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Brave New Augmented Brussels, in Gulbenkian Foundation and Maat, Lisbon

curatorial statement:
Contemporary cities are magnets that attract people, ressources, ideas, opportunities and knowlegde. Today, 50% of the world's population already lives in the city and this percentage will rise to 70% by 2050. Today cities have to respond to this speed of migration and concentration or they will become social ticking bombs. The reality of a city is never given, its evolution is not immutably determined. How will they manage social and democratic developments, but also technological, economic, and environmental issues in a global world? Each city will be confronted with different political, social, religious and ecological challenges that can only be solved by the engagement and collaboration between many different players.
For a long time technology has been seen as a crucial element in preparing the cities for a turbulent future. The globalized discourse around “Smart Cities” and the application of new digital technologies to urban spaces and processes has been celebrated for its ability to increase the wellbeing of citizens, but this engagement has mostly been limited to a technocratic focus on energy systems, mobility and building efficiency. Moreover it has privileged top-down interventions by local government actors.
The concept of Smart Cities appears as a global incantation all around the world. But different experiments have already proven a variety of difficulties governements, city planners and architects are dealing with. More than a decade after its creation, the Korean City Songdo appears to be a failure. Promoted as the answer to the ills of modern-day living in Seoul, the development is overdue, overpriced and underpopulated. If you look into in a smart city control room, like the one that is build in Rio de Janeiro by IBM, one starts to wonder about the extent of citizens being manipulated and controlled.
Major architects or such as Rem Koolhaas or Alejandro Arravena have been critizing the Smart Cities concept and the accent on technology as the main driver for solutions. “Smart Cities treat the citizens as infants and integrate the city with harmless devices, but do they only offer improvement? Where is the possibility of transgression? “ (Rem Koolhaas). Technology is one force at play in planning the future city, but history and humanism are other ones. Building future cities means taking into account the prehistoric hardware they are made of and the many feelings that drive it such as; hope, anger or resentment. One should also take into consideration the citizens, their socio-economic reality and their ability to understand their urban environment.
This is why “For a Brave New Augmented Brussels” engages in a socio-political discourse that involves citizens and different interest groups in facing this issue—the question of what constitutes a desirable « intelligent » city in a time of technological revolution. In this discursive process, a very important role is attributable to artists because their creativity and criticality might lead to the conceptualisation of more human and original cities. They could be at the origin of the emergence of new paradigms and certainly have the competence to engage and inspire a large participation of policymakers, companies, citizens and activists in the search for brave new cities where all of us feel at home.

Curator: Stephanie Pecourt
Co-production: Gluon, Les Halles Saint Géry, BOZAR

artistic proposition for Gulbenkian

For the Gulbenkian exhibition, I would like to focus on the biofilm as a city and the city as a biofilm.
A biofilm is an association of micro-organisms in which microbial cells adhere to each other on a living or non-living surface within a self-produced matrix of extracellular polymeric substance. Biofilm formation is a cooperative group behaviour that involves bacterial populations living embedded in a self-produced extracellular matrix. The bacteria communicate via quorum sensing (a system of stimuli and response), a cell to cell communication mechanism that synchronizes gene expression in response to population cell density. Genes encode proteins and proteins dictate cell function. Therefore, the thousands of genes expressed in a particular cell determine what that cell can do.
A combination of Wikipedia entries.

I like very much what D’Arcy Thompson is writing in On Growth and Form:
Life has a range of magnitude narrow indeed compared to that with which physical science deals ; but it is wide enough to include three such discrepant conditions as those in which a man, an insect and a bacillus have their being and play their several roles. Man is ruled by gravitation, and rests on mother earth. A water-beetle finds the surface of a pool a matter of life and death, a perilous entanglement or an indispensable support. In a third world, where the bacillus lives, gravitation is forgotten, and the viscosity of the liquid, the resistance defined by Stokes's law, the molecular shocks of the Brownian movement, doubtless also the electric charges of the ionised medium, make up the physical environment and have their potent and immediate influence on the organism. The predominant factors are no longer those of our scale ; we have come to the edge of a world of which we have no experience, and where all our preconceptions must be recast.
(On Growth and Form, D’Arcy Thompson, 1945 edition - chap.II : The Effects of Scale)

“The natural biofilm is less like a highly developed organism and more like a complex, highly differentiated, multicultural community much like our own city”. In this scenario, they describe biofilms as microscopic 3D exopolysaccharide structures — essentially flexible 3D space frames (akin to cell wall membranes) made of proteins and sugars — built, by the biofilm’s colonizing resident bacteria. Our take-away message from Watnick and Kolter is that living, skeletal architecture exists at bacterial scale.
Paula Watnick, Roberto Kolter - Journal of Bacteriology

Life at the edge of Sight

  • compare the layers in the microbial world (the biofilm) with the life and strata of a city
  • contemplate the diversity and the interconnectivity
  • experience the microscopic and the macroscopic size scales
  • learn from the collective behaviour of microbes and fungi
  • discover the hidden forests of microbes

'… a condensed city projected into the future. The design redefines form as energy (made by the bacteria - AM), the walls disappear and buildings open from floor to ceiling onto the landscape … architecture and the city are transformed into instruments for visualising energy …
inspired upon 'la casa elettrica - domus1024 p93

The proposed installation for Gulbenkian consists out of 3 works

Bacterial Mantarey: sculpture in glassbox; biofilm, bioplastics, hemp. Pedestal in metal - openstructures - 65 x 65 x 90cmH.
description: a fungal biofilm (sculpture material is bioplastic with ground coffee and reinforced with hemp threads. The piece is ondulated and measures ± 65cm x 65cm. I will present it in a glassbox on a metal pedestal (H 90cm).It looks like the topographical representation of a green city.

Lab for Form and Matter: installation with cellulose fabrics presented on a light-table. Metal pedestal openstructures format, opal plexiglass tabletop, 4 TL's of 120cm long. Table size is 150cm x 150cm x 75cm H.
description: a square light-table with a collection of cellulose fabrics grown by bacteria.
On top of this collection, I can present some smaller samples of cellulose skins that are inoculated with colonies of bacteria in order to become a biosensor. It is about biotechnology to monitor pollution and smog levels in the city.

Glossa and Stimuli: Scanning Electron Micrographs. Archival B/W prints, 72cm x 58cm each, framed in black oak.
description: Scanning Electron Micrographs of pollution particles and honeybee tongue. The honeybee is an (unwanted) transmitter of fine dust and pesticides particles.

All parts will be prepared in Brussels and can be transported with the truck.
Tables are existing. Glass box for Mantarey needs to be produced, as well as its pedestal.
Photos are existing.

Presentation: a space of 400cm wide by 300cm high and 400cm deep, at least 1 side a wall. Wall can be painted in specific color.

artistic proposition for Maat

They are everywhere and they can be perceived as quite the alien intelligence; six-legged, with their numerous eyes, capacities of motion and sensation so different from our own. No wonder science fiction has been inspired by insects. But also other fields, like robotics as well as network design. Insects are more than creepy-crawly bugs; they are also a central reference point of so much of network culture, from talk of hive minds and distributed networks to algorithms that function like ant colonies; some refer to our cognitive capitalist practices as “pollen society”.
Jussi Parikka ‘Insect Media: an Archaeology of Animals and Technology’

Alien Intelligence: Proboscis, Mentha, Scopae - B/W Archival prints, total 215H x 245W, presented on a wooden structure of 4cm x4cm fixed to the wall.
- Proboscis (x 150 magnified) 160cm x 215cm

A proboscis is an elongated appendage from the head of a honeybee. The term proboscis refers to the tubular mouthparts used for feeding and sucking. Relative to the size of the average honeybee, the proboscis is long, a result of evolution ensuring the bee can reach the center of a flower to collect nectar.
- Mentha, Single Pollen Grain (x 3400 magnified) 80cm x 80cm

An isolated pollen grain of Mentha spicata, Lamiaceae. 78,9 micron and 3400x magnified.
- Scopae (x 480 magnified) 80cm x 80cm

Bees collect pollen, floral oils and other chemicals from plants. The scopae is a particularly dense mass of elongated hairs on the hind leg of a honeybee. Together with the pollen-basket the scopae form a pollen-carrying apparatus that is used to transport pollen from the flower to the nest.

Intelligent Guerrilla Beehive (large model): sculpture, electronics, solar panel; presented in glass box of 50 x 50 x 50 on a metal openstructures pedestal (total H 175cm H x 50W x 50D).
The Intelligent Guerrilla Beehive is a research project on the edge of art and science. It evokes issues of sustainability and biodiversity related to urban environments.
Honeybees are bio-indicators. They reflect the health of their surrounding ecosystem as well as the cumulative effects of different pollutants. They are the canaries in the coalmine.
To support the disappearing bee colonies, I developed the Intelligent Guerrilla Beehive, a metabolic sculpture with a double goal: at one hand it offers a safe and natural refuge for city honeybees, and at the other hand it reflects the pollution of the environment round the beehive.
The Intelligent Guerrilla Beehive project is an ongoing experiment with smart materials and green technology. Honeybees become particle transmitters and bacteria become bioluminiscent sensors. These organisms become interfaces to inform us about the health status of our environment. They become living monitoring technology.
This long-term project has been an incredible source of inspiration for artistic research into issues of ecology, architecture and social sustainability of urban environments. The results are giving the public an artistic experience of this ongoing research, related to changing environments.

IGB additional installation: small square table (75 x 75 x 75, glass top) with results of the Intelligent Guerilla Beehive research (3D printed skeleton, small 3D hive with bacteria, other 3D prints, e.g. for skin (turtle), square petri's (Modulor) with samples cellulose+chitin, skins, plastics, duratrans …
The sensory dimension of materials
Transmutation of the characteristics and properties of materials, due to -among other things- bacteria (biofilms).
Material qualities = the qualities that influence the way we experience a material and collect sensory information from it, e.g. warm or cold, heavy or light, and visual qualities as transparancy, translucense, shininess… The expressive-sensory dimension can be inherent to a material, or can be designed into the material.
The material communicates ideas and approaches, it forces us to think, feel and act in certain ways; it facilitates and improves functionality and use. (cfr. Domus 1027, Sept.2018 - p119)

a space of 400cm wide by 300cm high and 400cm deep, at least 1 side a wall. Wall can be painted in specific color.
B/W Archival prints are existing. They need to be presented on a wooden structure (painted black) on the wall, fixed with velcro. There are 3 photographs: 1 is 162W x 215H and the 2 others are 80W x 80H.
Wooden structure had to be made and fixed to the wall.
IGB and research items existing. All openstructures pedestals existing. Only thing to be made is glass plate 8mm x 75cm x 75cm.

zaalteksten MAAT

Agency is the capacity of an actor to act in a given environment

The Intelligent Guerrilla Beehive
sculpture; bee colony, electronics, solar panel, smart materials, bacteria
Dimensions 175 x 50 x 50
Courtesy of the Artist

The Intelligent Guerilla Beehive (IGB) is a bio-art installation on the edge of art and science. It evokes issues of sustainability and biodiversity, giving viewers an artistic experience of AnneMarie Maes her ongoing research related to the disappearance of the honeybees.
[extra material: Bees are bio-indicators. They reflect the health of their surrounding ecosystem as well as the cumulative effects of different pollutants. In many industrialized nations bee colonies are threatened. Pesticides and parasites are among the main factors, but equally worrisome is air pollution and the compromised state of the bees’ foraging fields.]

The Intelligent Guerilla Beehive is a radically new beehive. At one hand it offers a safe refuge for city honeybees, and at the other hand is is a biosensor that interacts with the environment and that measures the pollution of the foraging fields around the beehive.
[extra material: The IGB aims to support the bees in their pollinating tasks and as such protect the biodiversity of the bees' foraging fields. It tackles a new challenging application domain where a collaboration between human and non-human actors is necessary to maintain the resilience of the system.
Navigating between a blueprint and a proof of concept, the Intelligent Guerilla Beehive is an artifact for the future, a fragment of a world to come.

Variation Games
video account of 1 year intensive bee monitoring inside the beehive, 21’50”
Courtesy of the Artist

Variation Games are games where the set of rules is constantly adapted by the players.
The bees act as transmitters in an interconnected web of bio-intelligent agents. They construct a bioremedial beehive and create a symbiotic environment for exchange with specific bacteria.
They are sentient, perceptive; they see, feel, navigate and communicate. They fabricate and dance, they collect and build, they perform and reproduce. 
The result of this collaboration is a biotechnological device: the Intelligent Guerilla Beehive. The video throws the viewer out of his comfort-bee-zone and shows the colony in action from an unusual point of view. The soundtrack is based upon recordings made in the beehive.
[extra material: The video is a condensed edit of a year-long audiovisual observation of the behaviour of a honeybee colony in the private environment of their refuge. The recordings are made with an infrared camera and contact microphones inside the beehive. The content of this video focuses on the first 6 weeks of the observation, when the bees start the building of their nest. The images show how they first scan the empty space and detect all foreign objects (in this case paper pasted on the back of the hive), which they propolize and eventually tear down, thus appropriating their territory. They start organizing their activities to design the locus as their home. The images demonstrate and reveal decision-making, networking, collaboration and collective intelligence.]

IGB Research
2016 - ongoing
Results of the Intelligent Guerrilla Beehive Research
Dimensions 100 x 60 x 60
Courtesy of the Artist

In collaborating with biologists and engineers AnneMarie Maes has been re-conceptualizing what a beehive is and what it can be. This has also been a starting point for exploring possible futures through artistic research on materials science and biotechnology, and it has lead to the speculative bio-art project The Intelligent Guerrilla Beehive. 
The goal is to provide a biological skin for a beehive, a skin that functions as an interface to compute and communicate the outer environmental data and the internal beehive signals. A bacterial biofilm grows as a pollution sensor on the outer shell of the beehive, at the inside of the nest symbiotic bacteria strenghten the bees’ microbiome and support them in their fight against the Varroa mite.

Bacterial Mantarey
Year 2018
Bacterial biofilm, bioplastics, ground coffee, hemp 

(research for a bacterial pollution sensor)
Dimensions 120 x 65 x 65
Courtesy of the Artist

Bacterial Mantarey is a biofilm, constructed by an association of micro-organisms that adhere to each other on a living or non-living surface. On microscopic level, we discover a 3D space, a living skeletal architecture at bacterial scale built by the biofilms’ resident bacteria colony. The bacteria in the biofilm communicate via quorum sensing, a system of stimuli and response. As such, they react on changes in the environment.

Alien Intelligence
SEM photography (Scanning Electron Micrograph), organic samples of honeybees and pollen
Various dimensions
Courtesy of the Artist in collaboration with laboratory of chemical engineering at VUB Brussels

Alien Intelligence is a series of Scanning Electron Micrographs in which honeybees are studied as technological instruments. In the photos, the sensorial bodyparts (e.g. the bodyhairs) are extremely magnified and are compared to the functionalities of electrical sensors. The attraction between the electromagnetic loaded fur of the insect and the tiny pollen grains of the flowers functions as a magnet. The photographs are extremely detailed and show us the interaction in a formal and aesthetical approach. [extra: All samples are collected in the Urban Bee Lab, AnneMarie Maes her apiary and rooftop garden laboratory in the centre of Brussels.]

maat.txt · Last modified: 2018/10/09 09:38 by ami