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MIT List presents Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere

2022 –
More than a dozen worldwide artists are represented in Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere. Through their work, these artists challenge us to reconsider our interactions with the biosphere of the planet from the perspective of symbiosis, or “with living.”
Organisms of various species that coexist and prosper due to their symbiotic relationships are known as symbionts. They consist of microscopic species that circulate in the soil, oceans, and atmosphere to produce the oxygen we breathe as well as mutualists like the bee and apple blossom. Symbionts can also loom as possible predators or burgeon as parasites—all entanglements that the artists in Symbionts took into consideration.
The artists in Symbionts represent a new generation of Bio Art practitioners who work with live organisms like fungi or bacteria—some of which will change artworks during the length of the exhibition. Unlike the code-driven Bio Art pieces from the 2000s, which focused on the artist’s creative manipulation of genetic sequences, Symbionts’ young and varied practitioners are not interested in becoming coding experts. They instead investigate what it means to be interdependent or collaborative, renouncing individual human control over an artwork in acknowledgement of our relationships with beings other than humans. The book Symbionts draws attention to the fact that the vast majority of genetic components in a “human” body are actually made by bacteria, fungi, and viruses rather than by actual humans. Likewise, works in the exhibitions engage a biosphere dynamically modified by the growth of mushrooms, the blooming of algae, and the decomposition work of soil.

These artists reveal the crucial connections that give structure to our world and the interspecies entanglements that evolve it through experimental techniques that blur the lines between art and science while also highlighting the intersections of biological, social, and economic systems.

An illustrated catalogue-reader created by Omnivore and distributed by MIT Press will go along with the exhibition. It will include new essays that were commissioned as well as reprints of important texts from a variety of voices, including those of artists, art historians, theorists, botanists, biologists, geoscientists, geneticists, Indigenous ecologists, and others.

Featured Artists: Crystal Z Campbell, Gilberto Esparza, Jes Fan, Pierre Huyghe, Candice Lin, Alan Michelson, Nour Mobarak, Claire Pentecost, Špela Petric, Pamela Rosenkranz, Miriam Simun, Jenna Sutela, Kiyan Williams, Anicka Yi
Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere is curated by Caroline A. Jones, Natalie Bell, and Selby Nimrod with research assistance by Krista Alba.

20 Ames Street, Bldg. E15
Atrium level
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139

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