«Recuperation is still possible, but only in multispecies alliance, across the killing divisions of nature, culture, and technology and of organism, language, and machine»
Contemporary man can no longer see himself as a lord of creation, but as part of a wider community comprised of a multitude of both biological lifeforms and technical systems. The previously invisible links that maintained our planet’s eco-systems are under threat: our climate is changing; biotic communities are collapsing as the species crucial to their existence fall into rapid decline. Old Anthropocentric approach to our relationship with the Other must change – in place of control, subjugation and motivation, we need to find new ways of working with the non-human.
We have never truly been alone: we have always been surrounded by a multitude of companions, organic and inorganic. The search for new ways of communication with the Other not only guarantees mutual survival and prosperity, it expands the boundaries of our understanding and self-knowledge.
How can we develop an awareness of ourselves as part of an ever more complex and dynamic relationship with the Other: from plants and bacteria to minerals and AI? The non-human communicates differently than us, so new languages and interfaces are needed. Artists, scientists, engineers and specialists in machine learning are coming together to propose these new interfaces and give viewers a chance to experience them.
The artists whose work is featured in this exhibition integrate visitors into hybrid communities; part human, part non-human, part semiotically engineered systems that act as intermediaries between them. Once, this was the role of the Shaman (‘Shamanism is essentially a form of cosmic diplomacy’), who allowed the voice of the Others to enter. Today, that place can be taken by modern technologies that bring the Others to life in us.
Art works invite viewers to open themselves to the Other and explore many new pathways of interaction with it, revealing and feeling of unity with all Earth’s creatures. Thinking and acting in accordance with this unity, no longer building barriers between us and the Other, is the only means of survival on a damaged planet.
The eleven large-scale projects presented at the exhibition bring artists together with scientists and engineers to invent new technological interfaces for interaction and collaboration with non-human agents. They help radically different natural entities make contact and try to understand one another.
Specially for the exhibition, artist Danya Vasiliev created a new work — the installation WannaScry! — in collaboration with Kaspersky Lab, a long-term partner of Laboratoria Art & Science.
We have identified three artistic strategies that can help us to enter into dialog with the Other.
You can see what is hidden from mankind: thanks to AI, you can visualize the magnetic field of the Earth; you can feel the magnetite through the eyes of robot; the digital footprints of other visitors are preserved within the memory of a Palantir; and AI is reimagined from the perspective of an octopus.
0(rphan)d(rift) (Great Britain) If AI was an octopus 4-channel video installation, 2019 Photo: Yuri Palmin What if AI was not based on human perceptions, but on those of an octopus? The artists sought ways to counter AI models designed for surveillance or prediction, and drew inspiration from the experiences of cephalopods, with their distributed nervous systems and flexible adaptation to their surroundings. They strive to accept the plastic and fluid ‘otherness’ embodied by the octopus. With deliberate ambiguity between figures and background, the relationship of frames and images gives the viewer a fluid, multi-layered and non-fixed sensory experience that evokes the perception of non-human beings: ocean dwellers and artificial intelligence. Video text translated by Anna Smirnova Special thanks to Hello IO
Ralf Baecker (Germany) Mirage Robotic neuroinstallation, 2014 Photo: Yuri Palmin Could a machine imagine the Earth magnetic field? This robotic neuroinstallation reads data about our magnetic field and then, in its ‘dreams’, depicts its possible landscapes and shows them to the viewer. Based on the output of a neural network, a 48-string robotic system deforms a flexible mirrored sheet which scatters a red laser beam across itself. As a result, a 3D map of the magnetic field begins to float through the air. This ‘Dreaming Machine’ puts us in contact with the Earth magnetic field, something we rarely notice even though it is always around us and determines our lives.
Danja Vasiliev (Russia – Germany) WannaScry! Participatory network installation, 2021 Photo: Yuri Palmin WannaScry! makes us think about privacy, including the risk of our personal and biometric data being intercepted online, for example by a video conferencing system. ‘Palantir’ lets the viewer join a video conference with other visitors and records that conversation. In observation mode you can see a world of digital footprints collected by the work: portraits of chat participants past and present, transcripts of their messages, and read and recognized biometric data and geo-locations. The name of the project and the term ‘palantir’ were carefully chosen. WannaScry! refers to the magical crystal ball that helps people to ‘scry’ or see the future. WannaScry! also references the 2017 WannaCry network worm that encrypted data and demanded a ransom to release it. WannaScry! Mixes the past and the present in the user’s eyes and forces us to think about protecting our personal data, because any online activity will leave footprints on the internet. This project was created specially for the LABORATORIA Art&Science Foundation Supported by Kaspersky Instruction: Scan the QR code or type WANNASCRY.ME into the browser on your mobile device; to join the video call, click OK after accepting the terms.
::vtol::, Alexandra Gavrilova (Russia) Optional attraction Robotic installation, magnetite, 2021 Photo: Yuri Palmin Every contemporary electronic device is created from electronic components which, in their turn, are made from minerals. Specific properties of crystals of certain minerals make it possible to implement varied functions and create every imaginable electronic component: resisters, LEDs, transistors, etc. Producing modern electronics may be incredibly complex and technologically advanced, but the raw minerals have almost the same properties as the finished components: they can glow, act as semiconductors or generate electronic resistance. This installation’s central element is a huge cluster of magnetite crystals. Magnetite is a semiconductor with a weak but easily measured conductivity. Installed at the center of the work, the rock sample is constantly ‘felt’ by special electrodes that measure that conductivity. Within this large cluster, where individual crystals of different sizes have a different fit and polarity, it becomes a kind of data matrix where different points have different resistance. Yet the grid of this matrix is unpredictable, and is chaotically constructed: sometimes, two adjacent crystals conduct a current between themselves worse than two distant ones, or vice versa. By touching the crystals in different places, the object takes measurements of electrical conductivity and the resulting data is displayed onscreen as graphs that resemble a rugged landscape reminiscent of the magnetite itself. It produces a kind of electrical topography, created by an algorithm, which visually resembles the object being measured. A further algorithm uses these graphs to generate different parameters for sound synthesis. The installation is an automated entity, as if realizing itself by touching itself. It does not simply feel its shape or measure its properties, but refers to its very nature, the proto-materials from which contemporary digital systems are created.
You can communicate with things whose languages are understood by us for the first time: appear as a tree to another tree; using AI, attempt to understand the language of birds; witness a dialog between AI, bacteria and psychic; observe an experiment on synchronisation of brain activity via non-verbal communication; and receive a poetic message from AI specially tailored to your emotional state.
Agnes Meyer-Brandis (Germany) One Tree ID — How to become a tree for another tree Biochemical installation, 2019 Photo: Yuri Palmin A biopoetic and biochemical odour communication installation and experiment between an individual tree and humans. In the natural world, smells play a role in the system of communications between trees. Agnes Meyer-Brandis gives you the chance to be part of this communication and hold a conversation with a tree. The artist worked with scientists to collect aerosol samples containing volatile organic samples that determine the scent of the selected tree. These substances were then synthesized in a laboratory and turned into the basis of a perfume that could make you become a tree for another tree. On a biochemical level, this offers an opportunity to enter into a conversation that is invisible and inaudible by its nature. Thanks to the ‘Mega Sad’ Garden Center for its support.
Jenna Sutela (Finland) nimiia cétiï Video, 12’ 02”, 2018 Photo: Yuri Palmin The artist uses machine learning to create a new written and spoken language. This language is based on a computerized interpretation of a ‘Martian language’ derived from the visions of the late 19th-century Swiss psychic Helene Smith. Today, Sutela’s project is giving a voice to this language and its texts are generated by the movements of the extremophile bacterium Bacillus subtilis nattō, which the latest space experiments suggest could live on Mars. The machine becomes a medium, which transmits messages from entities that cannot usually be heard and thus helps to connect with worlds outside our consciousness. This work was created in partnership with Memo Akten and Damien Henry. The artist would like to thank zoologist Keiran Bates, musicians Adam Lashinger, Miako Klein and Shin-Joo Morgantini, sound engineer Ville Haimala and 3D designers Manus Nijhoff and Leith Benkhedda.
Nina Rajcic and SensiLab (Австралия) Mirror Ritual Interactive neuroinstallation, 2021 Photo: Yuri Palmin Can machines sense and perceive human emotions? Could they support us, empathize, or respond to our inner doubts? Mirror Ritual reads the emotions of the viewer and uses machine learning to interpret and react to them. Every time a person appears in front of the mirror, the machine responds with a unique poetic message, generated by the machine. By addressing the manifestations of our moods and engaging in a poetic dialog, Mirror Ritual gives us an impetus to reflect freely on how we feel right now.
Marina Abramovic (Serbia – USA) Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze Performance – neuroscientific experiment, video, 9’ 00’’, 2012 Photo: Yuri Palmin In this experiment Marina Abramovic explored the phenomenon of non-verbal communication with a group of Russian neurophysiologists. The experiment seeks to test the hypothesis that our brains’ activities will synchronize when we look into the eyes of another person. The participants took part in three 30-minute sessions: direct eye-to-eye contact, looking into one’s own eyes through a mirror, and looking into the eyes of another through a mirror. In each session, EEG devices recorded the mental states of the participants. This neuroscientific experiment embodies the question of the exchange of energy between performer and audience, something that has long interested Abramovic. The experiment was prepared by Professor Alexander Kaplan and researcher Arina Kochetova at the laboratory of neurophysiology and neuro-computer interfaces at Moscow State University.
Helena Nikolone (Russia) The language of birds Video, 2’ 44”, neural networks, 2018-2019 Photo: Yuri Palmin The artist explores the possibilities of artificial intelligence in the context of bio-semiotics. Just like human language recognition, machines can distinguish bird phonemes — minimal fragments of repeated elements with a semantic meaning. In the first stage of the project, Helena Nikolone trained a neural network with recordings of a nightingale’s song, creating a situation where two non-human elements communicate: birds and AI. In this case, AI is not a mediator or an interface for communication, but a fully-fledged participant that can help us understand birds through language. In the second stage, the artist used machine learning to form the basis of an interpreter-translator from bird language into human language. AI becomes a universal tool to study the structure of bird language. It acts as a mediator between man and nature, facilitating understudy and interaction. This project was created in conjunction with AI specialists Nikita Prudnikov, Natalya Soboleva, Konstantin Yakovlev and ornithologist Veronika Samotskaya. The project was created with the support of the Garage museum.
Symbiosis — the most engaging interaction, in which the artist offers viewers the chance to become one with the Other. See how the artist mixes her blood with a horse’s blood, boost your happiness hormone levels by breathing in soil bacteria, and integrate your microbiome into the ecosystem of an installation.
Sasa Spacal (Slovenia) Earthlink Interactive biotechnology installation, 2018 Photo: Yuri Palmin Breathing in and breathing out connect us with our environment and the planet as a whole. How is this transformed when environmental conditions change, and how are we transformed when we are in symbiosis with the Other? The Earthlink installation is a closed ecosystem in four parts, connected by pipes that exchange air: Inspiration, Expiration, Symbiome and Biome are open to coexistence with humanity and lead us towards an experience of a post-human reality. Inspiration is a breathing station that allows viewers to inhale air enriched with the Mycobacterium vaccae soil bacteria. These can improve our mood, ease anxiety and boost mental acuity. But the technology is unstable: the algorithms that control the respiration masks do not always guarantee a timely air supply nor a uniform enrichment with the bacteria. What happens when a process as intimate as breathing is mediated by technology? This project was created with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, the City of Ljubljana and Projekt Atol.
Art Orienté Objet (France) May the horse live in me Video documentary of a bioperformance, photos, 2011 Photo: Yuri Palmin The artist Marion Laval-Jeantet carried out an experiment on herself in an attempt to bridge the gap between humans and animals. She mixed her own blood with a horse’s blood by injecting herself with equine immunoglobin. Laval-Jeantet spent several months preparing for her performance. The artist called this process Mithridatization, in memory of the Hellenic king Pontus Mithridates VI, who built up an immunity to poisons by ingesting small quantities of them each day. In this work the combination of human and animal is a metaphor for the unity of nature and an allusion to the mythical centaur. Art Orienté Objet critiques the established belief that species are entirely separate from each other and that our bodies are hermetically sealed and impenetrable. The possibility of mixing blood demonstrates a relationship between human and horse.
As a part of a public educational program of the exhibition the international interdisciplinary conference “Art&Science: The Art of Communication to the Other”took place. Conference raised questions of cohabitation, hybridity, multispecies dialogue and surviving together.