Being Slime Mould at The Conference – 19 August 2015

I recently gave a talk at The Conference, in Malmö, Sweden, a 2 day event focusing on questions of complexity in a digital world. Fifty speakers from around the world spoke on topics including empathy with robots, the future of wearables, the ethics of big data, storytelling,… speculations on the future of work, speed and survival. All the talks are available to view online.

In a session on Learning from Nature, Michael Pawlyn spoke about the use of biomimicry in his architectural practice  Exploration Architecture. I followed, talking about the connections between art, biology and technology, starting with the earliest known cave paintings and ending with the diverse research involving the slime mould Physarum polycephalum. As the subject was biomimicry across different disciplines, I invited the audience to participate in a live experiment to test some key biological principles and engage with some slime mould behaviours. The Being Slime Mould experiment aims to test human capacity for communication and cooperation with that of the slime mould and explores whether a group of people can operate as a single-celled organism in response to environmental cues  – in this case attractants of oats and repellents of salt.

The experiment is not to be taken too literally, it is a playful means of embodying behaviours of another living organism, to take a slime-mould-centric perspective on the world, rather than assuming an anthropomorphic position on the natural phenomena we observe. Within the chaotic scrabble there is an undercurrent of serious intention – it is an exercise in tacit knowledge distribution. If only for a moment, I want people to try to physically operate as part of a bigger system and to think about how to make that system work – whether it’s navigating an environment, tackling obstacles or finding another form of communication.

The talk and Being Slime Mould experiment can be viewed online.

Being Slime Mould was originally devised with Daniel Grushkin for the BioDesign exhibition in Rotterdam (2013).