Heterosis: Where Virtual Flowers Grow In A Hyperrealistic Metaverse

We recently sat down with Mat Collishaw, one of the creators of Heterisis to speak about this exciting and groundbreaking project.

The world of art and technology has collided in a grandiose endeavour to create something never seen before – the Heterosis project.

Spearheaded by British contemporary artists Mat Collishaw and Danil Krivoruchko who is a Ukrainian-born, New York-based multidisciplinary digital artist and art director, Heterosis is a virtual garden of digital flowers, set within the National Gallery’s abandoned wing in London.

This ambitious concept transcends from an immersive installation into a metaverse ‘greenhouse’, with each flower being an unduplicable digital artwork, unique to its creator.

The combination of natural elements and technological innovation comes to life with the participation of the community, offering more than just individual works of art but also collective meaning and collaboration.

With such an impressive team behind it, it’s no surprise that this project has already become one of the most talked-about ideas to come out of both the art and tech worlds.

We recently sat down with Mat Collishaw, one of the creators of Heterisis to speak about this exciting and groundbreaking project.

How did you come up with the idea for Heterosis? 

Snark.art asked me if I was interested in working on a collection about 18 months ago at the height of NFT craziness. I generally try to work on projects that reference history, so Tulip Mania was an obvious parallel with what was happening with NFTs. I read a lot of books on the subject and the main takeaway seemed to be that although there was a huge spike and then drop in Tulip prices in 1637, the main casualty was the fracturing of social networks upon which the transactions were based. The bonds of this fairly tightly-knit community were to an extent broken when certain collectors refused to agree to pay a price for a Tulip that had significantly lost value before flowering. This started me thinking about NFT communities and how important they are to collections. There appeared to be a synergy between the Tulip collecting networks and contemporary online networks although blockchain would have averted the breakdown of trust that occurred in the 17th-century crash. Also, the idea of building a dynamic collection where participants could choose hybrid flowers was extremely compelling. Computer code functions not unlike genetic code, so virtual flower hybridisation lent itself well to the digital realm. 

What inspired you to create a project in a virtual environment? 

I’ve worked with El Gabal on a couple of projects and the immersive, persistent, social spaces they were building seemed to lend themselves well to the flower collection. As the flowers are dynamic, there should hopefully be an evolution, which means that revisiting them as a collection would be an interesting scenario. It also gave us another framing device for the project. A way of contrasting organic matter with the cream of European art history, and art history with this new burgeoning digital frontier.

What kind of technology and resources have you used to create the hyperrealistic metaverse ‘greenhouse’ of Heterosis? 

I originally scanned the National Gallery with a scanning app on my phone, this gave us the proportions of the room. I then photographed each painting in the rooms we were recreating. The Gallery was then built from the ground up in Unreal Engine. We bought certain assets such as frames and foliage and combined all the elements to create the virtual space we’ve now built and are about to populate with flowers. 

Collectors will be able to adopt an avatar and navigate the greenhouse, meeting and chatting with other collectors. They’ll also be able to select a flower and establish its properties and current value in a marketplace. I’m planning to do a few talks inside this virtual space. 

Heterosis: Where Virtual Flowers Grow In A Hyperrealistic Metaverse

How do participants cultivate and breed their flowers in the virtual greenhouse?

The breeding of flowers is a straightforward process that can be instigated online, this process doesn’t take place inside the greenhouse. Collectors can choose to breed their flowers to adopt characteristics they would like their flower to inherit. Maybe they want more curved or longer petals, a more open bloom, or transparent quality. They can find a flower in the collection that has these properties and breed with it on OG.Art. All flowers have hidden shadow genes, so certain properties can emerge in a hybrid flower that was not evident in either of the parent flowers. It’s important that no new flowers are produced during the breeding process, collectors who chose to breed their flower will have the option to keep their new hybrid flower or return it to its prior state. Collectors can also charge other collectors to breed with their flower, the more desirable the flower the higher the price they can set. All flowers in the greenhouse will be updated every day so anyone visiting has the opportunity to see the latest iteration of all flowers in their current state.

What types of digital artwork will users be able to create in Heterosis?

Collectors will hopefully cultivate their flowers by breeding them to enhance their appearance and to adopt interesting traits. A lot of the traits are native to flowers in the real world but some, such as transparency, animal skin patterns and ultraviolet qualities reference artworks I’ve made in the past. They will exist as animated flowers but their appearance is totally down to the collector with an element of chance introduced by hidden shadow genes.

What kind of community are you hoping to cultivate around this project? 

I’m very interested in any conversations around the breeding mechanic, but also in a lot of the wider issues, the collection hopes to stimulate. Questions such as ‘where are Arts based NFTs going?’, ‘Are dynamic qualities desirable?’, ‘Are collaborations between artists and collectors fertile ground?’,  ‘To what extent does a centralised zone add value to a collection?’ ‘How can a community improve the overall quality of a project?’.  An engagement with these subjects would be invigorating.

What was your biggest challenge when creating Heterosis? 

Every aspect of the project has been challenging! There are so many moving parts keeping track of everything is mind-boggling. Fortunately, Danil Krivoruchko, co-creator of the collection, was building and animating the flowers. He’s a great artist in his own right and has produced several collections before, so in addition to creating beautiful visuals he had a lot of input on the mechanics of the collection. A realistic-looking flower animation is challenging enough, but when the flower has to breed and change properties on the fly it introduces a whole new universe of problems.

How long did it take you to develop the idea, design, and build out the virtual world for this project?

This took about 18 months in total, but there was a lot going on between the various stages of development. Antoine Cardon and El Gabal and Nik Taylor did all of this work, I was keeping an eye on and making suggestions. I’ve worked with Antoine before on a couple of social, persistent spaces so we weren’t entirely new to the area. 

Could you tell us more about the aesthetic of this digital recreation of London’s National Gallery within the metaverse ‘greenhouse’?

It took a while to decide the National Gallery would be an interesting environment to recreate. Early iterations of the greenhouse were much more futuristic but a defining factor was that the architecture would be overgrown and abandoned. The centralised area needed to be a place where nature was fighting back and reclaiming. I then thought it may be interesting to contrast this organic matter with old master paintings, a clash between two different incarnations of beauty; organic and man-made. This also set up an opposition between the old master paintings and newer digital artworks that exist online. 

Will users need any specific technological or gaming experience to take part in this project effectively, or is it accessible for people from all backgrounds and skill sets?

We’ve designed the collection to be as simple and frictionless to navigate as possible. It should be accessible to all. The project is layered so there is an opportunity to discover other aspects of the collection but the interface is extremely clear. For non-crypto collectors, we’ve introduced the facility to pay with a card. 

What message do you hope people will take away from their experience with Heterosis?

I’d like the experience to be unlike any other art experience, utilising the opportunities that NFTs and web3 have spawned. The hope is that people would think and reflect on the various themes the project attempts to deal with. ‘What qualifies as beauty?’, how is it related to rarity and value?’, ‘how do networks enhance growth and creativity?’, ‘how can these new burgeoning forms of media enable us to build ecospheres that engage with historical and philosophical ideas? Obviously, I also hope people have a lot of fun! 

Are there any plans to expand upon or continue developing this project after its initial launch period ends? 

After all, flowers are minted the collection comes to life. We’ll be introducing various other facilities to the project which are designed to enrich the experience. You can find everything related to the collection on OG.Art. 

Image: Mat Collishaw and Danil Krivoruchko, Heterosis, 2023 © Snark.art 

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