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The sketches presented are a selection of sheets from the lab diaries of the artist. They show various experiments with the unicellular organism Physarum polycephalum. The so called slime mould operates according to certain biochemical logics, which make it seem smart when solving geometrical problems, it is also well known for forming optimized networks.
During a set time frame, Theresa Schubert documented her observations with pencil and crayons in each drawing. Stigmercy is a concept introduced by Pierre- Paul Grassé in the late 1950s to explain termite organization and activities. This mechanism describes how the interaction between animals can appear organized even if not intentionally coordinated.
Theresa Schubert applies this idea to the way the organism Physarum polycephalum organizes its morphology. She designed experiments to investigate foraging behavior, reaction to environmental stimuli and measured changes in the membrane’s potential. Furthermore, the organism is not just the object of investigation, rather a creative agent itself and collaborator.
#1 Growth and Morphology
Observations of growth of Physarum polycephalum for definition of simulation algorithm.
#2 Flow Gates
Experiments to investigate the effect of tactile stimuli on Physarum polycephalum by using own hairs as a device. Does the cytoplasmic streaming react to it?
Observations of the food searching behavior and morphological change.
#4 Electrical Activity
Part 1: Experiment to measure the change in the electrical pontential of the membrane.
#5 Electrical Activity
Part 2: How do the activities sound like?
not invented by nature - an exhibition (and symposium) about synthetic biology at Bioquant in Heidelberg (DE) from Dec 9 2013 - Jan 2014
exhibition catalogue: Ursula Damm, Roland Eils (eds.), not invented by nature, Heidelberg 2015
www.anotherfuture.net - a blog by Andrew Pickering and Ursula Damm, online until 2015
excerpt of the article "The Absent Laboratory" by Alexandra Waligorski
An ensemble of five pages by the German Theresa Schubert supplements the exhibition concept through the media of drawing and collage (page 87). Fragile sketches adorn the surface of the unbleached paper, which is folded in the middle and perforated, the format referring to a booklet, an assemblage from which the four doublepages and the single page have been taken, and the drawings replicate upon them vegetable forms developing into rhizomatic structures.
Discreet colouring and fine lineal work cause the viewers have to step nearer so as to be able to closer inspect the portrayal. Hand-written notations record the observations and measurements which are refused to the recipients, merely allowing speculations upon their service as reference to experiments in whose centre stand these unknown structures spreading themselves across the page, sometimes isolated, sometimes bordered bya circular form. Titles, enumerations, records of times, as well as arrows and coloured markings, structure the pages and imply that the portrayals should be read as diagrams. Supplemented by written-upon labels and material samples like hair, a matrix of various visual and temporal levels is set up: something has occurred here that was observed and recorded.
The protagonist of this arrangement is an amorphous network, the performance of which is of interest to study and is presented by the artist from a variety of viewpoints. Schubert‘s works on paper oscillate between the manner of a laboratory journal and a collage. Relative to their documentary function, they remain true to the style of a laboratory journal and communicate the processes of experiments, while in terms of their formal arrangements they more approach artistic collage techniques. They deny the strict rules which laboratory journals have regarding authorship, playing within the resulting freedom. The pages from Schubert‘s notebook are supplemented and brought outside their boundaries by photographs of beings researched by the artist, the book format being optically disrupted by this conscious breaking through of the boundaries of the notebook page.
At the same time, Theresa Schubert isolates the singular sheets and papers from their binding and mixes artistic and scientific formats. Science is staged as a complex arrangement of text and image.12 The linearity of the laboratory journal is thus destroyed and the authenticity arising from its unity and integrity is undermined. The isolated pages do not allow for a continuous reading, focussing much more on singular moments and details, and so more upon the instances and occasions of knowledge acquisition. In the words of scientific historian Hans- Jörg Rheinberger, that as with other paper-based practices in the laboratory, what one has here is: “[…] to do with a liminal world. More specifically, an intermediate field of activities which stretch between the laboratory bench and the printed version of a scientific paper.” 13
These manifestations from the liminal world are expressions of Schubert‘s work with an organism seems to inhabit a liminal sphere between flora and fauna. As a part of the team of the English scientist Andrew Adamatzky, the artist investigated the behaviour of the single-cell, amoeba-like slime mold physarum polycephalum, which for several years has already been used as a model organism to study adaptive networks.14 Discreet notes on the pages reference the common work of the artist and the information scientist. The fascination with this ‚smart slime‘ – as it was named by Adamatzky and Schubert – is carried over by the multiplicity of recorded investigations and also the attached photographs.15
The dark of the nutritional substance of the petri dish highlight the luminous colouring of the slime mold and allows the decorative structure of yellow seams and veins to come to the fore and become both very appreciable and aesthetic objects of observation. All five papers, Growth and Morphology, Flow Gates, Foraging, Electrical Activity Part I and Electical Activity Part II, are derived from experiments carried out in the framework of a interdisciplinary research project undertaken there to ascertain the behaviours of physarum polycephalum, including, among other things, tactile stimulation of the slime mold, and changes in the surface tension of the membrane or the strategies by which it busied itself obtaining nutrition.
12 Interview with Hans-Jörg Rheinberger: Papierpraktiken, in: Karin Krauthausenand Omar W. Nasim (Ed.): Notieren, Skizzieren – Schreiben und Zeichnen als Verfahren des Entwurfs, Zürich: 2010; p. 157.
13 ibid. p.141.
14 cf.: Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, TetsuSaigusa, Kentaro Ito, Dan P. Bebber, Mark D. Fricker, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi,Toshiyuki Nakagaki: Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design, Science,327(5964), 2010; p. 439–442.
15 Andrew Adamatzky, Theresa Schubert, (2012)Schlauschleimer in Reichsautobahnen: Slime mould imitates motorway network in Germany,Kybernetes, Vol. 41 Iss: 7/8, pp. 1050–1071.