DAY 1 | THURSDAY, 4 February 2016

Mind of Mold and Man

Hans-Günther Döbereiner
Institut für Biophysik, Universität Bremen

Humans and slime molds are distant cousins. Whereas animals, plants, and fungi evolved into multicellular organisms, slime molds remained mostly at the cellular level during evolution. Nevertheless, they are capable of forming an extended tubular network out of a single giant cell containing multiple nuclei in order to forage. These structures allow slime molds to solve complex optimization tasks. In other words, the network decides where and when to grow or shrink as food sources get connected and/or unfavorable regions are avoided. We conjecture that slime molds follow basic decision processes analogues to simple heuristics governing human behavior.

Recently, the physical and biological foundations for this behavior were discussed at PhysNet 2015 hosted by Columbia University, New York City. I will present an overview of talks given at this unique workshop on Physarum Transport Networks, as well as touch upon the exciting Arts & Science events initiated by PhysNet, developed by Heather Barnett, and hosted by Suzanne Anker at the School of Visual Arts, Genspace, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Finally, I will present elements of our own research program aimed at deciphering the morphology and topological dynamics of slime mold networks and other forms of foraging. Especially, we have found that severely starved Physarum Polycephalum plasmodia send out satellite scouts radially from the point of inoculation prior to network formation. Simple scaling relations for satellite number and area are discussed. Generally, we find that network topology plays a pivotal role in slime mold behavior. Whereas humans are typically connected in so-called small world networks, where most people are linked to each other via a small number of intermediates, slime molds usually form neighborhood networks with local connections only.


William Myers The Gnawing Invisible
Ursula Damm Shared experiences

This first panel is dedicated to the topic of bioart in theory and practice. Writer and curator William Myers will introduce us to the manifold concepts of bioart. Connecting bioart to historical movements like surrealism he elaborates on how bioartists respond to the advances of biotechnology and life sciences. In this way bioart is not only concerned with the investigation of living materials, it is also a critique to recent ecological and socio-political changes that the Anthroposcene has brought upon us.

Artist Ursula Damm will present her art projects that not only investigate the mechanisms of living organisms but what is more include them in the exhibited installations. For many years Damm studied swarm formation in nature. For »the outline of paradise« she cultivated midges in a controlled environment that allows the conditioning of their swarming behavior. In »the greenhouse converter« an ecosystem for algae and water fleas is set up, where the delicate balance between the organisms can be influenced by the visitors and programmable LED-letters.

Michael Dirnberger Computing inspired by Physarum polycephalum
Agi Haines The body dismantled

The second panel draws a connection from the investigation of nature via computer sciences to speculative design practices. Bio-inspired computing looks very closely at nature in order to model the behavior of organisms and targets the study of life to improve the usage of computers. In that sense, for sciences data is key to their research and the basis for developing future applications and inventions. Based on these conditions physicist and computer scientist Michael Dirnberger has initiated an online repository for sharing data from biological experiments.

Agi Haines is also examining nature but through the eyes of a critical designer. Having chosen the human body as material for her speculative and often disturbing modifications of ourselves, her sculptures and speculations evoke to think of our future in unexpected ways. Using the body as a design material the implications will affect all of us in a very direct matter.

Retired Cybernetic Organism #2
Dani Ploeger

CPU, voltage generator, blood

A few drops of my blood are installed on an obsolete Intel Pentium III processor. A live video stream of the chip is projected onto the wall. The CPU is powered up to its maximum permissible operating voltage, 2.0V, but not clocked. It stays idle, but heats up, thus endangering its circuits. For a short time, the heat of the chip results in the liquid of my blood being vapourized into the room. The blood also acts as a heat sink which cools down the chip, which in turn limits the dissemination of the liquid: a cybernetic feedback loop. The work is presented as a lecture-performance: I draw my blood, install it on the chip and power up the CPU whilst discussing cyborg bodies and waste.


Non-Human Rhythms featuring Physarum

Interspecifics collective (MX)

Non-Human Rhythms is a series of live acts featuring different micro-organism and their bio-electrical activity translated into a sound process. For this live act we use The Energy Bending Lab an instrument comprised of a set of custom-built modular synthesizers and transduction tools that creates a real-time sonification of the electric properties found in Physarum Polycephalum.



Martin Grube Slime molds as versatile model organisms for natural sciences
Maja Smrekar Hybrid Family – On becoming animal through a live practice

This panel is not only addressing organisms that blur the boundary of biological classification but also presents an art performance on becoming-animal, becoming-mother. Physarum polycephalum is a biological curiosum, a huge amoeba, not fungi, not plant, not animal. Biologist Martin Grube will present some fascinating characteristics of the acellular macro-organism and explain the reasons why it is of interest not only to biologists, but also biochemists and biophysicists. Further he will give a brief live demonstration of his growth chamber prototype he specifically developed to interface Physarum with the environment and computers.

Artist Maja Smrekar will present her recent project that she presented only a week ago in a performance at Freies Museum Berlin. Over the course of nearly three months she followed a strict protocol in order to make her body release the hormone prolactin without being pregnant with the aim of being able to breast feed her new family member – a dog puppy. Smrekar addresses a highly controversial topic that mess up our established views of gender, genera and coexistence.

Moderated by Sascha Pohflepp

Laura Benitez Valero Biomaterials, Nomadic Subjectivity and Agency
Dani Ploeger Dead Devices as Material Force: the organic world of electronic waste

The last panel illuminates philosophical views and ethical issues on biomaterials and looks at the politics of electronic waste. Laura Benitez Valero will plunge with us into the depth of philosophical thoughts inviting us to think and discuss the potential, politics and ethics behind (bio-) technological tools. Concepts of an »extended body« question a traditional world view made of humans, animals and the non-living. Benitez’ presentation offers interpretations of recombined terms that lead to human-animal, human-object, animal-object, the living, semi-living and non-living by applying them to selected bioart projects.

Against the background of his involvement in the research project »Bodies of Planned Obsolescence – digital performance and the global politics of electronic waste« artist Dani Ploeger questions the materiality of new technologies and their global, ecological and social implications. Most discussions focus on the progress of technology while disregarding material properties, production and waste disposal.

Moderated by Sascha Pohflepp

Life In the Bio Art Lab: Piercing the Divide

Suzanne Anker

Many artists have turned their attention to the ways in which nature is being altered, manipulated and reconfigured. From epigenetics to investigations into the microbiome, living materials and their representation have entered into aesthetic discourse. This talk will address three spheres of Bio Art and the emergence of Bio Art Laboratories in Universities and communities. In addition, the Petri dish will be featured as a contemporary cultural icon.

Moderated by Theresa Schubert

Anker vanitas in a petri dish 01

Suzanne Anker
Vanitas in a Petri Dish (01), 2013
Inkjet print on archival paper
20 x 20″

Moderated by Theresa Schubert