigrade, its behaviour is partially autonomous, but it also reflects a considerable amount of expression directly from the tardigrade’s activities (like eating). This portable sphere playfully references the famous Tamagotchi toy from the 1990’s. What is interesting about this toy, is how it popularly encourages pet-owner behaviour through a device that is ostensibly more like a cell phone than a Chartreux.

Does simple interaction engender emotional attachment? Can feelings of affection blossom from the ritual of assisting the persistence of a pattern? Does biological life make a difference? A “Tardigotchi” owner tends to a real and a virtual creature simultaneously. By pushing a button, the virtual pet is fed, which in turn will feed the tardigrade.

“Tardigotchi” has a social web presence: sending an email to

the virtual character triggers a heating lamp, relaying a momentary signal of warmth to the tardigrade, while prompting the pixelated tardigrade to recline and soak up animated sun rays.

“Tardigotchi” applies a salve to our yearnings for care and nurture through a unique design that symbiotically merges biological and artificial life within a single interface/enclosure. It also serves as a reminder for the special place humans have in communing with other animals, perhaps equally for artificial ones. We, along with the inhabitants of “Tardigotchi”, and every other living being, are neighbors subsisting on an incredibly precarious life-sphere known as Earth.

BIO SWAMP is the collaborative effort of the artists Douglas Easterly and Matt Kenyon. Their work focuses on critical themes addressing the effects of global corporate operations, mass media and communication, and general meditations on the blurred boundaries between life and artificial life.

Tiago Rorke is a designer currently working as a teaching fellow at Victoria University of Wellington. Tiago’s studio practice reflects a keen interest in programming and electronics, especially projects that deal with ubiquitous computing technologies.