Animal Collectives

Animal Collectives is a collaboration between artist Heather Barnett and scientists Dr Andrew King and Dr Ines Fürtbauer and their groups and labs, based within the Department of Biosciences (Swansea University) and funded by a Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence grant, which ran between March – November 2017.

The Animal Collectives residency combined data visualisation, experiential learning and social engagement to make connections between the social behaviour of humans and other animals. The project explored patterns of foraging, navigation and cooperation through an evolutionary lens to better understand how and why humans and other animals form social groups. The collaboration worked creatively with live organisms, existing datasets, and computation models to develop novel immersive and interactive artworks and to engage audiences with group dynamics through direct experience of collective experiments.

Dr Andrew King is an Associate Professor and Behavioural Ecologist conducting research in the field of social behaviour. He works with a variety of group-living fish, bird, and mammal systems, and is most well-known for his work investigating the evolution and ecology of leadership. Dr Ines Fürtbauer is a Lecturer and Behavioural Endocrinologist at Swansea conducting research from a comparative and evolutionary perspective. Her work relies on behavioural observations in the field and laboratory and the application of non-invasive hormone analysis techniques. King and Fürtbauer’s research groups conduct research on a variety of group-living fish, bird, and mammal systems (including humans) in the wild and in the lab, and use novel technologies and analytical tools to access information about interactions at many spatial-temporal scales. Their latest work aims not only to test discipline specific hypotheses, but measure, understand, and predict how social animals deal with rapid changes to their environment.

The ambition of the project was to create experiences and artworks which immerse the participant or viewer within a different realm of collective existence, combining different modes of creative enquiry to explore the relationship between information and aesthetics, being and knowing, and moving between objective measurement and subjective experience. The residency generated digital and interactive artworks which draw on existing research data and develop public experiments which are playful and participatory. Combining artistic and scientific methods, the artworks and experiments employed rules, games and algorithms to test, model and/or observe group dynamics, and mapped behaviours using tracking devices and participatory practices.

Public experimentation largely took place as part of Crowd Control in July 2017, based at Arebyte Gallery, a contemporary space dedicated to New Media and Performance Art located in East London. Situated in close proximity to London’s Olympic Park in Stratford, an area which has undergone dramatic environmental and economic change in recent years, Arebyte provided an accessible base to bring collaborators together with local groups to creatively explore the collective interactions between individuals, groups and their environments.

Continuing on from the Leverhulme residency Heather has been invited to take up the position of Honorary Research Fellow at Swansea University Department of Biosciences, in order to continue to develop collaborative research.