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inside an inside forest

All the trees in sight had been hacked away, no longer able to support dreams of hope, dreams of freedom, dreams that take you away from this place. But the forest had long ago learned to shut them out. Now, everything was quiet. Nothing moved. Nothing lived. All was still and cold and dark.

— GPT-2, January 2021

inside an inside forest is an audiovisual and spatial installation focusing on the unseen|unheard entanglements within the forest, the connection between trees and fungi but also the (destructive) traces that humans leave on it.

As in a scientific dissection, elements of a forest have been transferred to the inside of Errant Sound and reconfigured to a new sensory hybrid ecosystem, an experimental techno-organic collage, discussing what it means to be human or not in a world where nature, culture and the digital continue to be more and more intertwined, inseparable even.




The spatial installation consists of a room covered in tree barks that the artist collected and removed from trees in forests around Berlin, they bring their own microcosm of mycelia, lichen, bacteria and insects along. Inside are two monitors displaying videos of makro views of felt trees. The imagery stems from animated and algorithmically morphed photo stills inspired by the idea of physical movement of fluids inside trees. The hypnotic and calm atmosphere stands in contrast to what they depict in original: chainsaw patterns on cut trees, which is rather an imprint of violence.

Additionally, speaker chassis are placed between the tree barks that have been transformed into DIY bioreactors for growing fungi in submerged culture. This experimental setup stems from the artist’s many-year research into material properties of fungi. Here, sinus waves act as a physical stimulation to keep the liquid media in motion, oxygened and growing. The fungi in the speakers is a Reishi culture known as ‘mushroom of eternity’ in TCM. The frequencies also create a geometric pattern on the surface of the liquid knows as cymatic effect. The composition is a 4-channel audio arrangement that takes into account acoustic properties of the gallery and the somatic reception of interferences of sinus waves.

The largest element in the installation is an original hunting seat from the district forester’s office near Berlin. It allows for a shift of viewpoint, literally standing for the position humans feel to have over the rest of the flora/fauna world. The visitor is invited to climb on it, sit as an elevated observer of the room and other visitors, as a hunter does when waiting for animals to shoot. Via headphones, one can listen to an audio piece connecting to the organic materials on the floor.

Between observation, meditation, material experimentation and playful action, inside an inside forest challenges common anthropocentric views towards a zoë-egalitarian awareness.

Thanks

Errant Sound (Janine Eisenacher, Steffi Weissmann)
Revierförsterei Lanke (Klaus Meier, Carsten Hoffmann)
TOP Lab e.V. (Alessandro Volpato)
Margherita Pevere, Kristen Rästas

Sound for Fungi. Homage to Indeterminacy

Sound for Fungi. Homage to Indeterminacy is a generative video that simulates hyphae’s growth and via a hand tracking sensor allows people to interact with these. Thus, a visitor can take on the role of a sound frequency modulating the hyphae growth in real-time and move through the network. The multiplicity of fungi becomes tangible through being able to change perspective in a 3D environment and fluidly shift from a macro view to a cellular level opening up fragile topologies made of nodes, connections and their environment.




This project originates from the Box Experiment.

How do fungi perceive sound?
When Jakob von Uexküll defined his Umwelttheorie at the beginning of the 20th century, one of his main achievements was to perceive the animal as a subject: “every living being has its own space and its own time”,(1) which meant to him that biological processes are to be analysed within their overall context, time and in consideration of their environment. Remembering Uexküll, my idea for the Mind the Fungi residency was to create a situation for fungi that did not necessarily need to be perceivable by humans but stimulate the fungi’s senses. My intention was, to create an experience for fungi that gave them space and time to evolve in novel conditions and to be able to observe their individual response.

Fungi’s distributed amorphous body is the perfect ground for network metaphors, intriguing me not only due to its aesthetics but also by looking at the mycelial being as a philosophy of relations, of process and space. Although the fungi filaments are hidden to our human eyes, as a network in the forests’ earth some connect to tree roots to create a symbiotic hyper-species. These mycorrhiza are able to communicate via biochemical signals and to exchange nutrients.(2) Taking this as a metaphor for fungi and plants “talking“ to each other, I decided to use sound as a medium to interact with them. While researching the influence of sound on mycelium growth, I was surprised that there was nothing published in the area of arboreal fungi, our subject of study. What influence could sound have on their morphology and metabolism? Could sound exposure change mycelium density or strength and hence make it a different design or building material?

The box experiment
For the experiment, I built custom soundproofed boxes that were housing speakers and selected fungi mycelia(3) stemming from our public Walk & Talks. For several weeks, I exposed the fungi to a specific sound frequency. In parallel, I cultivated the same species in silence for crosschecking. I was excited to see that the sound had an effect on mycelial growth and metabolism, presumably because they can perceive the physical stimulation of the sound waves, even if they cannot hear the sound per se.

Over the course of the residency, I repeated the experiment four times, took measurements, documented via photographs and made optical microscopic analyses. With every repetition, I changed the sound frequency. Since there were no available preliminary studies with arboreal mycelium, I based my choice of frequency on research from plant acoustics where a measurable response in roots occurs at 220 Hertz.(4) Further, I tested 110 Hertz and 440 Hertz as continuous sinus wave and on/off intervals of 10-30 seconds. Irrespective of the frequency, I could observe strong responses in most species, in some, the effect was inconclusive.

From lab semiotics to aesthetics

After conclusion of my lab residency, I realized contradictions between my initial idea of facilitating an objective experience for fungi and the unavoidable anthropocentrism where an experiment is always an act of human-imposed control and reduction in contrast to freedom of nature and complexity. A shift in the meaning had already occurred by taking fungi from nature to the laboratory where all of a sudden its Umwelt is constituted by a Petri dish confined space, regulated nutrition, air and temperature and later introducing sound waves as unexpected, possibly irritating, parameters in this setting. Further nourished by my curiosity of understanding the earth-bound(4b) and fascinated by my mycelia observations, I translated the experiment into an aesthetic experience via an interactive video installation entitled Sound for Fungi. Homage to Indeterminacy complemented by arrangements of photos, drawings and diagrams.

Indeterminacy is an improvisational technique developed by John Cage that leaves many parameters of a composition undefined and up to the decision of the interpreter, chance or nature.(5) Mycologist Alan Ryner is linking mushrooms to indeterminacy through their shape-shifting Gestalt. Fungi keep expanding, growing through different life cycles, some in theory even immortal.(6) Here lies another fascination for me because fungi show possibilities for openness and open-endedness, terms used to describe Cage’s compositions as well. I find the Cagean idea of Indeterminacy here particularly apt, as improvisation – not so much as a musical process but understood as a natural life phenomenon – becomes a necessary condition to bridge between “existing and emerging entanglements”(8) and hence  is representing a condition of existence itself. As Benjamin Piekut writes about Cage’s understanding, “(b)eing is an act the outcome of which is unknown.”(7) This acceptance of uncertainty enables spontaneity and emergence, which are principles applied in my artwork.

Developed with Sage Jenson, the resulting installation consists of a code-based generative video that simulates the hyphae’s growth and via a hand tracking sensor allows people to interact with these. Thus, a visitor can take on the role of a sound frequency modulating the hyphae growth in real-time and move through the network. The multiplicity of fungi becomes tangible through being able to change perspective in a 3D environment and fluidly shift from a macro view to a cellular level opening up fragile topologies made of nodes, connections and their environment.

  • (1) Jakob von Uexküll, & Georg Kriszat: Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen, Hamburg 1956 (original edition 1934), p. 167.
  • (2) Marcel G. A. van der Heijden & Thomas R. Horton: “Socialism in Soil? The Importance of Mycorrhizal Fungal Networks for Facilitation in Natural Ecosystems”, in Journal of Ecology 97, 6 (2009), pp. 1139–50; ‹DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2009.01570.x.
  • (3) Pleurotus ostreatus, Fomes fomentarius, Meripilus giganteus, Phellinus robustus, Hypholoma fasciculare, Xylaria hypoxylon, Trametes versicolor, Phlebia radiata.
  • (4) Monica Gagliano, Stefano Mancuso & Robert Robert: “Towards Understanding Plant Bioacoustics”, in Trends in Plant Science 17, 6 (2012), pp. 323–25; ‹DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2012.03.002›.
  • (5) Holger Schulze: Das aleatorische Spiel. Erkundung und Anwendung der nichtintentionalen Werkgenese im 20. Jahrhundert, München 2000, S. 168.
  • (6) Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing: The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton / Oxford 2015 , pp. 46-47; ‹site.ebrary.com/lib/suub/docDetail.action?docID=11094635›.
  • (7) Benjamin Piekut: “Chance and Certainty. John Cage’s Politics of Nature”, in Cultural Critique 84 (2013), p. 136; ‹muse.jhu.edu/article/517439/pdf› [14 May 2020].

Credits

Artist: Theresa Schubert
Simulation programming: Sage Jenson (i: @mxsage)
Affiliated organisations: Art Laboratory Berlin:  + TU Berlin

Mind the Fungi (2018-20) is a collaborative project between the Institute of Biotechnology TU Berlin and Art Laboratory Berlin. Biotechnologists and process engineers are researching local tree fungi and lichens (Prof. Vera Meyer/ Applied Molecular Microbiology; Prof. Peter Neubauer / Bioprocess Engineering). The focus is on developing new ideas and technologies for fungal and lichen based materials for the future. Art Laboratory Berlin bridges the gap between science, art, design and the public and offers various Citizen Science formats. The Artist- and Design-Residencies with Fara Peluso and Theresa Schubert bring in art and design as constructive sources of ideas for this research project.

Publications

Read more about the exhibition at Futurium here.
Video Interview on Twitter

Mind the Fungi. Ed. by Vera Meyer and Regine Rapp, Berlin 2020: order or download here: https://artlaboratory-berlin.org/publications/mind-the-fungi-book/

mEat me

mEat me asks for a re-evaluation of our dealings with meat, one’s own body and materiality in times where technology has entered every part of our society and finally also made our bodies reconstructable, as well as the ethical aspect of laboratory processes. 

The body is not seen as a personality or gender.
The body is seen as an (a kind of) evolutionary architecture.
  —  Stelarc

Many thinkers of posthumanism stress a non-human-centred perspective on the world, that we should assume a more modest role in our dealings with nature and stop hierarchizing species. Artist Theresa Schubert has drawn the radical consequence that if we see the human as an animal, then we should also be material and food. In her project, Schubert demonstrates that this provocation is not science fiction or a morbid dystopia through fearlessly exploiting her own body as a ground for experimentation. Making the human vulnerable can also be understood as a strategy for raising awareness of biopolitical issues and a more conscious dealing with nature and its living beings at large.

In her project “mEat me” a serum, gained out of her own blood, was used to reproduce her muscle cells that had prior been extracted. The resulting cultured meat based on human tissue shifts normative borders and dissolves the consumerist hierarchies between humans and animals to suggest a new perspective on food supply. The resulting performance “mEat me” (Galerija Kapelica 2020) moves between elements of alchemistic practice and futuristic industry, while questioning the inviolability of the human body and criticizing capitalist meat production at the same time.

As an artistic research project, „mEat me“ applies innovative biotechnological advancement beyond a scientific purpose or monetary intent. It engages with the urgent topic of food supply in times of meat mass production and its relevance not only for our consciousness but for our future on this planet. By accepting the current situation, the climate crisis cannot be stopped and if humanity does not realise that buying cheap pork in the supermarket is connected to a global catastrophe there is no chance to adjust our behaviour.




1. Animal farming, climate crisis and COVID-19

The project stems from the criticism of the cruel handling of animals in industrial farming and its environmental impact due to the high C02 emissions, grain and water use. The idea of lab-grown meat as a more sustainable and cruelty-free alternative has been around for several years. Minimising animal farming would contribute to protection of the environment and less global warming.

As long as mass production of meat is still being the predominant practice and reality of today, not eating meat is not only an ethical consequence but also a political statement. „mEat me“ wants to draw attention to those bioethical issues and treat the human as a fleshy resource in a similar way.

Taking a step into another direction, the ‘vitalist-mechanist controversy’ – as mentioned by political theorist Jane Benett – provides further philosophical background for debate. René Descartes, considered one of the first modern philosophers, proclaimed that animals are non-sentient automatons, “they eat without pleasure, cry without pain… their screams are not more than the squeaking of a wheel” [1]. His opinion was already by his coevals condemned as fatuous, murderous and monstrous; yet, looking at industrial farming and the current exploitation of animals for fashion and cosmetics, Descartes approach doesn’t the seem too far from our treatment of animals as machines reduced to produce organic material.

We are alienated these days from the production processes as they happen at places we usually don’t see. The distance between animal farms and cities is continually becomig larger. This disconnection allows easy forgetting where for example the steak comes from.

The COVID-19 pandemic we are experiencing now has added another unforeseeable relevance to the project. A recent article[2] has linked factory farming to the Corona virus. It explains how the animal industrialisation has required more and more space and in consequence, those farms were pushed out of inhabited zones, closer to the forest. Currently the assumption is that the Corona virus may originate from bats, animals that are living in forests and thus get in contact with nearby farmed animals, which as intermediate hosts of the disease have infected humans through consumption.

Bringing these topics with a multimedia artistic research project as an alternative communication to a heterogenic audience serves deeply my ideal to invite and inform. The aesthetic value of „mEat me“acts as a door opener and while following the performance it stands on a metalevel constantly for the paradox how humans destroy the only environment they can live in. I want to open up the discussion to a point which isn’t established yet to widen minds and make an understanding of these all-day issues in a more profound way possible.

2. The cultured meat industry and capitalization

„mEat me“ is also a critique to the ethical image the cultured meat industry presents.

Only by removing sentiency from the meat, we do not solve environmental issues. „mEat me“ also addresses the misuse of technology invented with the intention to capitalize on it.

Another background of the project originates from a criticism of established lab protocols and used media. The promise of a lab-grown meat as a more sustainable and cruelty-free alternative has been around for some years now. This sometimes-called ‘clean meat’ has had usually a big problem stemming from the origin of the culture medium. Most cell and tissue culture protocols are based on using FBS, foetal bovine serum, which might better be called lethal bovine serum, as the living cow foetus is drained from blood until death for its production. For these reasons, the artist wanted to emphasize the use of animal free alternatives in the lab work. In addition, she wanted to elaborate on the cybernetic idea of being able to feed yourself from within. To create a mechanism for self-sustainable nutrition, where the meat cells and nutritious medium comes from yourself – your body as an externalised production unit. How does biotechnology affect the body and its experience?

Just low-threshold information and communication, a dialogue based on facts and ethical reasoning could open eyes and define a more sceptical position towards marketing strategies within a through and through capitalized world. „mEat me“ invites the audience to experience an impulse to collect this information and confront themselves with the reality shown and the reality behind.

3. Cannibalism and animalisation

Cannibalism is one of the big taboos that is still exists in our society. Mostly this topic is never discussed rationally but it is left for apocalyptic, dystopian scenarios in popular culture, series, films, dark zones we do not want to go. Historically cannibalism was also used by the white western men to justify the killing of indigenous communities and conquer ‘new’ territories. Alleged cannibal tribes on e.g. Caribbean islands were compared with animals. A human that consumes another human loses its humanity and becomes animal, a beast without rights. A mediaeval Pope wrote a decree that permitted the killing of cannibals conveniently annulling a capital sin. It would be another area to go into this but some of the historical discrepancy and contradiction was in the background informing my project.

“mEat me” tackles the most fundamental myths of taxonomy and limits of the Self through biotechnology and experiences beyond human exceptionalism.

Credits

Artistic direction: Theresa Schubert
Sound design, interaction and AI: Moisés Horta Valenzuela
Video camera: Hana Jošić
Producer: Kapelica Gallery, Ljubljana
Performance consultation: Margherita Pevere, Mareike Maage
Expert help: Dr. Ariana Barlič, Kristijan Tkalec | Production: Kapelica Gallery / Kersnikova Institute
Partner: Educell company for cellular biology, d.o.o.
Special thanks: Freya Probst – rhizomes (root fabric), Prof. Saša Novak, Kaja Križman – Jožef Stefan Institute, Department for Nanostructured Materials

The project is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, the Department of Culture of the Municipality of Ljubljana, and the Thuringian program for the promotion of young female academics and artists. This project received funding from the Thuringian program for the promotion of young female academics and artists. The program of Kapelica Gallery is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and the Department of Culture of the Municipality of Ljubljana.

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Press

Always Dead and Alive

Always Dead and Alive is a hypnotizing audiovisual piece created from specific Cellular Automata rules. The project investigates modes of perception through creating video scenarios between geometric abstraction and minimalism that challenge our awareness of time and space.

Theresa Schubert’s Always Dead and Alive (2019) is an 8K video environment working with cellular automata (CA). In a coded architecture of abstract geometries, a sequence of self-generative patterns plays out, completed and enhanced by an abstract soundscape. It is an immersive and sensorial work intended to make a digital space experienceable in an organic audiovisual flow of light, color and sound, based on the mathematics of nature.

Cellular automata are mathematical models that can simulate the organic self-organization of cells. Because of having been formulated as rules, CA can be taken beyond the biological and transferred into the digital context. In other words, a cell is translated to a pixel, retaining the seemingly organic, self-generative capacity.




While the basic shape and framework of a pattern is defined by the artist, its actual appearance, motion and morphing are created by the cells or pixels themselves in the ongoing process. They constantly compute anew and adapt to the neighboring ones, leading to their systematic organization and thereby creating visible patterns. Before writing the code with Jörg Reisig, Theresa Schubert chooses the CA based on how capable they are of self-organization, i.e. at recognizing the state of the neighboring cell, adapting and shape-shifting accordingly. Essentially, all they need to know about the neighbor’s state is whether it is dead (0) or alive (1), in a simple binary information set-up. Contrary to the organic cell, a digital pixel can be both simultaneously.

Abstract geometries emerge, blend, morph, disintegrate, fade out and reemerge in a constant flow. The shapes are organically irregular; however, they always adhere to a geometric grid or another type of systematic structure like circles or lines. The visual dimension is enhanced by an abstract ambient soundscape which creates a mysterious, primordial, somewhat extraterrestrial atmosphere. Just like the visuals do, the sound, composed by Jan Skorupa, oscillates between organic and inorganic characteristics. At times, it appears like foaming liquid, bubbling water, trickling sand, cracking wood, rustling foliage, human breathing and secretive whispering, fluidly blending with bell-like chimes and resonant strings, shifting mass, metallic machinery moving through infinity, vastness made audible with minimal elements, an open emptiness interchanging with pixelated density. This ever-transforming soundscape acoustically describes the visual plane with pixels behaving like cells, like organic life breathing and evolving in a digital environment.

In Always Dead and Alive, organic processes unfold within a digital structure. Aspects of living matter (the cell) are applied to hitherto lifeless code (the pixel). The work is an artistic exploration of the interface between life and technology. It applies processual powers of biologic self-organization to intangible mathematical code, describable in zeros and ones, demonstrating the similarities and the possible interconnectedness of the organic and the digital.

Text: Kristina von Bülow




Credits

Artist: Theresa Schubert
Unity development: Jörg Reisig 
Sound composition: Jan Skorupa
Tech Support/Encoding: Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Centre (PSNC), Spin Digital Berlin

Developed during the Immersive Minimalism residency at the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Centre with additional support by Spin Digital funded by STARTS EU. STARTS is an initiative of the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. S+T+ARTS – Innovation at the nexus of Science, Technology, and the ARTS

Further Info

  • Interview with PLATON TV, watch here
  • STARTS Blog: https://www.vertigo-starts-residencies.com/blog-1/category/Theresa%20Schubert
  • Read more about the Immersify EU project here

milieu #01-04

The performance series milieu seeks a change of perspective in the Anthropocene, in which the focus is unalterably on humans and their needs. Despite the knowledge of the catastrophic effects of human actions on the nature and animals, the incalculable effects on the environment and the climate, man is blindly steering towards his own destruction. Ignorance and hybris function as blinders and obscure the view of the consequences of capitalist globalisation, even though the drama is constantly present, people indulge in blindness towards their own actions, their own responsibility.  

Artist Theresa Schubert directs the spotlight far away from people and their self-centredness and devotes herself to the omnipresent invisible, that which constantly surrounds us, that which we carry with us and on us: microbia. In their multiplicity and omnipresence, they carry information about people and their surroundings. Schubert’s performative approach gives the microbes a presence that is perceptible to the human eye: a Petri dish with a diameter of 80 cm lies on the floor and contains a nutrient liquid.

In the first step, Schubert leaves the imprint of her bare feet; in the second, she collects the microbial information in the urban environment. The soles become the carrier that collects that invisible dimension, preserves it and, with the step back into the Petri dish, releases it to the nutrient fluid. Here the microbia can fully develop their expression and evolve into an unseen character image of the environment. The landscapes blur the boundaries between micro and macro; detail shots are as reminiscent of satellite images as they are of cosmic events. Filigree structures meet spreading forms, fine colour gradations meet a rich purple, a distinct geography consisting of fluffy mountains and spongy valleys are drawn by meandering rivers. This aesthetic event not only reflects the multifaceted nature of microbia, but also highlights the importance of the smallest as a decisive force in shaping the world. 

Over three weeks, visitors can observe the microflora in bloom and compare the difference between Schubert’s footprint before and after the urban walk. 

The subject matter is universal, but is brought back to an approachable level by Schubert as individual neighbourhood portraits are formed, drawn and painted by microbia.

“…we can no longer think of ourselves as the only organizing agencies at work in the larger world within which we live out our lives; other agencies than the “one” we each (mis)name as “I” are at work within us, and all around us.”

[1] Shotter, John: »Agential realism, social constructionism, and our living relations to our surroundings. Sensing similarities rather than seeing patterns«, in: Theory & Psychology 24 (2014), S. 306

Text: RAM – Rebel Art Management

Exhibitions

  • 2019 “Bauhausfrauen“, Kunsthalle Erfurt (DE), curated by Susanne Knorr and Kai Uwe Schierz
  • 2019 ECO vs. EGO, Galerie Eigenheim Berlin (DE)
  • 2018-19 Spektrum, Museum of Modern Art Moscow (MMOMA), Russia (RU)
  • 2018 Between Studio and Laboratory / Zwischen Atelier und Labor, curated by Marco Hompes. 24.06. – 03.10. 2018 | Museum Villa Rot
  • 2017 pilote : milieu, CLB im Aufbau Haus Berlin (DE)

Credits

Artist: Theresa Schubert
Assistance: Tea Dezman

The Box Experiment

For artist Theresa Schubert fungi are perfect network metaphors, not only due to their aesthetics but also as a philosophy of relations, process and space. For her Box Experiment she built soundproofed boxes with speakers and selected fungi mycelia stemming from the public Walk & Talks. For several weeks she exposed fungi to specific sound frequencies. Schubert was excited to see this had an effect on mycelial growth and metabolism.

How do fungi perceive sound?
When Jakob von Uexküll defined his Umwelttheorie at the beginning of the 20th century, one of his main achievements was to perceive the animal as a subject: “every living being has its own space and its own time”,(1) which meant to him that biological processes are to be analysed within their overall context, time and in consideration of their environment. Remembering Uexküll, my idea for the Mind the Fungi residency was to create a situation for fungi that did not necessarily need to be perceivable by humans but stimulate the fungi’s senses. My intention was, to create an experience for fungi that gave them space and time to evolve in novel conditions and to be able to observe their individual response.

Fungi’s distributed amorphous body is the perfect ground for network metaphors, intriguing me not only due to its aesthetics but also by looking at the mycelial being as a philosophy of relations, of process and space. Although the fungi filaments are hidden to our human eyes, as a network in the forests’ earth some connect to tree roots to create a symbiotic hyper-species. These mycorrhiza are able to communicate via biochemical signals and to exchange nutrients.(2) Taking this as a metaphor for fungi and plants “talking“ to each other, I decided to use sound as a medium to interact with them. While researching the influence of sound on mycelium growth, I was surprised that there was nothing published in the area of arboreal fungi, our subject of study. What influence could sound have on their morphology and metabolism? Could sound exposure change mycelium density or strength and hence make it a different design or building material?

The box experiment
For the experiment, I built custom soundproofed boxes that were housing speakers and selected fungi mycelia(3) stemming from our public Walk & Talks. For several weeks, I exposed the fungi to a specific sound frequency. In parallel, I cultivated the same species in silence for crosschecking. I was excited to see that the sound had an effect on mycelial growth and metabolism, presumably because they can perceive the physical stimulation of the sound waves, even if they cannot hear the sound per se.

Over the course of the residency, I repeated the experiment four times, took measurements, documented via photographs and made optical microscopic analyses. With every repetition, I changed the sound frequency. Since there were no available preliminary studies with arboreal mycelium, I based my choice of frequency on research from plant acoustics where a measurable response in roots occurs at 220 Hertz.(4) Further, I tested 110 Hertz and 440 Hertz as continuous sinus wave and on/off intervals of 10-30 seconds. Irrespective of the frequency, I could observe strong responses in most species, in some, the effect was inconclusive.

From lab semiotics to aesthetics

After conclusion of my lab residency, I realized contradictions between my initial idea of facilitating an objective experience for fungi and the unavoidable anthropocentrism where an experiment is always an act of human-imposed control and reduction in contrast to freedom of nature and complexity. A shift in the meaning had already occurred by taking fungi from nature to the laboratory where all of a sudden its Umwelt is constituted by a Petri dish confined space, regulated nutrition, air and temperature and later introducing sound waves as unexpected, possibly irritating, parameters in this setting. Further nourished by my curiosity of understanding the earth-bound and fascinated by my mycelia observations, I translated the experiment into an aesthetic experience via an interactive video installation entitled Sound for Fungi. Homage to Indeterminacy complemented by arrangements of photos, drawings and diagrams.

(1) Jakob von Uexküll, & Georg Kriszat: Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen, Hamburg 1956 (original edition 1934), p. 167.
(2) Marcel G. A. van der Heijden & Thomas R. Horton: “Socialism in Soil? The Importance of Mycorrhizal Fungal Networks for Facilitation in Natural Ecosystems”, in Journal of Ecology 97, 6 (2009), pp. 1139–50; ‹DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2009.01570.x›.
(3) Pleurotus ostreatus, Fomes fomentarius, Meripilus giganteus, Phellinus robustus, Hypholoma fasciculare, Xylaria hypoxylon, Trametes versicolor, Phlebia radiata.
(4) Monica Gagliano, Stefano Mancuso & Robert Robert: “Towards Understanding Plant Bioacoustics”, in Trends in Plant Science 17, 6 (2012), pp. 323–25; ‹DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2012.03.002›.

credits

artist: Theresa Schubert

studio assistant: Aoibheann Brady, Simona Dossi

scientific advisors: Prof. Vera Meyer, Bertram Schmidt, Carsten Pohl

affiliated organisations: Art Laboratory Berlin: www.artlaboratory-berlin.org + FG Applied and Molecular Microbiology, TU Berlin: www.mikrobiologie.tu-berlin.de

Mind the Fungi (2018-20) is a collaborative project between the Institute of Biotechnology TU Berlin and Art Laboratory Berlin. Biotechnologists and process engineers are researching local tree fungi and lichens (Prof. Vera Meyer/ AMM; Prof. Peter Neubauer / Bioprocess Engineering). The focus is on developing new ideas and technologies for fungal and lichen based materials for the future. Art Laboratory Berlin bridges the gap between science, art, design and the public and offers various Citizen Science formats. The Artist- and Design-Residencies with Fara Peluso and Theresa Schubert bring in art and design as constructive sources of ideas for this research project.

exhibitions

Futurium Berlin — 2020

publications

‘Mind the Fungi’, publication of 2 year research project

milieu #02

The video ‘milieu #02’ displays bacterial landscapes from my microbal performances and topographies of surfaces. In it, you can see camera movements over the grown bacterial landscape and matter that was involved in the performance (stone, asphalt, gravel, dirt, skin), which results in a poetic study of surfaces and membranes.

“…we can no longer think of ourselves as the only organizing agencies at work in the larger world within which we live out our lives; other agencies than the “one” we each (mis)name as “I” are at work within us, and all around us.”

The performance series milieu seeks a change of perspective in the Anthropocene, in whose focus the human being and his or her needs are immovably placed. Despite the knowledge of the catastrophic effects of human actions on the nature and animals, the incalculable effects on the environment and the climate, man is blindly steering towards his own destruction. Ignorance and hybris function as blinders and obscure the view of the consequences of capitalist globalisation, even though the drama is constantly present, people indulge in blindness towards their own actions, their own responsibility.  

Artist Theresa Schubert directs the spotlight far away from people and their self-centredness and devotes herself to the omnipresent invisible, that which constantly surrounds us, that which we carry with us and on us: microbia. In their multiplicity and omnipresence, they carry information about people and their surroundings. Schubert’s performative approach gives the microbes a presence that is perceptible to the human eye: a Petri dish with a diameter of 80 cm lies on the floor and contains a nutrient liquid.

In the first step, Schubert leaves the imprint of her bare feet; in the second, she collects the microbial information in the urban environment. The soles become the carrier that collects that invisible dimension, preserves it and, with the step back into the Petri dish, releases it to the nutrient fluid. Here the microbia can fully develop their expression and evolve into an unseen character image of the environment. The landscapes blur the boundaries between micro and macro; detail shots are as reminiscent of satellite images as they are of cosmic events. Filigree structures meet spreading forms, fine colour gradations meet a rich purple, a distinct geography consisting of fluffy mountains and spongy valleys are drawn by meandering rivers. This aesthetic event not only reflects the multifaceted nature of microbia, but also highlights the importance of the smallest as a decisive force in shaping the world. 

Over three weeks, visitors can observe the microflora in bloom and compare the difference between Schubert’s footprint before and after the urban walk. 

The subject matter is universal, but is brought back to an approachable level by Schubert as individual neighbourhood portraits are formed, drawn and painted by microbia.

[1] Shotter, John: »Agential realism, social constructionism, and our living relations to our surroundings. Sensing similarities rather than seeing patterns«, in: Theory & Psychology 24 (2014), S. 306

Text: RAM – Rebel Art Management

exhibitions

“Bauhausfrauen”, Kunsthalle Erfurt (DE) 2019 curated by Susanne Knorr and Kai Uwe Schierz

“Spektrum – Future Communities” | MMOMA – Moskow Museum of Modern Art (RU) | 01 December 2018 – 25 February 2019

“Alien Organs – Creating Empathy”, transmediale Vorspiel, Spektrum Berlin (DE) 2019

“Biodesign Here Now” | London Design Week | 15-23 September 2018: www.londondesignfestival.com

“Between Studio and Laboratory” / “Zwischen Atelier und Labor”, curated by Marco Hompes | 24.06. – 03.10. 2018 | Museum Villa Rot, Burgrieden Germany: www.villa-rot.de

credits

Artist: Theresa Schubert

Sound: Peter Kirn soundcloud.com

Growing Geometries – tattooing mushrooms

This artistic project investigates the morphology of fungi and evolution of geometrical shapes on living and growing membranes and ultimately how images can be generated by natural processes.

“In her experimental setups, Theresa Schubert condenses simple organisms to highly complex philosophical questions. Together with the treatment of mushrooms with tattoo needles, their natural growth creates a closer proximity to that of mankind than to that of flora. Via a minimal intervention Schubert succeeds to translate natural phenomena into already underlying creative processes and to transfer them into an investigation of about growth processes of our society.” – Kerstin Godschalk, curator HB55 Kunstfabrik Berlin

The artist wants to investigate how processes inscribed into biological organisms can be used to create art – or more general a creative output. Via a performative intervention Schubert tattooes geometrical shapes into the fungi membranes. The lines embedded into these growing organisms become transformed by living processes. This is a way of using “natural computation” for the self-organization of images. The fungus is, therefore, not only the artist’s canvas, but also an artist itself. Time-lapse images taken over the duration of a growth cycle form the basis for an animation which shows the changing tattoos as white lines against a black background. By reducing it to the essence, a poetic landscape of slowly changing forms develop.

Concept: Can a square become a circle?

“Growing Geometries” draws references to old mathematical questions such as the squaring of the circle and how non-trivial visually simple forms can be when expressed in mathematical formulas. Ultimately the tattoos root in the traditional Bauhaus itself with their school of simplicity and the basic geometrical forms of the circle, the square, and the triangle. Further it is the biological answer to generative and algorithmic design methods where images are created digitally and possibilities of simulations are only limited by imagination of the creator. How can we use abilities inherent in nature to create art that goes beyond making pictures of something pretty? How to succeed in an aesthetic quest with experimental methods, artistic intervention and the biological unknown?

Process

Fungi are being cultivated. I have tested Pleurotus ostreatus, Agaricus bisporus, and Agrocybe aegerita; Lentinula edodes, Macrolepiota procera. A tattoo machine as used for human skin is the tool. The pileus is tattooed when it is still small (about 2-3 cm diameter). While the cap is growing, the shape of the mushroom membrane expands – hence the tattooed image changes as well. For the tattoos artist drawing ink or food colouring is used in the colours red, green, and blue. After tattooing the mycelium is left alone for growing, measurements of the mushroom heads and the tattoos are taken. The data is collected for analysis of the changing shapes.  For the installation an automated, programmed water supply system was put into place. Also there is a custom-made observation system based on raspberry pi and a camera to show a time-lapse on a connected screen. In addition, the technique of permanent imprinting of images in membranes was important for this project. I decided to use tattoos because this method produces images that are resistant to moisture, painted shapes would become washed out by the high humidity on the fungi. The cultivation of mycelium and the choice of fungi as material underlie my interest in rhizomatic structures as a biological and sociological phenomenon, not least influenced by Deleuze / Guattari’s application of the rhizome as a metaphor for a poststructuralist model of knowledge organization and distributed organization without hierarchies. The numerous connections between root system and aboveground excrescences of a plant, this plurality call Deleuze / Guattari “plateau”. In this sense, different approaches and perspectives can be freely linked in the rhizome without regard for given structures.

Presentation

At the heart of “Growing Geometries” is an installation consisting of the mushroom observatory table in combination with electronic technologies and visual media, with optional photographs and drawings, as well as older videos of fungal growth. There is a self-developed observation system based on a networked Raspberry-Pi and a camera, which saves photos at a reasonable interval and automatically generates a video from it. The time-lapse film is shown in the exhibition on a monitor. The process is accessible via an IP on the Internet and can be controlled by me from a distance. This makes it possible to check the growth process and to forward nursing instructions to the exhibitors.

Based on that, I produced the digital animation entitled “morphological twists,” which shows only the changing tattooed geometries as white lines against a black background. For the production process, I put photos from the time-lapse into the background, which I removed again at the end. By reducing it to the essence, a poetic landscape of slowly changing forms develop.

Exhibitions

2019 Shared Habitats, MO – Museum of Modern Arts Vilnius (LT)
2019 Ars Electronica Festival (AT)
2018 “A New State of the Living” at PERMM Museum of Contemporary Art Gent (BE), November 28, 2018 – February 17, 2019 (LIVE)
2017 “Shared Habitats” at NCC Taiwan, November 2017
2016 Update_6, Zebrastraat Gent (BE), November-December 2016 (LIVE)
2015 ArtLaboratory Berlin, August-September 2015 (LIVE)
2015 HB55 Kunstfabrik Berlin, June 2015

Credits

artist: Theresa Schubert
raspberry programming: Falk Röder
exhibition set-up assistance ArtLaboratory: Ann-Kathrin Meier
sponsors: Hawlik Pilzbrut, chido’s mushrooms

Bauhaus-University Weimar, Prof. Ursula Damm

Variations for Machine Vision

An ongoing series of drawings where I am acting as a machine interpreting the movements of organisms seen through a microscope and transcribing them on several shets of transpraent paper overlaying each other.

The background drawing represents amoeba inside a petri dish filmed under a microscope with 100x magnification. Looking at the video over and over again I ‘performed’ their chaotic movement by drawing pencil lines. Hence the minute-long video is compressed into one frame. The overlaying visualization on tracing paper looks at this organic behavior as with the eyes of a machine. Making the drawings, I was imagining to ‘see’ like a machine and look for a mathematical structure, a way to analyze the picture by lines and numbers and find additional meaning it by applying invented rules of formalization and structuring.

#biocybernetics #machinevision #humanimperfection #naturedriven #experimentaldrawing #meditativelines

On Forest Creatures (DIY bio lab)

Researchers analyse the human brain to learn how intelligence can be programed. But what can we learn from organic substances and bio intelligence? Slime Mold is a growing organism with a spatial intelligence. In a DIY biolab the intersections between art, biology and technology has been investigated. Visitors interacted – digitally and analogue – with growing organisms from mycomyxetae to fungi.
concept text

As part of hub.berlin 2017, Retune presented the work of 10 Berlin based artists in a Digital Arts Lab. Highlighting art as an ongoing process and as a result of a human-technological collaboration: In a constant dialogue between trial and error, revision, improvisation, rejection and remaking.

The Lab consisted of a process-exhibition, workshop sessions and talks. It offered a peek into the creative process and its approaches.

credits
artist: Theresa Schubert
assistance: Tea Dezman

exhibition: digital arts lab @ hub.berlin // 28 Nov 2017

curated by Retune Berlin (Jasmin Grimm, Julian Adenauer)

somniferous observatory

A series of photographs based on experiments to grow a species of slime mold inside glass flasks of 100-1000ml, observing the self-organisation and pattern formation of physarum polycephalum under the influence of psychoactive and somniferous substances.

somniferous observatory is a series of photographs based on experiments to grow a makro-species of slime mold inside glass flasks of 100-1000ml, observing the self-organisation and pattern formation of Physarum polycephalum under the influence of psychoactive and somniferous substances.T

The pictures document the morphology of Physarum polycephalum inside 3-dimensional environments. It is dealing with questions of life, consciousness and control by using a simple organism in DIY laboratory setups.

The underlaying question was if substances with sleep inducing effect on humans have a visible and measurable influence on the formation and communication process of this very simple organism – or if it is just random (not connected).

These experiments are a creative re-enactment of the scientific experiment with by zoologist Hans Peters and pharmacologist Peter Witt from 1948. In search for an organism to test the influence of drugs on the nervous system, they fed drugs to spiders and compared the created webs. As spiders react to drugs in a rather different way than humans they soon abandoned the experiments. I felt inspired by the weird study and transferred it to the morphology of slime moulds.

exhibitions

2019 Manifest of Practice Bauhaus-Universitätsausstellung in der Thüringischen Staatskanzlei Berlin (DE)
2019 In Media Reas Kunstverein Arnsberg (DE)
2018 Living Laboratory Ausstellung zur Langen Nacht der Wissenschaften, Futurium Berlin
2018 Zwischen Kunst und Labor, Museum Villa Roth
2018 Laboratory for Network
2018 Welterfindung – Zwischen Atelier und Labor Museum Villa Roth (DE)2016 pilote : pilote, SEZ Berlin
2016 Translocations | Musrara Mix, Jerusalem
2016 REFRESH Conference by Labiotech Berlin
2015 Growing Geometries – Evolving Forms – solo show | ArtLaboratory Berlin
2014 Ausgewählt – exhibition of alumni and scholarship holders of the Bauhaus, MDR Intendanz Leipzig
2014 Liste -Berlin art fair, Postbahnhof
2012 bio:logic speculations | Basics Festival, Salzburg, www.argekultur.at

documentation

album on: vimeo.com

Chroma + Phy

Chroma+Phy is a speculative design for a living wearable made from colour changing cells. The underpinning idea is, that in a future far away or close, on planet earth or in outer space, humans will need some tools to help them in their social life and day-to-day routine. Chroma+Phy enhances the body for an aggression-free and healthy life in extreme habitats.

concept text

»Chroma+Phy« is a speculative design for a living wearable made from colour changing cells. It combines the protoplasmic structure of the amoeboid acellular organism Physarum polycephalum and the chromatophores of the reptile Chameleon. Chroma+Phy enhances the body for humans in extreme habitats for an aggression-free and healthy life.

Speculation

Let’s imagine we live in outer space, somewhere far away from our orbit:

  • There is no day or night-time anymore as the human body is used to. Chroma+Phy is showing night-time by darker colours or black. Thus humans are able to follow their circadian rhythm and minimising risk of sleeping disorders or other relating health issues.
  • UV-radiation from a sun will be very high. Human skin will need a measurement device to tell them when radiation levels are getting too high. Physarum polycephalum is an excellent light sensor. It prefers darker environments thus it would try to move away and change its physical pattern.
  • Chroma+Phy can measure temperature and air humidity and reacts with colours thus the wearer can take steps to counter dehydration. It can sense the body temperature of the wearer and the heart beat through vibration. Accordingly it will make an interpretation of our current emotional state by changing colours, which will help deciding how or if to communicate with fellow humans.

Future Manual: Chroma+Phy comes in a box, ready to be applied directly onto the skin. It sits between a transparent layer of special medical adhesive silicone, that is permeable to air, humidity and temperature.

The Hybrid

The slime mould Physarum polycephalum has a complex life cycle. In its most active phase it looks like an amorphous yellowish mass with networks of protoplasmic tubes. The plasmodium behaves and moves as a giant amoeba. It is possible to divide the plasmodium and it will live on as separate entities or merge with another blob to one. It is a large single cell capable of distributed sensing and primitive memory. The most prominent feature of the reptile Chameleon is its ability to change colours. Its function is in social signalling, in reactions to temperature and other environmental conditions. Colour change signals a chameleon’s physiological condition and intentions to other chameleons. Chameleons have specialised cells, chromatophores, which contain pigments in their cytoplasm in three layers below their transparent outer skin. Dispersion of the pigment granules in the chromatophores sets the intensity of each colour, which can change due to rapid relocation of their particles of pigment.We use this specific function of colour change combined with the decentralised logic of Physarum and its ability to attach and connect to any surface ignoring all gravitational laws. Inside the membrane Physarum is filled with cytoplasm. Through genetic manipulation Physarum’s membrane and cytoplasm can be merged with Chameleon’s chromatophores mechanism. For our research we design a series of in vitro experiments that mark first steps towards the realisation.

Discussion

In the design proposal change in colour and tone of the hybrid organism indicate the intensity of the wearer’s emotions, the percentage of outside humidity/radiation, the temperature as well as the circadian rhythm. This helps to understand the human body and to improve communication when living in extreme environments. It is a speculative design, although it exceeds pure fiction as a lot of experiments towards living wearable, modification and control of Physarum polycephalum, chromatophores functionality, and novel silicone substrates can be made in reality.

Chroma+Phy is also addressing the issue of privacy. Are we moving from a society of omnipresence of digital information to a society where biotechnology will directly access our body to retrieve its information? Research into so-called epidermal electronics, which can track and monitor health aspects, is already undergoing. Anticipating this my living wearable is making humans transparent as even intimate information becomes publicly visible. Apart from the benefits for one’s health Chroma+Phy should be an ironic overstatement on our nowadays common expectance to be able to find out everything about one person online. In the age of facebook, twitter and other social networks we can decide to publish everything from private to political information. With special mood apps we can track our emotional state day by day and get an analysis or visualization over time, our very own personal psychiatrist always with us on our mobile device but – purely based on the capacity of algorithms and the software developers behind it. In a future where a living wearable would also be able to read our body information and make interpretations about its processes, privacy will be taken out of our hands by an autonomous living machine.

exhibitions

2016 Retune Festival, October 2016

2014 “Genesis” at Ars Electronica Center Linz, August 2013-14

2013 “When worlds collide”at KIBLIX – platform for art-science-technology, KIBLA Maribor Slovenia, Oct-Nov 2013

credits

artist/author: Theresa Schubert

scientific advice: Rüdiger Trojok

The production of Chroma+Phy was funded by Studiolab, a project by the European Commission, FP7 Capacities and administered by Ars Electronica Futurelab: studiolabproject.eu

The research was partly supported by the European Commission grant “Physarum Chip: Growing Computers from Slime Mould”, within FP7 Collaboration and the sub-scheme Unconventional Computation.

VIDEO CREDITS
camera/light: Kristefan Minski, Ben Olsen
assistance and make-up: Silke Müller

PHOTO CREDITS
Theresa Schubert

Thanks to Ars Electronica Center, Ars Electronica Futurelab, masi design and Kepler Salon Linz

links + press

STUDIOLAB BLOG: community.studiolabproject.eu

Interview by Lucija Smodis and Matej Kristovic: www.youtube.com

bodymetries

In bodymetries visitors can interact with a computer simulation of the acellular slime mould Physarum polycephalumbodymetries explores possibilities of mapping the human body using the spatial logic of this organism. The title combines body and geometry. It is a generative projection environment for body-morphology computation based on the behaviour of this amorphous organism.

WHEN THE EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS SHIFTS FROM BIOLOGY TO SOFTWARE TECHNOLOGY THE BODY BECOMES THE OLD HARDWARE ENVIRONMENT. THE HUMAN BODY IS NOW A PROBE, A LABORATORY FOR EXPERIMENTS. IN THE ELECTRIC AGE WE WEAR ALL MANKIND AS OUR SKIN.

(MARSHALL MCLUHAN, THE BOOK OF PROBES, 2003)

bodymetries – mapping the human body through amorphous intelligence” is a generative projection environment and interactive application for body-morphology. bodymetries explores possibilities of mapping the human body based on the behaviour of the spatially extended disorganized single cell organism Physarum polycephalum.

This project roots in Theresa Schubert’s, the artist, personal question what would be the shortest path to connect moles on her body. Through genetic heritage and environmental factors the artist developed a greater number of melanin spots, which she wanted to explore in terms of genesis and visualisation of its distribution. Researching these topics she learned about the living organism Physarum polycephalum, who is known best for its decentralised intelligence and its abilities to construct optimal spatial networks. Known as true slime mould, this huge yellow amoeba possesses some fascinating characteristics.

Skin is the largest perceptual organ of our body, which marks the frontier between the inner and the outer world. It is more than a mere surface, also an interface that communicates as well as an internal memory for environmental influences over time. Being inspired by Marshall McLuhan’s vision of the human body as “a laboratory for experiments” (Culture is our Business, 1970), bodymetries addresses this theme in a generative installation.

Based on the lab experiments, the interaction between melanin concentrations and innervation was imitated with slime mould. A multi-user framework for network visualisations simulates slime mould behaviour rules. Physarum is an experimental substrate for network optimisation and an ‘agent’ for solving distributed geometrical problems. It sees the world as attractants and repellents, providing an experimental analogue for many abstract and physical models. It reacts to stimuli similarly to human skin, e.g. damage by excessive sun exposure = negative phototaxis. The project applies a different method of de-centralised cell organisation to the human body by letting people being emerged into the morphogenesis of Physarum. It challenges the way we perceive our bodies through bio-inspired computing.

description

In bodymetries visitors can experience virtual slime mould growth on their skin. Visitors enter a semi dark room with a bar table in the center. Some wobbling blobs appear on a small sections of the surface. Visitors are invited to lay their arms onto the desk. The system ‘scans’ it by taking and analysing a picture. The slime mould algorithm starts to grow from the darkest area it can find on the skin. First it starts to explore its world and it learns about the environment (genetic algorithm), which is defined by the shape of your arm and the characteristics of your skin. The virtual slime mould recognises dark areas as “food” and its energy level rises when it finds many points. Then an optimisation process begins where it tries to improve the connection between dark areas (moles and shadows between fingers, wrinkles etc). The installation is a multi-user setup and has four independent scanning zones.

credits

Theresa Schubert, Michael Markert, Moritz Dreßler

Scientific collaboration: Andrew Adamatzky
Additional technical support: Jayson Haebich
Developement of web-app: Falk Röder

This project received funding by:
LinzImpuls Förderung, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar Kreativfonds, European Commission and FP7 project Phychip

exhibitions

2016 Musrara Art Mix, May 2016, Jerusalem (IS)

2015 ArtLaboratory Berlin, Sep 2015, Berlin (DE)

2014 Prix Cube, Nov- Dec 2014, Paris (FR)

2014 KW-Institute for Contemporary Art, October 2014 Berlin (DE)

2013 Totall Recall, Ars Electronica Festival 2013, Sept. 5-9 Linz (AT)