In the province of Drenthe in the Netherlands, around seven and a half acres of forest are lit up at night by more than a thousand pulsating red lights. The lights can 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 microprocessor that sends signals to other Pixies in the forest. Each microprocessor is equipped with certain “behavioral rules” that tell the Pixies how often and how quickly they should send signals to surrounding Pixies.
Small groups (no more than eight people) who visit the installation in the village of Drouwen are given two 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.
The project was created by Joachim Rümke, Olav Huizer, Joachim de Vries, and Jelle Valk, 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 originally designed for a music festival called Welcome To The Village as a light installation that lit a dark trail on the festival grounds. Valk told The Verge that Drenthe officials heard about the installation and decided to subsidize it in order to extend forest visiting hours at night.
There are a total of 1,250 Pixies in the forest, and no two Pixies are exactly alike. WERC says an independent agency performed an ecological check before the organism was installed, 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 will only be on view during the fall, and end in early January. WERC says it will run every October to January for the next four years.