SEEDBANK (an eco evo devo project in SF mode) & the dream of Response-able Multispecies Communities(1)
Text by Lissette Olivares
All drawings and design by Cheto Castellano
Concepts/Affects developed by Cheto Castellano & Lissette Olivares, Sin Kabeza Productions
As speculative designers and architects Sin Kabeza proposes solutions that aim not to regulate boundaries, but rather, to encourage fusions, correlations, and unexpected entanglements. We aim to act as co-developmental, coevolutionary cultural symbionts, accelerating our capacity to adapt to quickly changing environmental changes and necessary shifts in consciousness paradigms. Sin Kabeza Productions is a transmedia platform invested in decolonizing anthropocentric hierarchical rationality and its limits on our capacity to respond to the complex environmental and cultural challenges facing our contemporary world. In this collaborative presentation we offer speculative solutions to the conflicted encounters between species in contemporary life in an architectural and design fiction we call SEEDBANK (an eco evo devo project in SF mode).(2)
SEEDBANK & ITS SITUATED KNOWLEDGE
SEEDBANK was initially developed as a site-specific design fiction for inclusion in dOCUMENTA(13), as part of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s engagement with the work of Donna Haraway, who was invited as a key agent and mentor to the exhibition. In an email, Christov-Bakargiev introduces the types of work being sought for inclusion to The Worldly House: An Archive Inspired by Donna Haraway’s Multispecies Writings on Coevolution:
“Dear dOCUMENTA (13) participants and advisors,
I am writing to you today in regard to a special project for dOCUMENTA
(13): In a former house for Black Swans in Karlsaue park, a concentrated
archive project will be dedicated multispecies co-evolution as an area
of interest of dOCUMENTA (13).
The archive will mainly be made up of artists’ material and
documentation of artworks and projects that on diverse levels deals with
the intra-action and response between humans and non-human animals: life
of all kind and kin.
This archive of art materials can be of great diversity (analog or digital photographs of installations and exhibitions, videos, sound
recordings, books and catalogs and other various research materials)
with an overall relation and focus on the perception of life,
worldliness and the co-existence of human and non-human animals. The
specific focus is on artworks that have involved non-human live animals,
such as Jannis Kounellis’ famous Untitled, 1969 when he exhibited twelve
live horses as a contemporary installation in a gallery in Rome.[…]” (3)
Inspired and humbled by the opportunity to develop arts research that directly responded to the influence of Donna Haraway’s writings and pedagogy in our work and activism, we felt the need to critically engage the ethical concerns that span throughout Haraway’s extensive interdisciplinary practice. In particular, we felt that the venue of dOCUMENTA(13), with its political emphasis, would be the ideal site to not only consider but extend Haraway’s call for “response-ability.”
In a lecture that recalls how Haraway learns from her relationship with cultural scholar David Schneider, and their mutual love and labor in agility training with their companions species’ (Schneider’s standard poodle George, and Haraway’s lab-mixes Sojourner and Alexander), she reflects upon the importance of “staying with the trouble,” a theme that recurs in When Species Meet (2008), when Haraway describes how she and her Australian Shepard Cayenne fail to establish communication at the A frame during their participation in agility trials.(4) For Haraway, these moments of difficulty, of incomprehension, of communicative failure, have real implications on all bodies involved. Haraway’s intimate revelations emphasize how working through the trouble with these life companions is itself an epistemological opening, where what she calls “response-ability” must be enacted. She explains:
“response-ability—is what I sometimes call „the open,” where what is to come is not yet—is not fixed by teleology or function, whether malignant or benign—and might still be otherwise. What I mean is more like worlding in the SF sense, where earthly ontological choreography remains in play and at stake in living and dying with each other in our wounded, yet still capacious and capable, motley kinds. My open is to be found in play and in labor, where who and what are to be forged in thick and deep times and places.”(5)
For Haraway, play and labor are contact zones and sites of knowledge making, while the ‘open’ is what may be possible through their critical engagement, where learning to take accountability for our actions, and especially of failures, facilitates unexpected potentialities that have serious effects on the way we inhabit this world.
Following a series of email exchanges we introduced Christov-Bakargiev to our arts research, which included an as of yet unproduced complementary film initiative that would feature visual documentation from our work with Art Farm’s tattooed pigs, and new fieldwork that would explore the relationship between people and street dogs in Chile. In the spirit of Haraway’s “open”, both of these projects sought to explore our own engagement with failure, multispecies encounters, and with the hope that both our labor and play might assist in making another type of multispecies relationality possible. Interested in our proposal, Christov-Bakargiev encouraged us to develop our collaboration on this project with its designated “agent”, Tue Greenfort.(6)
Tue Greenfort introduced us to the site of the exhibition virtually, a setting that once housed black swans, but that had been out of use for years in Karlsaue Park in Kassel. Greenfort explained that at that early stage there was still no clear curatorial plan, nor definitive list of artists. Amicably, Greenfort explained that he welcomed my role as an advisor, since he was a neophyte to Haraway’s extensive theoretical production, and asked for assistance with recommendations for artists, theorists and projects that were complementary with Haraway’s writings. One of the challenges he mentioned was that raccoons were living inside the Swan House premises, and would have to be relocated before any adjustments to the structure could begin.
We agreed and happily promised to suggest artists, theorists, and works related to the core proposal, and we even spoke of collaborating on the necessary architectural adjustments to the Swan House. At the moment we began our conversations with Greenfort we were in Santiago de Chile, in the midst of producing Kiltr@, which included a rigorous recording schedule with people who introduced us to their companion species relationships. Inspired by the deep knowledge produced through these quotidian intraspecies relationships we began to envision how to create an exhibition space that would allow not only the projection of our own research (which was primarily film and video media) but also, so that anyone could contribute to this archive of posthumanistic investigation.
Furthermore, the challenges expressed by Greenfort, the multispecies conflict caused by unexpected entanglements with raccoons, who were occupying the house and would have to be removed, offered to us an important epistemological doubt. Should an archive dedicated to multispecies coevolution begin its repertoire through a forceful relocation of its previous inhabitants? Could there be a way to offer an exhibition venue for these diverse contributions while maintaining a friendly multispecies environment? (7) These were the first questions that inspired and shaped SEEDBANK. Within a few weeks we drafted a series of potential designs and in an email to Greenfort and Bakargiev, we explained:
“We just got back from an intensive one and a half month research trip to Chile. My partner and I spent almost everyday recording visual [documentation] of kiltr@s (Chilean street dogs), as well as conducting numerous interviews with people who help these dogs to survive. As with any research project, we could not help but be affected by simultaneously occurring contextual realities. Our visit came in the wake of an earthquake and latter forest fire in Patagonia that has wreaked havoc on ecosystems across Chile; the social environment is dense with the prolonged student resistance movement that as of yet yields no institutional transformations in the education system. Furthermore, a slew of neoliberal governmental policies foretell vast ecological devastation; from the displacement of native communities in Temuco, to the construction of new thermoelectric plants, and most eerily, laws that will permit the privatization of many native seeds by the Von Baer company (in association with Monsanto), which was founded by a German SS general who found refuge from international justice tribunals when he relocated to Chile in the postwar period.
As we followed the kiltr@s we learned about the symbiotic relationships they depend on for survival, from the humans who give them food and affect on the street, to the bacteria that allow them to process the nutrients from the garbage. Watching this chain of co-dependence, or co-evolution, we could not help but also consider the embeddedness of all these important socio-biological realities; of the interconnectedness of these naturecultures, as well as the need for work that enables posthumanistic research and multispecies consciousness. Based upon your earlier invitation to develop a proposal for display [in the Worldly House], my partner and I began to envision how we could adapt this new multispecies research, as well as the Art Farm archives, and other related material culture, to the site’s specific features.(8)
The more we brainstormed, the more we became invested in the idea of generating an archival space that could hold not only our research, but also participate in the construction of a public archive, a collective exhibition space that would also give visitors to dOCUMENTA(13) the possibility of contributing with their own materials and situated knowledges. Our resulting proposal moves beyond our individual research to generate a structure for posthumanistic archives and pedagogy, we call it SEEDBANK. SEEDBANK is a troping model and site for speculative fabulations, It could potentially be used as a place for pedagogy and performance, a rest area for native and non-native species, and hopefully a collector and transmitter of posthumanistic research that exceeds the traditional way we conceive of banking structures.(9) It is primarily a site of knowledge production and exchange.”(10)
(r)Evolutionary Discourse: Bacteria and Symbiotic CoEvolution(11)
“There is a tendency for living things to join up, establish linkages, live inside each other, return to earlier arrangements, get along, whenever possible. This the way of the world.”
Lewis Thomas (1974)(12)
Kauffman famously said that all evolution is coevolution. The situation may actually be more intimate. Almost all development may be codevelopment. By codevelopment we refer to the ability of the cells of one species to assist the normal construction of the body of another species. (Giblert et al. 673)
Our guiding trope in SEEDBANK is mutualistic symbiotic coevolution. Symbiosis was defined first by German mycologist H.A. De Bary (1879) as “unlike organisms living together.” Mutualistic symbiosis is a relationship between host and symbionts that benefits all partners involved. Coevolution is based upon a relational ontology where diverse organisms are understood to play fundamental roles in each other’s development and survival. SEEDBANK attempts to “meet with” bacteria as actants and as bio-semiotic tropological figures. We draw from microbial theorist Myra Hird, whose investigative and interdisciplinary work on bacteria argues that attention to microontologies might help us to move beyond the premise of human exceptionalism, enabling a symbiotic relationality where humans are “enmeshed in a web of co-domestication”. Hird argues that while most social scientists do not deal with theories of evolution, they do contend with the persistent social beliefs related to constructs such as altruism, fitness, selection, lower and higher organisms, which are framed as indigenous to nature. Hird claims that for this reason, social scientists need to be curious about competing claims within evolutionary theory, as they point toward “potentially alternate accounts of the origins of sociable life”.(13) Hird’s interdisciplinary scope, which encourages understanding how evolutionary theories shape and influence our social lives, and vice versa, is an example of political ecology, a mode of research that attempts to understand the political impact of ecological struggles and articulations.(14)
Following Hird’s call for serious engagement with evolutionary theory and in particular to the role bacteria play in rewriting evolutionary history, we turn to the work of developmental biologists, Scott Gilbert and David Epel, who study a series of organisms that demonstrate what they call “developmental symbiosis.”(15) In an article that further compiles evidence of the importance of symbiosis in the transformation of contemporary evolutionary theory, Gilbert et al. explain the evolutionary paradigm shift that is being exposed:
“Darwin’s (1859) idea of ‘the struggle for existence’ where competition exists between ‘one individual with another of the same species or with the individuals of distinct species’ sets up a framework where each individual is essentially singular, competing only for itself and the survival and propagations of its lineage. But this situation changes if the ‘individual’ is actually a ‘team’ or a ‘consortium’ of cells with different genotypes […] More and more, symbiosis appears to be the ‘rule’ and not the exception. (McFall-Ngai 2002; Saffo 2006, Gilbert & Epel 2009)”(16)
By transforming the boundaries of self and other, and positing symbiosis as the norm rather than the exception, this research challenges Darwin’s theorization of the “struggle for existence, ” which constructs biological organisms as individual entities that must compete with each other to survive.
For those with a postcolonial memory it is difficult not to associate such evolutionary metaphors with their violent translations in liberal economic and political doctrines, which by correlation have also affected the way we understand and engage naturalcultural processes within political, social, and economic systems. Derrick Jenkins, a physicist and multispecies storyteller, poignantly reminds us of the way scientific evolutionary discourse, and its metaphor of the struggle for existence, was used to legitimize Australia’s Aboriginal genocide:
“Between 1790 and 1920 the population of Aborigines fell from 750,000 at the first arrival of Europeans to 70,000 some hundred and thirty years later. We would read in scientific journals the reason for this decline ‘the races who rest content in…placid sensuality and unprogressive decrepitude, can hardly hope to contend permanently in the great struggle for existence with the noble division of the human species…The survival of the fittest means that might—wisely used –is right. And thus we invoke and remorselessly fulfill the inexorable law of natural selection when exterminating the inferior Australian.” (17)
Gilbert & Epel’s discussion of the importance of ‘symbionts’ in reframing contemporary evolutionary theory offers a biological intervention that helps to replace individual entities with bounded systems that depend on each other to survive. They explain:
„In a symbiotic relationship, the interactions among partners can affect the evolutionary fitness of both the symbiont and the host. While the genomes of the individual symbionts affect the development of each organism, development of symbiotic species is also regulated by interactions of the symbiont genomes within the holobiont. This in turn could alter the fitness of the organisms involved in the symbiosis, which would make the symbiotic relationship a powerful evolutionary force. In this sense, the individual is actually a community of organisms, behaving as an ecosystem. In groups selection theory the group is usually treated as an individual. Here, the individual is treated as a group. Nature may be selecting ‘relationships rather than individuals or genomes. What we usually consider to be an individual may be multispecies groups that are under selection.” (18)
As technocultural producers and translators, this symbiotic evolutionary research opens an opportunity to consider how nurturing connections between scientific, cultural, and artistic research and their corollary initiatives can encourage dynamic relationships amongst compatible entities, an approach we believe poses a direct challenge to the individualistic capitalist ideology that is prevalent within science-art-culture systems that emphasize individual production and commodification.
Interestingly, bacteria have played an immense role in the research that has made symbiotic evolutionary paradigm shifts possible. One of the most well documented and one of our favorite (SF) science facts about developmental symbiosis is the case of the Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, and its symbiotic bacterium Vibrio fischeri. (19) The Hawaaian bobtail squid is a tiny native to the Pacific Ocean, who preys on shrimp at night. It runs the risk of drawing predatory fish if its presence is noticed when its shadow is cast by the moon’s light. However, the bobtail squid is able to avoid predators because it has developed a light organ. To generate this light organ and its light, the bobtail squid needs vibrio fischeri, a bacteria that also benefits from the squid because it lives safely within its light organ, free of its own predators. Both the squid and the bacteria benefit from their mutual relationship – this is the premise of mutualistic developmental symbiosis.
Architecture & Design Fiction in the SF Mode
In an effort to creatively respond to the significance of bacteria in the research and development of symbiotic coevolutionary theory, our architectural design is inspired by and modeled on the formal attributes of bacteriological organisms, transforming it into a design fiction capable of transmitting this new evolutionary story. Scott Bleecker, the founder of the Near Future Laboratory, explains the potential of “design fiction”:
“Design Fiction is making things that tell stories. It’s like science fiction in that the stories bring into focus certain matters of concern, such as how life is lived, questioning how technology is used and its implications, speculating about the course of events; all of the unique abilities of science-fiction to incite imagination-filling conversations about alternative futures…It’s meant to encourage truly undisciplined approaches to making and circulating culture by ignoring disciplines that have invested so much in erecting boundaries between pragmatics and imagination.” (Bleecker 2005) (20)
Like Bleecker, we are invested in the role material culture has in telling stories that can refigure consciousness. We propose SEEDBANK as a design fiction that may help us to reconfigure our agency in the Anthropocene. As a design fiction the bacterium must tell stories about the Anthropocene, and offer methods for critically enacting response-ability, so that we may envision a post Anthropocene.
To envision a post Anthropocene Sin Kabeza proposes engaging Haraway’s “open” and its sf worlding. Both Donna Haraway and Joshua (Sha) Labare have written extensively on the political and social potentials of SF. La Bare explains that, “the ‘SF mode’ offers one way of focusing that attention, of imagining and designing alternatives to the world […]”, while he proposes (in alliance with SF critic Arthur B. Evans) that engaging SF as a mode rather than as a genre allows an “inclusive” criticism that allows SF to develop in a wider cultural field. (21) Similarly, Haraway’s work consistently engages the extraordinary feminist potentialities of SF (science fiction, science fantasy, science feminisms, speculative feminisms, etc.), including her most recognized essay “The Cyborg Manifesto,” where women of color figure as cyborgs that resist against patriarchal military technoculture, while her more recent work frames companion species relationships, and even string figures as sites for sf worlding.(22) Developing SEEDBANK in the SF mode, in alliance with both Haraway and La Bare, thus becomes a site for enacting the (r)evolutionary potential in social, political, and cultural reconfigurations.
In an attempt to move beyond Eurocentric ecological epistemologies SEEDBANK’s architectural design engages the teachings of Jain spiritual leader Lord Mahavira, who as early as the 14th century declared that humans should not take care of nature for their own benefit, but out of respect for the consciousness of all life. The stilt base of the bacterium structure is inspired by Jain practitioners who assert that the earth must be protected and infracted upon as respectfully as possible. In the Jain tradition an important part of spiritual and philosophical doctrine is activated within dietary practices. Jain diets are similar to “vegans” with important differences. For example, Jain followers are encouraged to eat vegetable and fruits that are foraged, and their diet generally excludes root vegetables like onion, garlic, and carrots, because of their potential disruption to multispecies communities beneath the earth.(23) Similarly, we aim not to interrupt the soil beneath the bacterium, to avoid displacing unseen but significant microcosmos.
One of our greatest SF inspirations for the biological architectural potentials of the proposed SEEDBANK bacterium is found in the work of Octavia Butler. The Xenogenesis Trilogy (reissued as Lilith’s Brood by Warner) tells the story of an alien race called the Oankali, who begin “rescuing”(many feel its an abduction) survivors of a vast nuclear war Butler refers to as “humanicide” that has decimated the earth’s human population. This alien species travels throughout the universe seeking new genetic traders to ensure a constant flow of genetic diversity. The Oankali have evolved specialized organs and subcellular structures that allows them to modify their own genes and adapt to change, but these characteristics also makes them vulnerable to evolutionary stagnation if new genetic traders are not secured. (24) The Oankali dependence on genetic diversity allows us to consider them as primary interlocutors to the discussion of symbiotic coevolution. The Oankali starship is especially intriguing, as it does not depend on ‘dead materials’ like those used by humans for their constructions (i.e. wood). Instead, the Oankali biogenetically engineer both their living space and their primary interstellar vehicle, using a live organic architecture where doors, walls, and rooms are constantly moving and shifting to adapt to its community’s inhabitants. Though the Oankali are certainly conflictive creatures, Butler’s extraordinary imagination, and in particular, her architectural projections for this alien race, are crucial to thinking about the limitations of our current architectural imaginaries. As speculative designers, Butler’s alien architecture allows us to reconsider the logic and rationale used in the current construction of our living and working spaces, as well as opening possibilities for what may yet still come.
Aerial view of the bacteria structures, with smaller modules in close proximity. Our attempt was to model the bacterium as a complementary structure to the Swan House. To avoid displacing the Swan House’s current multispecies residents we proposed a nomadic structure that would be easily moveable and/or dismounted. In an effort to learn from the local ecosystems, we envisioned the bacteria’s structure slightly emerging from the pond, where it might measure water temperatures, test water purity, etc.
Front view of Bacterium, which is supported by a stilt structure. Outside fabric has pores that will be used for native-species seed collection and growth, and even as projection surface (if necessary). We are in conversations with Terreform One, a biotech architectural firm that experiments with and has developed unique designs using diverse biomaterials. We hope to learn their experimental technologies and develop specialized fabrics, each customized to each module’s needs in their local ecosystems. Small modules can be used as temporary homes for native (and non-native species), for investigators conducting multispecies fieldwork, and/or as installation pods.
This front view envisions the bacterium with a germinated cell membrane, emulating the organic growth that’s visible on the Swan House roof. With a durational presence in its exhibition site the bacterium can co-evolve with its ecological residents. A goal of each site-specific bacterium is to generate sustainable research practices that investigate local co-evolutionary, co-developmental ecosystems. Adaptation of the bacterium’s architecture is dependent on context specific fieldwork.
Anatomy of the bacterium. The architectural structure of the bacterium is modeled on the anatomy of bacteria, which include cell membrane, cell wall, flagella, and DNA. Translated culturally, we envision the cell wall as a surface for multimedia installation, the cell membrane can be adapted to assist in seed collection and germination, or as a local food source for other organisms in the area. Flagella become private modules for immersive research experiences or rest areas. Just as bacteria contains DNA, which reach across organisms to complete horizontal gene transfers, so SEEDBANK’s investigative production and presentation is generated within each bacterium’s structure, and disseminated by visitors/participants.
This cartoon shows the plight of an insect colony that has been displaced by “islands” or, traditional architectural bases built upon the ground’s surface. The left and middle bubbles dramatize the experience of a sad ant that has lost his family, while the drawing on the right demonstrates how the bacterium’s stilt allows insects, and other life on the ground, to co-exist with the bacterium.
Concerned about the solar energy that would be interrupted by the bacterium’s presence, which would likely deplete the energy source for numerous life-forms due to its shadow, we propose installing a prosthetic light system. Light would be activated during the day to replace and encourage chlorophyll production of plants shaded by the bacterium structure. Ideally, this light source would be generated sustainably, for example, solar panel technology. In future bacterium constructions we hope to have a light source generated by bacteria themselves. Current research by biologists in Denmark’s Aarhus University has demonstrated that bacteria can exchange electrons with other bacteria at a distance, and create electric currents in the seabed, actually generating electricity.(25)
The interior space of the bacterium functions as a public archive for posthumanistic research. As a design fiction inspired by the coevolutionary role played by bacteria, visitors are encouraged to contribute their own situated knowledge to the archive by donating photos and video to be stored and/or exhibited in the bacterium’s structure.
The interior can be also potentially be used as a conference venue, and/or site for pedagogy, performance, and creative problem solving. Ideally, we could create programming related to posthumanistic research and activism inside. In addition a consistent flow of exhibition material would be displayed. Our goal is to foment a participatory exhibition site which rejects artistic exceptionalism, and which encourages submissions from anyone.
Part of the mission of each bacteria is to encourage the transformation of individualistic spheres of research into intra-disciplinary engagements, where diverse research and practices are able to develop. We hope to support speakers, performers, researchers and exhibitionary displays.
The flagella pods of the bacteria are enticing areas for research, field work, and rest. They can be designed to accommodate ecological observation, or to enable the development of companion species relationships. They can also become substitute housing modules for native and non-native species. The function and design of flagella pods are customized according to each specific ecosystem and research initiative.
Curatorial Reconfigurations and the (near) Future of SEEDBANK
There were a few fleeting moments when the construction of SEEDBANK’s prototype seemed plausible, but much to our chagrin we were unable to materialize SEEDBANK during dOCUMENTA(13) after Greenfort cited budgetary constraints and curatorial reservations.(26) Though we were disappointed, we were happy to continue participating with the project’s initiative through our video work. However, when we arrived in Kassel during the final two weeks of this durational exhibition, we were frustrated to find that the two videos we had produced specifically for this archive, equivalent to over four months of unremunerated labor, had been displayed with grave technical failures. Furthermore, though there were numerous exemplary works that seriously engaged the questions and politics proposed by Haraway’s scholarship, there were also a few that were at best confusing to feminist altermondial engagements with “multispecies coevolution.” For example, Greenfort’s selection included the work of artists like Wim Delvoye, the subject of one of our videos, who we critique due to his lack of care for the tattooed pigs on Art Farm, and the notorious Jeff Koons, who has certainly never been confused as a feminist and who has also received numerous critiques for the way capital is implicated in his work.(27)
While conflicted, our “situated knowledge” as invited artists in The Worldly House, along with our participation and evaluation of its companion curatorial process allows us to learn from this encounter. We begin to ask questions about what it means to enact curatorial response-ability: What is the role of feminism and postcolonial critique in the multispecies worlding proposed by Haraway and her allies? How might a multispecies curatorial platform engage diverse types of agencies, not only those that emerge from the world of ‘established’ or ‘legitimate’ producers of knowledge and art? Who should have access to and benefit from the display of such research?
In an attempt to constructively critique and extend the initial concepts that shaped Christov-Bakargiev’s curatorial vision of the Worldly House, SEEDBANK becomes itself a design fiction faced with the challenge of FEELINGthinking with Haraway and others in her litter box, of being inspired by naturalcultural processes that take place across diverse mediations, in a transdisciplinary framework that seeks to intervene in the modern rationality that has played such a significant role in colonizing knowledge making practices.(28) We understand Haraway’s conceptualization of response-ability as a type of decolonization tactic that emerges from the borderlands of the modern-colonial world system, poised to challenge and intervene, armed with feminist and postcolonial epistemologies that are interested in worlds and knowledges unseen by the colonial gaze. Such breadth of knowledge certainly needs more than 100 days and more than one site in Europe to extend its critique, and such is the great task we face with any future projection of SEEDBANK.
SF Architecture and Design Fiction for a Posthumanist Commons
We are especially thankful to the curators of Urban Ecologies, Aleksandra Jach and Katarzyna Słoboda, and to the numerous feminists and critics in the Muzeum Sztuki forum and audience, with whom we engaged these questions and concerns, and who were also incredibly receptive to our presentation, and excellent role models for the difficult task of enacting curatorial response-ability. As we pointed out throughout this presentation, the original SEEDBANK prototype was modeled on an exhibitionary venue with a specific context, and with the intention of creating a performative and participatory archive for FEELINGthinking with Haraway and her work on multispecies coevolution. Though we would very much like to render this exhibitionary model in a public arena, we are also invested in the potentialities of this research and the design of the bacterium model beyond the scope of a display venue.
In its current symbiotic evolution, and in direct response to the potential of extending our core proposal to divergent sites and research needs, we are currently considering how sf architecture and design fiction can play a role in contemporary urban multispecies encounters, especially those that are most conflicted. How can urban planning and architecture respond to its own role in the elimination and extermination of multispecies communities? How can design fiction and architecture enable response-ability to current naturalcultural challenges for both humans and nonhuman species?
Some of the critters we are FEELINGthinking with are coyotes, who have recently demonstrated that they can thrive in the outskirts of city populations, successfully adapting to urban life in the 21st century, with a higher survival rate in the city than in what we have traditionally called the wild. Scientists believe that the coyote’s adaptation is an indicator for the future lives we will live with “predatory” species that will challenge traditionally ‘human’ domains, like cities.(29) Yet, are the boundaries necessarily so rigid, could it be possible to coexist amongst what were once our predators, in a way that is both sustainable and ethical? What type of multispecies research could we conduct in alliance with design fictions? What type of urban designs do we need to change the way we relate and live with our so-called ‘predator’ species?
This suburban bacterium prototype is designed to offer coyotes alternative housing locations, equipped with renewable food sources that will keep them at a safe distance from local human families. Companion prototypes would be designed to allow researchers from a range of disciplines to conduct fieldwork, to assess the new living patterns of coyotes in the city, or to produce other, as of yet unimagined, encounters.
We close this discussion with a bacteriological explosion across New York’s urban landscape, in the hope that the audience reading this essay might consider their own urban multispecies situated knowledges, and to urge these fellow researchers, artists or otherwise, to help us develop design fictions for more response-able multispecies communities everywhere.
On the basis of the presentation at ECOLOGIES conference at Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, Full programme: http://ekologiemiejskie.pl/wydarzenia/ecologies-programme-of-the-conference
(1) Working Paper. Please contact author for permission to cite.
(2) Eco evo devo (ecological evolutionary developmental biology) is described by Gilbert & Epel as the integration of ecological developmental biologyand evolutionary biology. Eco-evo-devo recognizes that the environment not only selects variation, but that it helps construct variation. According to Gilbert & Epel, an Eco Evo Devo synthesis relies on applying knowledge gained from ecological developmental biology so that a more inclusive evolutionary theory can emerge. They cite the importance of considering developmental biological research that calls into question three of the assumptions of the Modern Synthesis, upon which the genetic theory of evolution has depended.
Scott F. Gilbert & David Epel, Ecological developmental biology, (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 2009) Chapter 10, pg 369-370.
(3) Email Correspondence, Thursday February 9, 2012@12:59 am.
(4) Donna Haraway, When Species Meet, Minneapolis: Minn. UP, 2008. Pg .214-217.
(5) Ibid., “Staying with the Trouble: Xenoecologies of Home for Companions in Contested Zones,” http://www.culanth.org/?q=node/353
(6) While Christov-Bakargiev is the designated “curator” of dOCUMENTA(13), numerous additional research platforms were made possible through the designation of ‘agents’ who undertook responsibility to coordinate exhibition and event programming during the 100 day event.
(7) Haraway’s writings certainly do not encourage a “happy multispecies” rhetoric, often pointing out the difficulties and challenges of asymmetrical and unequal relationships amongst different species entities. However, in this specific scenario we were compelled to at least consider if there was a way to enable residential coexistence through architectural design. As always, site-specific research must be collected, and dependent on the contextual specificities, problem solving can be enacted.
(8) Kiltr@ (2012) and Art Farm Revisited (2012) were short multispecies documentaries that were produced specifically for dOCUMENTA(13)’s The Worldly House: An Archive Inspired by Donna Haraway’s Multispecies Writings on Coevolution. See Kiltr@ (2012) online: http://www.vozaldeperra.org (release date January 2013) For more information about Art Farm Revisited (2012):
(9) The title SEEDBANK was inspired by the series of arts research conferences being planned for dOCUMENTA’s closing weekend, which at that early stage revolved around the figure of the SEED. Seed banks are storage sites for preserving diverse seeds. Though informal seed banks have been in use for thousands of years, as a way of preserving and improving agricultural crops, recently seed banks have also become contested institutions with unwieldy biopolitical power. For example, the Millennium Seed Bank Project is the largest seed bank in the world, and aims to store every plant species possible. Many ecological activists are concerned about the ecological impact and capitalist motives behind private, corporate, and transnational seed bank initiatives, especially those that are currently involved in privatizing native seeds. SEEDBANK is a research site designed for the storage and germination of post-anthropocentric consciousness. For more information see: Manifesto on the Future of Seeds. Ed. International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture. 2006. Vandana Shiva. Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability and Peace. Mass: South End Press, 2005).
(10) Email correspondence with Tue Greenfort and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, February 1, 2012.
(11) I am especially indebted to the course instructors (Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing) and participants of Multispecies Storytelling, course I had the privilege of taking in Spring 2010 in UCSC’s History of Consciousness Department. In that space we often discussed the political implications of transformations in ecologic and evolutionary discourse, as well as the importance of changing the metaphors and figures used to understand and explain these processes.
(12) Cited in Scott F. Gilbert & David Epel, Ecological developmental biology, (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 2009).Chp 3. Pg 1
(13) Myra Hird, The Origins of Sociable Life: Evolution after Science Studies, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
(14) cited in: Arturo Escobar, Territories of Difference. Durham: Duke UP, 2010.
(15) Scott F. Gilbert & David Epel, Ecological developmental biology, (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 2009).
(16) Emphasis added. Scott F. Gilbert et al, “Symbiosis as a source of selectable epigenetic variation: taking the heat for the big guy,” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B2010 365, 673.
(17) Derrick Jensen, A Language Older Than Words, pg.34, citation from David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World, Oxford University Press, NY, 1992.
(18) Ibid. Gilbert & Epel, 673.
(19) Margaret J. McFall Ngai, “The Development of Cooperative Associations Between Animals and Bacteria: Establishing Détente Among Domains (FNI), American Zoologist 38 no4 593-608 S ’98.
(20) I am especially grateful to Katie King’s research on transmedia and new materialisms, which she makes available on her blog, and which discusses the promise of “design fiction” “diegetic prototypes”, and their role in “queer transdisciplinarities.” I was introduced to Bleecker’s work through a paper and slideshow that she made available online, and hope that SEEDBANK participates in King ‘s call for research that “queers the pitch’, in this case, of ecological and arts activism:
Katie King, “In media res: Living in (the middle of) Media Things”, paper presented at “Entanglements for New Materialisms,” (25-26 May 2012) Linköping University, Sweden. Organized by the Posthumanities Hub and Network: Next Generation and InterGender, <http://thingmedia.blogspot.in/> (Accessed Dec.12, 2012). Julian Bleecker’s essay, ”Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction”, can be found online: << http://nearfuturelaboratory.com/2009/03/17/design-fiction-a-short-essay-on-design-science-fact-and-fiction/>> (Accessed January 17, 2013)
(21) Joshua (Sha) Labare, Farfetchings: on and in the sf mode, Unpublished Manuscript. PhD Dissertation, History of Consciousness Department, UCSC. 2010. Pg.6
(22) Some of the articles in which Donna Haraway is inspired by SF potentialities are:
Donna Haraway, „A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181. “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others” in Cultural Studies, ed. By Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler (New York: Routledge, 1992)
(23) Dr. Daijeet & P.C Jain, “Lord Mahavira and his philosophy,” (May 2006) pg.1-11.
(24) Joan Slonczewski, “Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy: A Biologist’s Response,” Paper presented at SFRA, Cleveland, June 30, 2000, pg.1 <http://biology.kenyon.edu/slonc/books/butler1.html> (accessed on 10/15/2012).
(25) Jef Akst, “Electrical Bacteria” The Scientist 25th October 2012. Web. <http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/32997/title/Electrical-Bacteria/>(accessed on October 11, 2012)
(26) A conversation with fellow Worldly House organizer and assistant Julia Moritz confirmed that our design fiction submission coincided with Greenfort’s own architectural proposal, at almost the exact same time, causing what we believe was authorial, or in this case, agential, tension.
(27) A review of The Worldly House is forthcoming by Lissette Olivares.
(28) FEELINGthinking is a compound term intended to resist against the Cartesian binaries that posit the mind as separate from the body.
(29) Ohio State University. „Urban coyotes could be setting the stage for larger carnivores — wolves, bears and mountain lions — to move into cities.” ScienceDaily, 5 Oct. 2012. <<http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121005100909.htm>> (Accessed on October 10, 2012).
Cheto Castellano is a self-taught visual artist and filmmaker. He was born in Chile but now leads a nomadic lifestyle between the Americas and Asia. His current work explores how colonialities of power, nature, and gender produce conditions of slavery and oppression for both human and non-human species. Many recent collaborative projects, including, Kiltr@s (2012), Revisiting Art Farm (2012), and SEEDBANK (2012), apply transmedia methodologies to posthumanistic research and develop multimodal platforms using visual anthropology, video installation and architectural design. His experimental film, SEED: Visualscapes from the Future envisions the near future through an ethnographic gaze, constructing a post-gender society where water is scarce and planting seeds holds revolutionary potential. He is the co-founder of Sin Kabeza Productions, which is dedicated to the creation and dissemination of experimental transmedia and which recently displayed a collection of its experimental work at dOCUMENTA (13)’s The Worldly House: An Archive Inspired by Donna Haraway’s Multispecies Writings, and which organized CoEvolutionHYPERLINK „http://www.ici-berlin.org/event/455/” and Complementarity: Encounters between Transmedia and Multispecies Storytelling at the Institute of Cultural Inquiry Berlin.
Lissette Olivares is an artist, activist, curator, and transmedia storyteller that is committed to interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge production. Her work as an artist-agent investigates the realm of human, animal and ecological exploitation through diverse technologies including creative writing, performance, intervention, experimental video and multimedia installation. Three recent collaborative projects, Kiltr@s (2012), Revisiting Art Farm (2012), and SEEDBANK (2012), develop transmedia methodologies for multispecies ethnography using visual anthropo(zoo)logy, video installation and architectural design. She is the co-founder of Sin Kabeza Productions, which is dedicated to the creation and dissemination of experimental transmedia and which recently displayed a collection of its experimental work at dOCUMENTA (13)’s The Worldly House: An Archive Inspired by Donna Haraway’s Multispecies Writings and which organized CoEvolutionHYPERLINK „http://www.ici-berlin.org/event/455/” and Complementarity: Encounters between Transmedia and Multispecies Storytelling at the Institute of Cultural Inquiry Berlin.