2019 / ongoing


2019 / ongoing

Artificial Botany is an ongoing project which explores the latent expressive capacity of botanical illustrations through the use of machine learning algorithms.

Before the invention of photography, botanical illustration was the only way to visually record the many species of plants. These images were used by physicists, pharmacists, and botanical scientists for identification, analysis, and classification. While these works are no longer scientifically relevant today, they have become an inspiration for artists who pay homage to life and nature using contemporary tools and methodologies. Artificial Botany draws from public domain archive images of illustrations by the greatest artists of the genre, including Maria Sibylla Merian, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Anne Pratt, Marianne North, and Ernst Haeckel.

Developing as an organism in an interweaving of forms that are transmitted and flow into each other, the plant is the symbol of nature’s creative power. In this continuous activity of organising and shaping forms, two opposing forces in tension are confronted: on one hand, the tendency to the shapeless, the fluidity of passing and changing; on the other, the tenacious power to persist, the principle of crystallisation of the flow, without which it would be lost indefinitely. In the dynamic of expunction and contraction that marks the development of the plant, beauty manifests itself in that moment of balance which is impossible to fix, caught in its formation and already in the point of fading into the next one.

Artificial Botany responds to the need to describe the creative power of nature both in visual and conceptual terms, restoring the concept of mutability, transience and evolution as basic elements of life. This multidisciplinary series combines digital and analogue prints with video installations, natural printed silkscreens alongside immersive audiovisual installations: a series so multifaceted that brings out the metamorphic characteristic of existence - everything changes constantly.



The creative process at the foundation of Artificial Botany is based on a particular machine learning system called GAN (Generative Adversarial Network). Through a training phase using botanical illustrations, the system is able to recreate new artificial images with morphological elements extremely similar to the initial figures: not an exact copy of the original image, but a reinterpretation of it. The machine re-elaborates the content by creating a new language, capturing the information and artistic qualities of man and nature.

GANs are made up of two networks that are in competition with one another in a zero-sum game framework: the first network is called a generator and its job is to generate data from a random distribution. These data are then conducted to the second network, the discriminator: on the basis of the data acquired during the learning phase, it learns to decide whether the distribution of the generator data is close enough to what the discriminator knows as the original data. If the value generated does not meet the requirements, the process will be repeated until the result is obtained. GANs typically run unsupervised, teaching themselves how to mimic any given distribution of data - meaning that once trained they are able to replicate novel content starting from a specific dataset.

Artificial Botany EPK.jpg 0006 Layer 3 copy

The first step in establishing a GAN is to identify the desired output and gather an initial training dataset based on those parameters. This data is then randomised and input into the generator until it acquires basic accuracy in producing outputs.
In an unconditioned generative model, there is no direct control over the model and the data being generated. However, by conditioning the model on additional information it is possible to direct the data generation process. Such conditioning could be based on class labels, on some part of data for painting-like features, or even on data from different modalities.

This system can be put in place infinitely, each time obtaining a distinct result that reflects the starting dataset. Artificial Botany is thus an extremely versatile project, whose aesthetic and visual identity get redefined and transformed according to the dataset at the basis of the GAN elaboration. That is why Artificial Botany is subdivided into series: each one of them is peculiarly different but, at the same time, they all share the same synthetic aesthetic.



Artificial Botany was initially born as an internal R&D project: its first iteration was published online in 2019 and involved the speculative interaction between two AI systems. In this case, the machine learning system was able to create new botanical specimens while retaining information such as flower colours, leaf size or plant overall structure.
The text underlying each artwork is generated by the exploitation of another neural network algorithm. This type of system is called “image to text translation” and while it is commonly used to classify images, in this case we tested it by asking it to recognize other artificial-generated images frame by frame.

A second version was prototyped by developing a grid inside which 576 modules different from each other are gradually revealed. This narration offers an unusual perspective on the generative process allowing the viewer to appreciate the overall dynamics and, at the same time, the details of the individual elements.


After these first generations, we further developed the process by integrating the concept of transfer learning to the models we had previously trained. Practically, it consists of significantly improving the efficiency of the network through reusing information gained from already assimilated tasks. In this case, we started from the model already trained and employed it for the creation of the synthetic botanical illustrations: we then started a second training process with a new dataset composed of images of forests and leaves.

Selezione Marignana6



The Artificial Botany series has been further enriched thanks to the concession by BUB (University Library of Bologna), the Botanical Garden of Bologna and Alma Mater Studiorum, of some datasets of high-resolution images of the illustrated herbarium and the dry herbarium by Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522 - 1605), famous botanist and Bolognese naturalist recognized by many as the father of modern Natural History.
By integrating the images of Aldrovandi's illustrations with the processing of Artificial Botany, a peculiar and unique version of the Aldrovandian botanical and imaginative sample collection was generated: a modern exploration of the original illustrations that allows to create relations between stylistic elements and details that would probably pass unnoticed by a human eye.

AB Aldrovandi 3

This new body of work was exhibited for the first time in the spaces of Cubo Unipol in Bologna from 18 January to 22 May 2022, on the occasion of our solo show das.05 Mutamenti. Le metamorfosi sintetiche di fuse* and Francesca Pasquali, curated by Federica Patti. 

AB Aldrovandi 5


One of the latest iterations of Artificial Botany is the synthetic reinterpretation of the collection of plants and floral specimens of Botanical Garden of Padua, the oldest in the world. The resulting work is Erbario Assoluto, a three-channel video installation acquired by the Garden and permanently exhibited in its newly-opened spaces: a unique crystallisation of the museum collection that puts in contact historical scientific discovery with technological innovation.


As mentioned, every Artificial Botany generation is inextricably connected to the starting dataset. The botanical images from the Garden of Padua include a series of illustrations made with a particular technique called 'smoke printing': the process consisted of exposing a dry plant to the smoke of a candle or oil lamp until it was evenly coated with soot. It was then covered with soft paper and compressed with a stick until it left its own impression on the sheet, creating an image of surprising delicacy and realism. Just like this is a peculiar feature of the Garden’s collection, it also distinguishes the visual elements of our installation: these smoky, shadowy depictions sometimes emerge, leaving their mark on the succession of synthetic botanical records.

Artificial Botany dialogues with the beauty implicit in the state of continuous transformation of living species, seeking to capture the generative richness of evolution just like it has been done in the past centuries through herbariums by botanists and scientists. Erbario Assoluto wants to imagine new relationships and assonances between the different species preserved in the Garden and their representations.

AB Padova


Artificial Botany has also been the series that familiarised us with the realisation of physical, tangible artworks. It was through Artificial Botany that we seriously embarked on this exploration and delved deeply into the realms of prints and silkscreens.

We collaborated with a local studio in Modena, named Medulla: merging colour research and craftsmanship, the studio engages in the creation of prints using exclusively organic and natural pigments. For Artificial Botany, instead of the canonical primary printing colours, the studio used an experimental four-colour system adapted to the use of pigments extracted from plants. This silkscreen series merges elements of both the digital and natural realms, blending disparate techniques that apparently seem to belong to opposite territories but that, instead, complement each other.

The starting digital image was first broken down into the four colour levels to obtain the high-resolution screen-printed frames, made with a fabric of 100 threads per linear centimetre with a diameter of 40 microns.

At this point, the four colours of the ordinary classification (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) were replaced with colours obtained from natural pigments extracted by hand (Guado, Turmeric, Cochineal and a mixture of indigo, chlorophyll, madder and graphite to obtain black). Lastly, a reinforcement of green with chlorophyll extract was then inserted transforming the screen print into a pentachrome. For each frame, a new layer of colour was then added with manual pressure at different intensities to enhance the various chromatic details of the starting botanical illustration. The paper on which the silkscreen print was produced is a hand-printed Arctic Paper Munken Print, FSC, PEFC, Ecolabel certified, 300g/m2 antiquated with a tea and coffee leaf bath. The entire printing process is carbon neutral.

Screenshot 2024 02 07 at 17.16.13

“The process highlights the artistic potential of a new and totally synthetic aesthetic” - Creative Applications


Awards: Jury Selections of the 24th Japan Media Arts Festival, Digital Design Awards 2020
Production: fuse*
Art Direction:
 Mattia Carretti, Luca Camellini
Concept: Mattia Carretti, Luca Camellini, Samuel Pietri
Supervisione Software: Luca Camellini 
Software Artists: Luca Camellini, Samuel Pietri
Exhibition Design: Martina Reggiani
Sound Design: Riccardo Bazzoni 
Hardware Engineering: Matteo Mestucci
Support to Concept Writing: Saverio Macrì

Acquisitions: Orto Botanico Parma, Padua (IT); Gruppo Unipol, Bologna (IT).

Premiere: NEO c/o Cosmo Caixa / Barcelona, ES


Selected Exhibitions

18 January - 17 April 2024 - "千面之城 - Extension of Selves" c/o QinTai Art Museum / Wuhan, CN
13 January - 01 April 2024 - "Impronte. Noi e le Piante" c/o Palazzo del Governatore / Parma, IT
12 - 31 October 2023 - Bright Moments / London, UK
28 September - 1 October 2023 - Smart Life Festival c/o Fondazione San Carlo / Modena, IT
13 - 17 September 2023 - Scopitone Festival / Nantes, FR
04 September - 31 December 2023 - Dongdaemun Design Plaza / Seoul, KR
25 May - 09 July 2023 - "Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant" c/o FACE B / Bruxelles, BE
11 May - 01 September 2023 - Italian Cultural Institute c/o INNOVIT / San Francisco, US
11 March - 9 September 2023 - Marignana Arte / Venice, IT
03 December 2022 - 02 April 2023 - Hong Kong Design Institute / Hong Kong, HK
02 October 2022 - 15 January 2023 - Misk Art Institute / Riyad, KSA
25 November 2022 - 2 January 2023 - National Taichung Theatre / Taichung City, TW
1 June - 31 July 2022 - Gardening Amelisweerd / Utrecht, NL
18 January - 22 May 2022 - MUTAMENTI. Le metamorfosi sintetiche di fuse* e Francesca Pasquali for das05 c/o CUBO, Unipol / Bologna IT
12 February - 30 April 2022 - Marignana Arte / Venice, IT
13-25 January 2022 - Japan Media Arts Festival / Kochi, JP
15 October–30 November 2021 - NEO c/o Cosmo Caixa / Barcellona, ES