Nonhuman Agents in Arts & Culture

Nonhuman Agents takes into account recent philosophical approaches which question anthropocentrism. These discourses emphasise non-human perspectives through object-oriented ontology (Harman and Meillasoux); discuss nonhuman / human encounters (Haraway); postulate a posthumanism (Braidotti); and examine various posthuman performative strategies such as intra-acting (Barad). A new 'de-centring' lets us draw our attention to a reality that can no longer be described in purely anthropocentric parameters.




Workshops & Lectures
Through workshops and lectures, four international artists, living in Berlin, invite the public to think about the non-human by means of selected artistic, performative and scientific methods. Mushrooms, mosses, lichens and bacterial processes, as well as Berlin wetlands, play a central role.


Alanna Lynch | Gut feelings
June 18, 2017

As part of her ongoing research Alanna Lynch has been growing the microorganisms that produce kombucha tea. Through the process of fermentation this symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY) produces a cellulose material that is slimy and smells strongly while wet and can be dried and used as a textile. However, Lynch's interest in working with this life form goes beyond the material properties. Throughout this research Lynch has been actively consuming the microorganisms by drinking the tea. Given that about half of the cells in the human body are bacterial cells and acknowledging the microbiome-gut-brain axis whereby bacteria in the gut have been shown to effect the mind, how people think, feel and even behave, bacteria can be seen as radical in the potential it has to challenge categories such as subject/object, mind/body and human/non-human.
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Margherita Pevere | Anatomy of an inter-connected system
15 July, 2017

Starting point of this seminar is the artist’s research at the junction of visual arts, theoretical inquiry and investigation of biological processes. The seminar will focus on the discourses regarding human-nature relationship in the frame of today’s environmental crisis and how artistic practices involving living organisms and technology can innovatively contribute to the debate. How can artists problematise the complex interconnection between humans and the biosphere in a hyper-technological era? With what kind of aesthetic and ethical implications? The project aims at engaging the audience in a performative discussion with a visual outcome.
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Theresa Schubert | The forestal psyche
25 & 26 August, 2017

The lecture and workshop are based on the artist's long-term artistic research project on living organisms as an artistic material and medium. For this project, Schubert dedicates herself to the potential of slime moulds, mosses and lichens from the forests around Berlin. Slime moulds are the largest known single-celled organisms and live from decaying matter on the forest floor. Certain mosses and lichens are natural remedies as well as indicators of good air quality. Apart from a scientific approach, forests have always been places of myths, legends and fantasies. How can you combine imagination and biotechnology in an artistic project? Can one "demystify" hard science by interpreting it creatively?
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Sarah Hermanutz | ill-at-ease seep
28 October 2017

In her lecture the artist Sarah Hermanutz will discuss the relationship between humans and wetlands, which is the focus in her long-term artistic research. Wetlands are one of the most biologically diverse and important ecosystems for life on earth, but within the past century mankind has destroyed over 50% of them. The artist explores our historical and contemporary relationship with these environments, including the tropes and prejudices that have marginalised them and justified their continued draining and destruction. Engagement with the uncomfortable sensory and aesthetic experience of wetlands is proposed as essential to reintegrating humans within these ecological communities.

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Presentation of Nonhuman Agents
14 September, 2017, 7-11 PM
15-17 September, 2017, 1-4PM
Results from the first three workshops as well as our upcoming Autumn programme were presented at Art Laboratory Berlin during the Berlin Art Week (in cooperation with the Berlin Network of Independent Project Spaces and Initiatives and the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe)



2-day-Workshop
Heather Barnett + plan b (Sophia New & Daniel Belasco Rogers) | Swarm | Cell | City
23 & 24 September, 2017

This 2-day workshop is a participatory experiment on art, performance and biology that precedes the exhibition Nonhuman Networks. The project invites the participants to view the city of Berlin by the nonhuman perspectives of the intelligent single-cell organism Physarum polycephalum and GPS tracking.

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Exhibition
Nonhuman Networks
Heather Barnett
| Saša Spačal with Mirjan Švagelj & Anil Podgornik
Opening: 29 September, 2017 8PM | Exhibition runs: 30 September - 26 November, 2017


Left: Saša Spačal, Mirjan Švagelj and Anil Podgornik, Myconnect, Installation, 2014, Damjan Švarc / Kapelica gallery photo archive;
right Heather Barnett, The Physarum Experiments Study No. 022, Film still, 2016



Nonhuman Networks presents an aesthetics of new forms of communication between human and nonhuman actors. How does the world's largest single celled creature function as a computer? Can we tap into the so-called 'Internet of trees'? Performative works act as enablers for the audience to engage in non-linguistic forms of awareness and contact with several deceptively simple life forms.

Saša Spačal, Mirjan Švagelj and Anil Podgornik combine art, biology and cybernetics to create a platform for inter species communication. In Myconnect the nervous system of a person and fungal mycelium are plugged into a biofeedback loop. By entering the capsule a person is equipped with a heartbeat sensor, headphones and vibrational motors that are placed on various parts of the body. The heartbeat of a person sets the system in motion. The signal travels through the mycelium where it is modulated in real-time. The modulated signal is transferred back to the human body via sound, light and tactile sensory impulses. The overwhelming stimuli that affect the nervous system cause an alteration of the heartbeat. A new loop begins and the circle is closed. A symbiosis of signals begins.

Heather Barnett is an artist, researcher and educator working with natural phenomena and biological design, often in collaboration with scientists, artists, participants and organisms. Utilising living materials and imaging technologies, her practice explores how we observe, represent and understand the world around us. Projects include microbial portraiture, systems modelling, and an ongoing 'collaboration' with an intelligent slime mould, Physarum polycephalum. As one of the world's largest single-celled organisms, the slime mould possesses the ability to solve spatial problems and learn from interactions with its environment. The exhibition builds upon Barnett's unique combination of interdisciplinary research and participatory practice.
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Interdisciplinary Conference
Nonhuman Agents in Art, Culture and Theory

24-26 November, 2017




Finally, an interdisciplinary conference brings together international artists, scholars, and natural scientists from different disciplines to discuss artistic, philosophical, ethical and scientific approaches to nonhuman agents. The previous positions from the Nonhuman Subjectivities series will also be taken into account.

Cooperation partners: European Media Studies, University Potsdam
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Art Laboratory Berlin is grateful for the permanent support of: