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Nam-Gut by Jenna Sutela. 24th May - 4th August
closing event: 4th August 7-9pm. More details here.
Book launch: Orgs: From Slime Mold to Silicon Valley with performance by Jenna Sutela
8pm Jenna Sutela will be reading a performative transcription of the publication Orgs: From Slime Mold to Silicon Valley in collaboration with Physarum Polycephalum, the single-celled yet “many-headed” slime mould to accompany the launch.
Read the excellent Art Monthly review by Jamie Sutcliffe (July August 2017) here.
Nam-Gut (the microbial breakdown of language) is a video by Jenna Sutela that presents a biological poetry culture based on a “wetware random number generator”. The stochastic movement of fermentation – an inherently unpredictable process – can be seen actively brewing in the symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, in a kombucha tea ferment. The changes in the living material shape a text inspired by the ancient Sumerian incantation, a nam-shub, (Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, ’92) which questions the degree of instruction, or performativity, produced by the protocols of computer code and natural language, working in conjunction with the gut brain.
The fermentation process contributes to the creation of a new kind of language as a jumbling of letters on screen emerge from Jumbo, an anagram solver algorithm developed by cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter founded on biological cell activity. Letters combine and break apart via enzymes that “jiggle around, glomming on to structures where they find them, kicking reactions into gear,” (1) new phonemes audibly bubble up through the cells interaction with it’s environment, re-arranging, building and breaking words. Each reaction leads to another, as the population of enzymes balances itself to reflect the state of the jumble. The work draws further on Gut-Machine Poetry (2017), an online commission by Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, for which Sutela, together with Vincent de Belleval and Johanna Lundberg, built a homebrew computer with probiotic foodstuff bubbling in its gut.
The accompanying video mantra RI JIRI I O WA NU RU DAINICHI T-1000 shows a yellow slime mould interacting with a shape drawn by Japanese naturalist Minakata Kumagusu who collected slime mould samples for Emperor Hirohito in the 1920s. In a letter to a Buddhist monk, Kumagusu represented his view of the world through the mandala drawing, which points to the limits of anthropocentrism and the existence of other kinds of systems, beyond human cognitive processes. Physarum polycephalum, the single-celled yet “many-headed” slime mould, often referred to as a biological computer, rhythmically constricts and relaxes, keeping the cytoplasm within it flowing in the best possible direction for survival—towards bacteria to eat, or to a dark and damp living environment—growing solutions to problems, without any conscious thought. It can navigate a maze using the shortest possible route to its food source and, hence, can confirm or refute the efficiency of transportation networks. In the field of robotics, there have been attempts to use it as a control unit. Sutela works with this decentralized autonomous organism as a collaborator, or a co-performer in many of her recent works, nodding towards human intelligence as also being part of emergent material phenomena.
Nam-Gut (the microbial breakdown of language), 2017, by Jenna Sutela
Voice: Jessica Edwards
Audio recording: Adam Laschinger
RI JIRI I O WA NU RU DAINICHI T-1000, 2016, by Jenna Sutela
Camera and editing: Mikko Gaestel
(1) James Somers, The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think, The Atlantic, November 2013