Saturday, November 13
12:00-14:30pm HKT (GMT+8)
This panel centers on the practices at the intersection of microbial ecologies and art, including artistic reflections, art-historical, and theoretical presentations that explore various aspects of human co-existence with microorganisms. The panel comprises contributions that discuss the roles of microbes in soil, human health, food, and culture and engage with artistic investigations of microbial ways of knowing and being, microbial impact on other species, and broader macroecologies.
Register to join the panel here.
An Infinite Cycle of Life and Death in Making Soil by Soichiro Mihara and Yosaku Matsutani
As is well known, soil is composed of a vast number of living and non-living things. Hence, we can consider soil as a milieu where they are intricately entangled with each other. In this milieu, life and death are exchanged incessantly. As a result, a cycle of decomposition of existence is established.
Donna Haraway, David Montgomery, and other scholars have paid attention to soil and to the diversity of life forms, such as microorganisms, therein and have developed various and important discussions that demonstrate skepticism about the human status so far. How has soil been treated in the art world? Certainly, as Christian Feller and others have argued, soil has been shown as symbolic and realistic representations (as we often find in paintings) in the history of art. However, in the development of Land art, Environmental art, Ecological art, BioArt, and Soil art, and the increase in art practice in Multispecies Anthropology, where anthropology and art are fused together, the situation involving soil in the art world has changed significantly. Contemporary artists have also taken an interesting approach to soil and have created related works. One such piece is “Making Soil,” a work created by Soichiro Mihara. In this study, we focus on this work. In “Making Soil,” soil, compost, and composting are placed at the core of the work. Composting is the process of increasing the activity of microorganisms as a component part of soil by adding various organic compounds and providing it with the right amount of oxygen; in other words, increasing the intensity of the entanglement of existence, exchange of life and death, decomposition, and cycle. Soil that has been transformed by this process is what we call compost.
Thus, “Making Soil,” which focuses on soil, compost, and composting with microorganisms as agents, is composed of three parts. The main part is a video of the composting process, distributed on the web (http://compost.mhrs.jp/) in real time. The other part will be the legally approved will of Mihara (currently being prepared). As soon as it is completed, it will be posted on a web video screen. Finally, there will be an “On-Site Dialogue” between Mihara and the guests, which will be superimposed on the web video in real time.
In this presentation, Mihara, as the creator of “Making Soil,” will give an overview of this artwork and discuss the future development of the piece. In the current study, Matsutani, who has been involved in the production of this work as a collaborator, in this paper, will demonstrate what Mihara is trying to express in this work through a comparison with Mihara’s previous art practices and other artists’ artworks involving soil and microorganisms.
Aiming to make art that openly engages with the world, Soichiro Mihara creates systems that employ a wide range of materials, media, and technologies, such as acoustics, bubbles, radiation, rainbow, microbes, moss, air stream, soil, water, and electrons to continually question the here and now. Since 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the East coast of Japan, he has been working on the “blanks project,” which explores the boundaries of the systems that drive modern society. Since 2013, he has participated in residency programs at 12 sites in eight countries from the center of contemporary art to extreme environments, such as polar regions (ars biaorctica), rain forests (labverde), and demilitarized (DMZ) zones (Real DMZ Project).
Mihara has exhibited and awarded internationally; his solo exhibition “The World Filled with Blanks” was held at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien in Berlin in 2013 and the Kyoto Art Center in 2016. Group exhibitions include “Open Space 2017: Re-envisioning the Future” (ICC, 2017), “Elements of Art and Science” (Ars Electronica Center, Linz, 2015–16), “Sound Art—Sound as a Medium of Art” (ZKM, Karlsruhe, 2012–13), residency at 10 sites in eight countries such as SymbioticA (Perth, Australia), DEPO2015 (Pizen, Czech Republic), Kuandu Museum (Taipei, Taiwan), and Do a Front (Yamaguchi, Japan), awarded from Ars Electronica, Transmediale, Japan Media Arts Festival, co-author of “Haptics Hacks” (Asahi Press, 2016), Jury of Prix Ars Electronica 2019 and Finalists of Nissan Art Award 2020. More information about Mihara is available at mhrs.jp
Yosaku Matsutani is currently an Associate Professor of the Faculty of Letters, Department of Philosophy at Kokugakuin University, Tokyo, Japan. He specializes in aesthetic, art and media theory, and visual culture studies. He works on problems of art practices since the aesthetic turn, the relationship among science, technology, and art, and the sensibilities in common among various organisms and things. His published works include papers on art practices in Japan since the 2010s, on the relationship between art and computation in the 21st century, on the aesthetic experience of insects, and on image practices in outer space. His translations from English include Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman (2013).
Performing a Viral Future: Immune Ecologies, Animacies, and the Making of the Microbial Body in Pei-Ying Lin’s Virophilia (2018-ongoing) by Sophie Xiaofei Guo
Conceived two years before the COVID-19 outbreak by the Netherland-based Taiwanese artist Pei-Ying Lin, “Virophilia” is a prescient project which radically imagines an alternative future where pandemics have become common occurrences. Instead of using the twentieth-century metaphor of war for describing the relationship between humans and infectious agents which still pervades the realm of science and mainstream media today, “Virophilia” embraces an ecological perspective to human-virus encounter via a set of culinary design that engages viral agents as active ingredients. Borrowing methods from the emerging discipline of speculative design, she created a scenario of time travel to the past from the future of the twenty-second century where “the government of earthlings” rules the planet. For this government, the hierarchy and binary relationships between humans and non-human creatures are altered. Though viruses as microscopic species are the smallest of all the microbes and cannot be fully defined as living beings, they are treated equally under “the government of earthlings” with other organic lives. Lin has staged numerous “virus dinner performances” with invited participants from different cultural backgrounds, to probe the cultural logic behind their diverse attitudes towards virus and disease.
The artist’s speculative design consists of five steps of human-virus engagements. The first step “Simulating the Viral Experiences” is intended to facilitate the perception of viral existence and generate proactive (instead of passive) relationships with viruses, especially the infectious ones. The second and third steps, “Viral Fermentation” and “Viruses as Active Ingredients,” both involve the design of new texture, taste, and morphologies of food through the mediation of virus. The most radical steps of all, namely the “Dynamic Cuisine” and “Ecosystem Cuisine,” involve the participation of “all agents which possess the ability to digest and replicate,” be they “microbes, animals, humans, or even the semi-living viruses.” Human beings partake in this (eco)system as a source of nutrition for other earthlings to enjoy, and thus become the fodder of beings, subject to the use of others.
This paper argues that Lin’s conscious making of a microbial body and the imagining of a viral future takes its epistemological root in the moment of what science historians have called the “microbial turn” in biological science since the turn of the twenty-first century. It examines Lin’s speculative practice in relation to the changing discourse of immune ecologies and argues that her non-anthropocentric approaches to human-virus relationship can be traced back to the notion of networked immunity—a major conceptual shift in the immune system discourse from the late twentieth century. In opposition to historical conceptions of juridico-political and bodily immunity as defence against external threats, networked immunity embraces an ecological notion of an unstable self as perpetually defined and redefined through the shifting complexity of its interspecies relation. Drawing on Neel Ahuja’s concept of the “government of species” and Mel Chen’s theory of animacy, this paper then explores what potential political potency against the pre-existing neoliberal immunological knowledges that Lin’s work might produce through culinary designs which cause disruptions to “animacy hierarchies.”
Sophie Xiaofei Guo is currently a final-year Ph.D candidate at The Courtauld Institute of Art. She received her B.A. and M.A degrees in History of Art from University College London. Her research investigates the intersections of biotechnology and contemporary art in Sinophone cultures, with a particular focus on gender, sexuality, and race. Her work takes on a transdisciplinary approach and adopts methodologies from feminist theories, queer technoscience, postcolonial theory, and political ecology. Her research interests include contemporary Chinese art, feminism, transnationalism, and decolonial approaches to contagion and disease. Her publications include “Doubting Sex: Examining the Biomedical Gaze in Lu Yang’s UterusMan (2013),” “Gender in Chinese Contemporary Art” published at the Tate Research Center: Asia (2018), and ‘“We Will Infiltrate Your Bloodline”: Biohacking Gender, Trans Aesthetics and the Making of Queer Kinship in the Work of Jes Fan’ (forthcoming book chapter). Apart from academic activities, Sophie is Deputy Project Director at Art Pioneer Studio in Shanghai and is a regular contributor to Wallpaper*, The Art Newspaper (China), Ocula, ArtReview and other art magazines. She has also done invited talks at Chisenhale Gallery in London and UCCA, Beijing. Her upcoming events include the 2021 Intermedia Art Festival organised by China Academy of Art in Shanghai, “Viral Images: Art and Contagion” session at Association for Art History’s 48th Annual Conference, and Candice Lin in conversation with Neel Ahuja at The Courtauld Institute.
The Air is Alive: Tracing and Tasting a Wildfire Loaf by The Center for Genomic Gastronomy
How do wildfires affect the smell, taste, and texture of bread? “Wildfire Loaf” is an ongoing artistic research project to taste, test and genetically sequence the microbial communities of wild sourdough starters made from smoke-tainted wheat. Climate change is increasing the number and severity of wildfires and this has direct implications for how food is farmed, assessed, processed, and eaten. This project focuses on bread for its symbolic value and wheat's status as a key agricultural commodity.
The “Wildfire Loaf” project identifies the locations and the moments when wildfires on or near wheat fields have altered the crop, either by direct burning, through smoke taint, or via the exposure to a pyroaerobiome, a collection of microbes aerosolized and transported by wildfire.
While this investigation uses sequencing technology to explore how smoke taint changes the smell, taste, and microbial composition of sourdough bread starters, it also maps relationships from farm, bakery and biotech lab to land management and climate policy. The work also makes connections across scales—from the microbial to the planetary—to foreground the question: is there a future for wheat farming and daily bread in a time of climate crisis?
In this talk we will contextualize the “Wildfire Loaf” project in relation to our previous work about “Aeroir” (the unique atmospheric taste of place), “Smog Tasting” and where food + agriculture meets microbes (“Endophyte Clubs” + “Microbiotours”).
The Center for Genomic Gastronomy is an artist-led think tank that examines the biotechnologies and biodiversity of human food systems. Launched in 2010 the Center has collaborated with scientists, chefs, hackers and farmers in Europe, Asia, and North America.
Their mission is to:
map food controversies
prototype alternative culinary futures
imagine a more just, biodiverse & beautiful food system.
The Center presents its research about the organisms and environments manipulated by human food cultures in the form of meals, recipes and exhibitions. Their work has been published in Science, Nature and Gastronomica and has been exhibited at the World Health Organization, Kew Gardens, Science Gallery Dublin, Microwave International New Media Arts Festival and the V&A Museum.
Their current research initiatives include: prototyping a Norvegan National Dish, researching Agroforestry and water issues in the Netherlands and mapping, tasting & cooking with crops damaged by wildfires (Wildfire Loaf).
A basic Introduction to the work of Center for Genomic Gastronomy (6 minutes) is available for viewing via: https://vimeo.com/500445443
A deep dive into the methods and process of researching “The Air is Alive: Tracing and Tasting a Wildfire Loaf” pre-recorded for the Culture2Culture Conference (38 minutes) is available for viewing via: https://vimeo.com/593975653/e0857265ec
Human-Candida Affinities as Tactical Biopolitics in the Works of Tarsh Bates by Olga Timurgalieva
The routines of body and food hygienics comprise a substantial aspect of biopolitical arrangements and multispecies life politics. Such multispecies interactions with microbial organisms, especially pathogenic, become even more vital in the face of emerging diseases and epidemics. This talk discusses the works of Tarsh Bates "The Unsettling Eros of Contact Zones" and "Ereignis, Gellassenheit, and Lichtung: Love Story." The two projects, first time presented at the Gallery Central in Perth (Australia) in 2015, feature Candida albicans, a potentially pathogenic yeast that can be benign and harmful for human health depending on the conditions of host-candida interactions. For example, in pathogenic cases, C. albicans brings approximately three quarters of a million deaths yearly worldwide.
In the immersive installation "Ereignis, Gellassenheit and Lichtung: Love Story," a video projection of moving yeast cells “contaminates” the exhibition room, walls, floors, and the bodies of the viewers. With the "The Unsettling Eros of Contact Zones," the artist offers the audience bread produced by utilizing widely-known baker's yeast and uncommon for bakery, potentially pathogenic C. albicans. Instead of the aversion to the yeast as an expected reaction against pathogens, "eros" and "love" in the titles of these artworks rather entice the viewers into experiencing affinity and affection for the microbes, and the sense of kinship with them. Exactly this paradoxical juxtaposition of the potential, sometimes deadly pathogen with the encouragement of the participants to engage with the yeast in the art projects is at the center of this paper.
In 2008, Beatriz da Costa and Kavita Philip introduced the term "tactical biopolitics" in order to describe artistic practices that play with, uncover, and undermine the structures of life governing, institutional approaches, and ideologies of domination (Costa & Philip 2008: xviii). In keeping with this very useful term and interlacing it with the contexts of post-Pasteurian microbiopolitics (Paxson, 2008), this paper discusses the experiences of human-candida encounters facilitated by the artworks. By examining how Bates' artworks subvert prevailing antimicrobial perspectives by activating affective interactions of the exhibition audiences with the potentially pathogenic yeast, this presentation argues that the projects "The Unsettling Eros of Contact Zones" and "Ereignis, Gellassenheit, and Lichtung: Love Story" become the instances of tactical biopolitics.
da Costa, B., & Philip, K. (2008). Introduction. In B. da Costa & K. Philip (Eds.), Tactical biopolitics: Art, activism, and technoscience. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
Paxson, H. (2008). Post-Pateurian cultures: The microbiopolitics of raw-milk cheese in the United States. Cultural Anthropology, 23(1 (Feb.)), 15–47.
Olga Timurgalieva is a researcher, curator, and Ph.D. candidate at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong. Her research investigates the intersections of biotechnology and contemporary art, with a particular focus on interspecies relations.
In 2018, Timurgalieva graduated with a joint master's degree in Media Arts Cultures, having written a thesis entitled, "When Species Meet in Bioart: Multispecies Encounters in BioArt from a Baradian, Post-humanist Perspective." Olga has working experience in art institutions such as V-A-C Foundation (Moscow) and the ZKM |Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe). Additionally, she has co-curated several art exhibitions, including the exhibition, "Here and Elsewhere," at the Kobro Gallery (The Strzemiński Academy of Art) in Lodz and the festival, "Seasons of Media Arts 2019," at the ZKM.
Timurgalieva has presented her research at a number of international conferences. Among them are the Women Against Domination and Oppression Conference (Lodz, 2017), the 10th Beyond Humanism Conference (Poznan, 2018), the 3d Interdisciplinary Conference Taboo-Transgression-Transcendence in Art&Science (Mexico, 2018), the 8th International Conference on Media Art, Science, and Technology Re:Sound (Aalborg, 2019). Recently, Timurgalieva chaired a panel titled, "Interspecies Research and Becoming Animal," at Art Machines 2: An International Symposium on Machine Learning and Art (Hong Kong, 2021).
Becoming (in)visible by Felipe Shibuya
Color is fundamental for any form of life on Earth. Life as we know it, is only possible by the presence of oxygen, in which plants, algae, and cyanobacteria use a greenish pigment–chlorophyll–as a basis for photosynthesis. In nature, color plays different roles in different species, but in general it is responsible for mechanisms that guide evolutionary processes, such as camouflage, aposematism, and communication. Color can materialize at different levels, some of which are not perceptible to humans, for example outside of the visible light spectrum and on a microscopic scale, where bacteria and viruses are found. Bacteria are present in virtually all environments, from human skin to the deep ocean, and are responsible for important biological processes, such as the decomposition of organic matter and the fixation of nitrogen in the soil. Despite their microscopic sizes, bacteria found ways along the evolutionary path to become perceptible to other organisms, through the production of odors and colors. The coloring found in bacteria is the result of the production of several pigments like carotenoid and melanin, which allow them to express a wide color palette, from purple to red. As in other organisms, colors also play a fundamental role in the survival of bacteria, which are proven by science, such as the antibiotic response and as a form of protection against ultraviolet rays and freezing. However, there are still many gaps in the knowledge about how pigment production in these microorganisms can be associated with communication. In this essay, I discuss how the materialization of colors in bacteria can be related to an attempt at communication between the micro and the macro world. Examples for this can be found in scientific literature in the symbiotic associations involving pigmented bacteria; and in the poetic analysis of natural processes like decomposition–in which the bacterium manifests itself through color when another being dies. It is crucial to understand micro and macro world of the materialization of color so that humans can better understand their role in the physical and ecological space, mitigating their impact as a species in nature.
Felipe Shibuya is a Brazilian ecologist and artist who decided to adventure around the world. His journey began when he completed his Ph.D. in Ecology and Nature Conservation at the Federal University of Paraná. He then decided to explore the visual aspects he had included in his research, beyond the purely scientific perspective. He also holds an M.F.A. in Studio Art from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he worked with pigmented bacteria, with the intention of understanding how the colors they synthesize could be communication signals for us humans. Being a scientist-artist enables Shibuya to explore different forms of life, from bacteria to trees, using different methods, from microbiological culture to videos. However, all of his work involves aspects of his own identity, and he always highlights the visuality of nature. Currently, he is a Hyundai Biological Programs Fellow at Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab, at Rhode Island School of Design. Shibuya’s work has been shown in the United States, Canada, Portugal, and Germany, as well as had citations published in important magazines and journals such as National Geographic, Citylab, and Ecology.
More information about the project Becoming (in)visible is available via: www.felipeshibuya.com/invisibilia