Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Video documentation: Nonhuman Agents in Art, Culture and Theory - 4th panel

Microbial Agency. Proposing Micro-Subjectivity#bacteria #quorum sensing #microbiology and philosophy
Moderator: Pablo Rojas

 Regine Hengge (Institute of Biology, Dep. of Microbiology, Humboldt University Berlin)
Biofilms - invisible cities of microbes from the Petri dish to the human body

Although bacteria are invisibly tiny single-cellular creatures, they represent the largest biomass on earth and manage to colonize nearly any site, including the human body. As the human microbiota, they contribute to keeping us healthy and happy. Based on our intimate relationship with them, we have learned to use them for food production and in biotechnology. On the other hand, some bacteria are nasty pathogens that cause infections that remained deadly to us before we discovered antibiotics, i.e. chemical weapons that bacteria themselves use against each other in their fight for food. While we have always envisioned bacteria swimming around as single cells, recent research has shown that they prefer to live in large communies termed 'biofilms'. The bacterial inhabitants of these 'cities of microbes' communicate and cooperate to produce an extracellular matrix of bio-polymers. This matrix not only confers protection, but allows bacterial biofilms to behave like tissues, i.e. to fold and buckle up into striking morphological patterns that even become visible to the naked human eye. By performing rapid morphogenetic movements based on an intricate inner structure, these biofilms are a prime example of 'active matter'.

Anna Dumitriu (Artist, Brighton) 
Make Do and Mend

Anna Dumitriu will discuss her project “Make Do and Mend" which references the 75th anniversary of the first use of penicillin in a human patient in 1941 and takes the form of an altered wartime women's suit marked with the British Board of Trade's utility logo CC41, which stands for 'Controlled Commodity 1941'. The holes and stains in the suit have been patched with silk stained with pink colonies of E. coli bacteria, grown on dye-containing agar. The genomes of these bacteria have been edited using a technique called CRISPR, to remove an ampicillin antibiotic resistance gene and scarlessly patch the break using homologous recombination with a fragment of DNA en-coding the WWII slogan "Make Do and Mend". Ampicillin is part of the penicillin group of antibiotics so with this artistic genomic edit, Dumitriu and Goldberg have used today's technology to return the organism to its pre-antibiotic era state, reflecting on how we might in future control and protect such biotechnological advances. 

Friday, March 09, 2018

Keynote - Nonhuman Agents in Art, Culture and Theory Conference (24-26 Nov. 2017)

Monika Bakke (Institute of Philosophy, Adam Mickiewicz University Poznan)
he Force of Radical Openness: Multispecies Alliances Beyond the Biological

"When the biological opens onto the mineral, and the planetary onto the cosmic, there arises a need not only to recalibrate the scales used to measure space and time, but also to focus on the forces that precede forms. One such force is metabolism, which operates as functions, cycles, and systems that enable the flux and transformation of matter. It infinitely generates novel forms of organization within and with the environment. Acknowledging that multispecies alliances are formed among both organic and nonorganic species by the forces of biological and mineral evolutions requires us to reconsider the questions of belonging and identity. The living/nonliving divide then appears to be no more than a convenience and a convention, because matter, both on earth and elsewhere, is self-assembling and evolving."

 Dr. Monika Bakke is Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at the Adam Mickiewicz University,Poznań, Poland. She writes on contemporary art and aesthetics with a particular interest in posthumanist, transspecies and gender perspectives. She is the author of Bio-transfigurations: Art and Aesthetics of Posthumanism (2010, in Polish) and Open Body (2000, in Polish) co-author of Pleroma: Art in Search of Fullness (1998), and editor of Australian Aboriginal Aesthetics (2004, in Polish), Going Aerial: Air, Art, Architecture (2006) and The Life of Air: Dwelling, Communicating, Manipulating (2011). From 2001 till 2017 she was working as an editor of a Polish cultural journal Czas Kultury (Time of Culture). 

More information at

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Video documentation: Nonhuman Agents in Art, Culture and Theory - 3rd panel

Plant Intelligence
#plants #botany #redefining intelligence
Moderator: Desiree Förster

Špela Petrič (Scientist & artist, Amsterdam/ Ljubljana)
The Vegetal, Intimately

Petrič's artistic research looks at vegetal life as the unchallenged frontier of estrangement, revealing the limits of human empathy as well as its anthropocentric underpinnings. Plants are, in their omnipresence, utterly foreign complexity and lack of identification elements allowing anthropomorphism, ideal subjects of study in an attempt to re-examine relations with the Other. The field of plant neurobiology has tried to uncover mechanisms of plant function by likening the physiology of plants to animal systems in order to raise awareness of the intricate, highly adapted life of plants; however, the plants’ cryptic chemically-based conversations, their biological inter-species networks, their centennial lifespans and non-centralized operation make them the benevolent aliens living among us. How can one draw together the world of human beings and that of plants, while resisting the temptation to sacrifice the specificity of either perspective and respecting the foreignness of vegetal life? The contribution lays out three performative projects –'Skotopoiesis', 'Phytoteratology' and 'Strange Encounters' – through which the artist explores radical and novel modes of human-plant intercognition, which, while discovering the vegetal, delineate our own borders to be overcome. 

Joana Bergmann (Institute of Biology, Free University Berlin)
Hand in Hand. Root Morphological Traits and Their Mediation by Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi

The environmental pressures that shape the evolution of a species root morphology are numerous. Roots have to take up nutrients and water by simultaneously blocking root feeding and colonizing soil biota. Depending on the ecological niche of a species, roots differ in their execution of this balancing act. Ecologists try to quantify these different strategies by measuring root morphological traits. The majority of land plants form mycorrhizal symbioses with soil fungi. Those plant-fungal interactions are mutualistic -meaning that both partners profit from the symbiosis. With their fine hyphal networks the fungi take up nutrients and water from the soil and transport it to the plant roots in exchange for carbon, which the plant photosynthesizes.
Additionally, they can protect the roots from pathogens. The plants fitness and the morphology of roots therefore varies in response to mycorrhizal colonization while the mycorrhizal fungi themselves are nonviable without a living root. 

Literature for Joana Bergmann's talk:

Bergmann, J., Ryo, M., Prati, D., Hempel, S. and Rillig, M. C. 2017. Root traits are more than analogues of leaf traits: the case for diaspore mass. New Phytologist 216: 1130–1139. doi:10.1111/nph.14748.

Camenzind T, Rillig MC. 2013. Extraradical arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal hyphae in an organic tropical montane forest soil. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 64: 96–102.

Ellenberg H, Leuschner C. 2010. Vegetation Mitteleuropas mit den Alpen. Stuttgart, GER: Ulmer.

Heijden MGA Van Der, Martin FM, Selosse M-A, Sanders IR. 2015. Mycorrhizal ecology and evolution : the past , the present , and the future. New Phytologist 205: 1406–1423.

Hempel S, Götzenberger L, Kühn I, Michalski SG, Rillig MC, Zobel M, Moora M. 2013. Mycorrhizas in the Central European flora: relationships with plant life history traits and ecology. Ecology 94: 1389–1399.

Kattge J, Díaz S, Lavorel S, Prentice IC, Leadley P, Bönisch G, Garnier E, Westoby M, Reich PB, Wright IJ, et al. 2011. TRY - a global database of plant traits. Global Change Biology 17: 2905–2935.

Kutschera L., Lichtenegger E. 1992. Wurzelatlas mitteleuropäischer Grünlandpflanzen. Band 1 & 2. Stuttgart; Jena; New York : Gustav Fischer Verlag.

Kleyer M, Bekker RM, Knevel IC, Bakker JP, Thompson K, Sonnenschein M, Poschlod P, van Groenendael JM, Klimeš L, Klimešová J, et al. 2008. The LEDA Traitbase: a database of life-history traits of the Northwest European flora. Journal of Ecology 96: 1266–1274.

Smith SE, Read DJ. 2008. Mycorrhizal Symbiosis. London: Academic Press.

Violle C, Navas M-L, Vile D, Kazakou E, Fortunel C, Hummel I, Garnier E. 2007. Let the concept of trait be functional! Oikos 116: 882–892.