Mutiertes L-System

Mutiertes L-System is the physically grown L-system algorithm. From a software origin as a L-System rule, it migrates into the physical world. By mutating and developing situational architectural structures it adapts to its new spatial environment.

As L-systems have gained much popularity in the creative coding community, deriving from one of the most common established practices in biology and media informatics for modeling plants, applied in simulations, computer games and CGI-driven movies, L-systems have a strong influence on how plants are being represented in the media and therefore also on how we perceive and value them.

The biologist Aristid Lindenmayer initially designed L-systems in 1968 for modeling the behavior of plant cells. Later Lindenmayer reworked L-systems towards modeling whole plant organisms.

L-systems on the one hand are used for researching "principles that unify apparently diverse phenomena", as the "Biological Modeling and Visualization research group" states on their website "Algorithmic Botany". This explicit agenda of unifying the diversity of plants’ growth processes shows how L-systems as formalizations are being inherently reductionist. Here L-systems function as a tool of translating growing plants with their interwoven, interdependent and spontanoeus qualities into grammar-based, quantified rulesets.

On the other hand L-systems are an important tool in the practices of creative coding for synthesizing images of plants in an often naturalist approach and offer an important interface of blending phenomena labeled as 'natural' into the realms of the 'artificial'.

Both applications have a common focus on the outer hull of plants and their architectural structure and less on the biochemical processes that actually cause the growth.

Mutiertes L-System

This work subversively explores these processes of formalizations by reversing them.

The substrate of the kinetic sculpture consists of a carbon skeleton and plastic joints, that are being arragend by this l-systematic rule, that prescribes how every branch should generate two new branches, rotated around two axis and bent around 89.8 degree:

‘F’ ⟼ “Fx[-z-xFx][+z+xFx]”

Following this rule the L-system sprawls and in addition to that grows spontaneous support structures. These support structures disobey the ruleset that it’s based on, but are neccessary to let the physical L-system become as stable as possible.

Muscle wires are clamped from joint to joint to give the sculpture its ability to move. These muscle wires react with contraction to heat, that is being induced by transistor boards around 12 Volts and controlled via a microcontroller.

English translation of the jury's verdict on awarding Mutiertes L-System a Hochschul Prize in 2018:

"The 'mutated L-system' is the L-system algorithm that has become spatial. Through mutation and formation of architectural structures, it fights for survival and bristles at this new spatial environment. The jury is convinced by the simplicity and clarity of the sculptural work. The interplay between tension and fragility is able to create an emphatic impression. The installation, which can also be described as a kinetic sculpture, manages to transfer its energy to the viewer. The jury emphasizes the poetic effect of the work standing on its own."

Photo by Elliott Haigh + Nana Sawada
Photo by Elliott Haigh + Nana Sawada

Awards & Selections


Blooming Festival 2019
Festival di arti numeriche e culture digitali
Curated by Frederica Patti and Quiet Ensemble
Pergola PU, Italy

Wired Narratives
Group exhibition at Galerie Kramer
23.03. - 12.05.2019
Bremen, Germany

Hochschultage 2018
Exhibition at University of the Arts
10.02. - 11.02.2018
Bremen, Germany

Articles / Publications

(De-)Formalizing Plant Processes as Grammatical Rulesets
The Liminial Voice - ​Issue.1 Fledging
Published by Nana Sawada and Elliott Haigh

Mutiertes L-System – Physically grown L-System
Published on Creative Applications Network
Written by Filip Visnjic

Semana 186.1_Mutiertes L-System
Published on [ANTI]MATERIA
Written by Doreen A. Ríos

VIDEO POST > Mutiertes L-System
Published on Arshake

Mutiertes L-System #ArtTuesday
Published on Adafruit Blog

Thanks to

Conceptual support by Prof. Ralf Baecker
Project developed at the Digital Media Bremen program


Website on Algorithmic Botany
Biological Modeling and Visualization research group
University of Calgary

Gego (Gertrud Luise Goldschmidt): Gego, 1957–1988: Thinking the Line
Edited and published by Nadja Rottner and Peter Weibel

L-System Implementation in Processing: The Nature Of Code
Edited and published by Daniel Shiffman