UPON: Urban Poems Of Nature

The UPON project (winner of the Grand Prize of the Nature Speaks! competition) tries to give a “voice” to animals. Facing our ignorance in decrypting and reproducing animal signals, we imagined how animals (non human/human/real/unreal) would speak if immersed into an alienated urban reality. In order to obtain this effect we produced a fully generative poet AI which was fed with million examples from the Urban Dictionary and texts about animals (Gutenberg Project).

Each poem is about a randomly chosen animal which, in an oneiric, surrealist way, follows a path of interleaved senses, desperately trying to reconstruct a global meaning or at least a formally coherent structure.

Genesis of the Project

Being a story about urbanized animals, we decided to connect the genesis of each poem to the main cause of urbanization, i.e. deforestation. Each time a certain quantity of forests are lost, we imagine an animal emitting a cry in the form of a poem denouncing the alienating effect of urbanization. For instance, the three specific NFTs exposed at launch time on May 22nd on Bio-Compendium were generated when the quantity of forest loss, as measured by Worldometers, was 1,600,000 1,700,000 1,800,000. At that precise moment we imagine an animal emitting a cry in the form of a poem denouncing the alienating effect of urbanization. But the journey is not over. From now on, at every 400,000 hectares of forest lost (approximately every month), a random animal will shout at the unbearable perspective of a future urban life. Coherently, 30% of the benefits generated from sales of UPON works on Bio-Compendium are donated to ecological nonprofit De Ceuvel.

Literary and Technical Aspects

Animals yell in an educated way, as stanzas of anapestic tetrameters or iambic pentameters. The choice of these two meters was due to the intention of producing both a “comic” (in the sense of Dante’s “Divina Commedia”) and elegiac tone, the elegy being connected to the previous wildlife, the “comedy” being the new urbanized situation.

The poet AI is completely written in JavaScript, with a time-dependent randomization mechanism that allows the transformation of the generation of a poem into an event taking time only at specific symbolic moments. More technically the poems are generated on the basis of thousands of syntactic patterns automatically derived from the Urban Dictionary examples and arranged on the basis of some generative grammar rules. The semantic combination (meaning) is achieved by deep learning based analysis of two different sets of texts, namely examples from the [Urban Dictionary] (https://www.urbandictionary.com/) and texts about animals (Gutenberg Project): this choice produces a non-trivial contrastive effect of two opposite worlds suddenly touching each other. The whole generation process is constrained by the selected metric patterns, and of course by the semantic characterization of the animal uttering the poem. Last but not least, before being exposed on Bio-Compendium, each poem benefits from the graphic design work of the artist Sevgi Rabia Odabas.

Some examples (Generative NFT drop on Bio-Compendium )