“Life is a symbiotic and cooperative union that allows those who associate to succeed”. The phrase belongs to the biologist Lynn Margulis, one of the most renowned biologists of the twentieth century for her study of the world’s smallest cells and the discovery that they are of crucial importance in the history of life on planet earth. His point of view is that symbiosis, a mutually beneficial association, would be the key mechanism for the appearance of eukaryotic cells, constituents of every living organism that is not a bacterium or an archaebacterium. With such a statement, Margulis challenged evolutionary thinking that states, through the law of the fittest, that only those species with the best capabilities survive over the years, replacing it with the theory of endosymbiosis: it is cooperation that biologically does. life possible.
From this consideration of interdependence, and taking Margulis and other experts in the field as a central figure, the exhibition ‘Science Friction. Life Between Companion Species’ at the Barcelona Contemporary Culture Center (CCCB), inaugurated a few days ago and which can be visited until November 28. From this date on, he will have a new life at the Azkuna Zentroa Alhóndiga in Bilbao.
“The friction science of the title operates in a double sense. On the one hand, it points out the frictions of seeing life as a great symbiotic assembly: scientific and cultural frictions that destabilize the ideas of the individual, subject or autonomy. On the other, it alludes to the urgency of inventing other science f (r) ictions, fabulous or speculative stories that expand the imaginable and help us to the emerging inter-species paradigm ”. This explanation opens a journey through artistic works in different media: immersive audiovisual and sound installations, virtual reality, painting, drawing, avant-garde cinema and popular science pieces. More than an archive, the exhibition unfolds as a story to persuade the visitor of the urgency of expanding these “f (r) ictions sciences” and imagining a new interspecies paradigm.
“The basic idea is the interdependence between all the forms of life that inhabit the planet and that inevitably implies questioning the place that humans occupy and how we want to relate to all the other species with which we share a habitat, but above all a history and a destination ”, explains María Ptqk, curator of the exhibition. “The works that we present here have in common a look focused on the non-human perspective, they help us to imagine how forms of existence can be totally different from ours, such as a tree or a network of mycelia or an octopus. In short, in an invitation to look around us again with wonder and curiosity, and with the will to understand that there are many forms of existence ”.
Along with Lynn Margulis, the second leg that discursively supports ‘Science Friction’ is the thought of the philosopher and biologist Donna Haraway, whose work investigates the narrative power of scientific knowledge. Following a line of thought very similar to that of Margulis – based on the fact that life on the planet has much more cooperation than competition – Haraway has developed a set of theories on the relationships of human animals with the earth and its inhabitants who challenge classical anthropocentric and humanist thinking.
His is the expression “companion species”, which is part of the title of the exhibition, and which refers to the network of exchanges between living beings, whether they are fungi, plants, other animal species or human beings that make life possible. Thus, in the face of the expansive and imperialist logic that has prevailed in the relationship of men and women with nature, Haraway speaks of the need to create kinships, multispecies associations that bind us in relationships of mutual responsibility.
Interdependence versus independence
In the book Scontinue with the problem (Consonni), where he develops some of the premises that we find in the exhibition, Haraway discusses how the patriarchal story with which we have assimilated a single history of human development is based on the idea that we are independent beings that have nothing to do with their environment. “Tool, weapon, word: that is the word made flesh in the image of God. It is a tragic story with a single real actor, a world creator, the hero. This is the creative tale of the hunter on a mission to kill and bring back the terrible loot. This is the tale of hurtful, scathing, combative action, postponing the suffering of the unbearable sticky putrefactive passivity tied to the earth. All the rest in this phallic tale is props, terrain, plot location, or prey. Their job is not important to be in the middle, to be overcome, to be the path, but not the journey, not the one to engender. The last thing the hero wants to know is that his weapons and beautiful words would be useless without a net. ”
The same voice of Donna Haraway, along with that of Scott Gilbert and Maurizio Lazzarato, can be heard in one of the most interesting pieces exhibited at the beginning of the tour: the documentary Holobiont Society Directed by Dominique Koch. The title is also a tribute to Lynn Margulis: “holobiont” was the technical term he used to describe the fusion of a host with all its microbiological hosts. Koch adds the word “society” using this interdependence as a metaphor for political models applied to a society. The audiovisual consists of a combination of aesthetically striking images of the environment with war scenarios – the idea of a holobiont society contrasts with global neoliberalism -, electronic music, sounds of worms and other insects, and interviews with the two philosophers, Lazzarato and Haraway, and the expert in evolutionary biology, Scott Gilbert.
“The notion of the biological individual is crucial for the studies of genetics, immunology, evolution, development, anatomy and physiology. Each of these biological sub-disciplines has a specific conception of individuality. Over the past decade, however, nucleic acid analysis, especially genomic sequencing and high-throughput RNA techniques, has challenged the idea of independence by finding significant interactions of animals and plants with symbiotic microorganisms that alter the boundaries that up to now they had characterized the biological individual. Animals cannot be considered individuals by anatomical or physiological criteria, because a diversity of symbiosis is essential to fulfill physiological functions. Similarly, these studies have shown that animal development is incomplete without symbiosis ”, describes Gilbert. Ultimately, what Koch is trying to demonstrate in this piece is that if this were the case, not only would the entire scientific discipline be affected, but also the political and social theories that have placed the human individual as a being that develops by itself.
The exhibition can also be read from a feminist perspective. First, due to a question of references: not only are the two guides in the exhibition renowned women in their disciplines, we also find a strong female representation among the artists, as well as recognition of those authors who tend to be left out of the official academic circuits . This is the case of Maria Silylla Merian, a naturalist born in 1647, who was the first person to document the life cycles of insects, which led her to disprove the thinking of the time that considered them creatures emerged in the mud of putrefaction. . Merian is considered a forerunner of environmental thinking by collecting in her paintings the cycles of flowers and plants that nourish – and are nourished – many animals and insects.
An egg and ovule factory
Several pieces, in tune with ecofeminist theory, show the similarities between the animal exploitation of females of different species and women. Between them Egstrogen Farms, The work of Mary Maggic, who presents a fictitious company with this name whose business consists of commercializing “fertile eggs” genetically modified to contain a cocktail of “gonadotropins”, the hormones responsible for regulating reproduction in vertebrates.
Following the line of feminist authors such as Geena Corea, Margaret Atwood or Haraway herself, who in the 1980s pointed out the parallels between the massive domestication of chickens and the confinement of women at home, Maggic here criticizes current reproductive marketing aimed at let young girls donate eggs – or rather, sell them. Egstrogen Farms uses the symbolism of the “fertile egg” as a therapeutic, food and reproductive matrix through a parodic subversion of interspecies exchange: what is important for society is not the health, life or desire of the person who produces the egg, but the egg itself .
In the last room, by way of farewell, a broad look at environmental activism recalls that there are those who have spent years not only preparing these speeches within the academy, but also acting accordingly. Science Friction finds its differential value as it collects and develops a scientific, political, feminist and environmental theory through an artistic journey, with texts and audiovisuals that share a common idea.
“Ciencia Fricció is an exhibition that is in an intermediate place between the art exhibition and a science museum with a lot of science fiction, with a speculative look and especially with the presence of these companion species with which we share the planet”, explains Commissioner María Ptqk. With this, any proposal that tries to make art a discipline far from its historical context and the political conditions of its emergence is banished: Ciencia Fricción invites us to become jointly responsible for a world in crisis, teaching us that the look on things – and words with which we describe reality– determine the way we relate to the planet and to other non-human beings.