SWARM | CELL | CITY

A collective experiment with Heather Barnett & plan b
(Sophia New & Daniel Belasco Rogers)
working with the slime mould, Physarum polycephalum

Berlin, 23 & 24 September 2017

In the context of the series NONHUMAN AGENTS, 2017
Curated by Regine Rapp & Christian de Lutz at Art Laboratory Berlin

Film by Tim Deussen

In September 2017 I ran a 2-day workshop in collaboration with artists Sophia New & Daniel Belasco Rogers (plan b) at Art Laboratory Berlin. A participatory collective experiment in art, performance and biology, the project invited participants to view the city of Berlin through the nonhuman perspective of the intelligent single-celled organism, the slime mould, Physarum polycephalum.

The slime mould is a bright yellow amoeba that possesses primitive intelligence, problem solving skills and memory. It is highly efficient at forming networks between given points and has been used to map the worlds’ transport networks, migration routes and desire paths, most notably in 2010 it accurately replicated the Tokyo rail network. It is also quite beautiful, the branching patterns reminiscent of forms seen at varying scales within nature, from blood vessels to tree branches, from river deltas to lightening flashes. It can learn about its environment, remember where it’s been and navigate through complex territories – all without any sensory organs and no brain.

Using the local topography of Berlin as inspiration, we ran a series of experiments and activities, exploring collective communication, cooperation and navigation at different scales – in slime mould and in humans. The workshop was designed to complement the exhibition Nonhuman Networks at Art Laboratory Berlin (29 September – 26 November 2017), exploring the network ability of simple organisms, such as slime mould and mycelium. These organisms offer us intriguing models to examine collective behaviour: how ideas spread, how group decisions are made, and how communities cooperate.

In Swarm | Cell | City the slime mould became a model and metaphor for examining human systems – urban, social, technological and cultural – exploring how people interact with and respond to their environment, how they gather and distribute information; critically and creatively exploring communication, navigation and mapping mechanisms. The aim was to create a platform for exploring alternative ways of seeing and being, individually and collectively.

• Photographs from the workshop and the exhibition can be viewed here

• At the end of the two days of engaging with our nonhuman muse, material and stimulus, one workshop participant, artist Nicola Caroli, dedicated a poem by Emily Dickenson to the slime mould, as recognition of its contribution to our enquiry. You can read about her interpretation of the workshop here.

• Read a write up of the exhibition in Labiotech.

• The exhibition, the last in the Nonhuman Subjectivities series spanning two years, ends with a 3 day international conference exploring themes of Nonhuman Agents in Art, Culture and Theory, 24-26 November 2017. Info and booking