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Holobiont: Life as Other

A visual meditation on nested scales of life
Holobiont: Life as Other
Great fleas have little fleas
upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn,
have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still,
and greater still, and so on.
- Augustus Morgan, Book of Paradoxes, 1872

At the peak of the COVID-19 lockdowns, Bruce Clarke, Dorion Sagan, and David McConville collaborated on a piece for the Holobiont: Life as Other exhibition.

Here's a zoomable version. We suggest viewing full screen and giving the portion of the image you've selected time to resolve:

Lynn Margulis/Bruce Clarke/Dorion Sagan/David McConville
Wood panel with digital print 300 x 200cm


From the Angewandte Interdisciplinary Lab exhibition catalog:

The exhibition title Holobiont: Life is Other cites the term introduced by the biologist Lynn Margulis of the holobiont, which describes the cohabitation of different organisms in a host that together form a metaorganism. The concept of the holobiont allows for a current view of life as a cooperative and holistic system. According to this theory, at an evolutionarily early stage, they entered into a symbiotic relationship with other prokaryotic cells, which led to the development of the latter into eukaryotic cells. This thesis also explains the special properties of mitochondria and plastids as cell organelles and the emergence of other eukaryotic cell characteristics such as the nucleus.

This tableau, specially designed for the exhibition, was conceived by Dorion Sagan - Lynn Margulis' son - and Bruce Clarke. It brings together quotes and images of polyps, corals, the human microbiome and the entire biosphere. An insight prevails that breaks through conventional categorizations of species and gives Arthur Rimbaud's famous sentence "Je est un autre" a new meaning in the light of contemporary life sciences.

Gaian Systems, together with Dorion Sagan, designed this contribution to the Holobiont exhibition.

Lynn Margulis (1938-2011) was an American biologist and university professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After studying zoology and genetics, she received her doctorate in 1965 from the University of California, Berkeley, where she had researched the thymidine uptake of ciliates together with the zoologist Max Alfert. Margulis' best-known scientific achievement is the rediscovery and further development of the endosymbiont theory, postulated by Andreas Franz Wilhelm Schimper in 1883 and proposed again by Konstantin Sergejewitsch Mereschkowski in 1905, on the origin of plastids and mitochondria as originally independent prokaryotic organisms.

Bruce Clarke is Paul Whitfield Horn Distinguished Professor of Literature and Science in the Department of English at Texas Tech University. His research focuses on systems theory, narrative, and Gaia theory. He held the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA Chair in Astrobiology at the US Library of Congress, was a senior fellow at the Center for Literature and Nature Science at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, and a senior fellow at the International College for Cultural Technology Research and Media Philosophy at Bauhaus University Weimar. His publications include Gaian Systems: Lynn Margulis, Neocybernetics, and the End of the Anthropocene (Minnesota 2020), Neocybernetics and Narrative (Minnesota 2014), Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems (Fordham 2008), and Energy Forms: Allegory and Science in the Era of Classical Thermodynamics (Michigan 2001). Clarke was also a member of the curatorial advisory board of the Karlsruhe Center for Art and Media (ZKM) for the exhibition Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics under the direction of Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel. Since 2019, together with David McConville and Dawn Danby of the research and design agency Spherical, he has been directing the transdisciplinary Gaian Systems: Planetary Cognition Lab - a research project that curates research, organizes workshops, and enables immersive experiences that promote understanding of our connection to our living planet.

Dorion Sagan (born 1959 in Wisconsin) is a writer, philosopher, and author or co-author of 25 books translated into fifteen languages. As an ecological theorist, he has been at the forefront of bringing our growing understanding of symbiosis as a major force in evolution into the intellectual mainstream within both science and the humanities, and of rethinking the human body as a "multispecies organism". Sagan has recently continued his lifelong efforts to decenter humans by proposing the concept of the Cyanocene in response to the debates of the Anthropocene. Sagan's close collaboration with several scientists from various fields, including evolution, ecology, and thermodynamics, has helped to initiate new, more integral, and more realistic biological approaches that recognize humanity as a very new part of a four-billion-year-old biosphere.

Holobiont: Life as Other announcement

We are inhabited by bacteria and viruses, just as we humans inhabit homes, cities and environments. We also serve as hosts for ideologies, media and technologies. The term 'holobiont', coined in 1991 by biologist Lynn Margulis, describes us as a total living being permeated by the biosphere. 'Holobiont' explodes the self-understanding of individual life, links us symbiotically with other organisms via our microbiome, disrupts the division into subject and object and offends our usual ego concept..

The social and psychological transformations of the last few months bring to mind that 'life' is above all that of other than human actors.

Simple demarcations no longer stand up to this dynamic. We' experience 'us' as transitory beings drifting between digital and molecular worlds and sense the twisting of boundaries within us as the possibility of a new language beyond a symbolic distance from the world.

With the exhibition HOLOBIONT, Magazin4 shows bodies, environments, texts, media, machines and biological organisms - condensed into ten pictorial spaces, each of which represents a narrative about another life and about the lives of others: LIFE IS OTHER! Using different methods, theoretical concepts, processes and metaphors, the gallery becomes a "holospace" - a magazine within a magazine.

With contributions by Art Orienté Objet, Irini Athanassakis, David Berry, Julia Borovaya, Juan M. Castro & Akihiro Kubota, Tagny Duff, Thomas Feuerstein, Ana Maria Gomez Lopez, Luis Hernan/Pei-Ying Lin/Carolina Ramirez-Figueroa, Nigel Helyer, Hideo Iwasaki, Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Eduardo Kac, Lynn Margulis/Dorion Sagan/Bruce Clarke/David McConville, Yann Marussich, our alumna Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Gerald Nestler, ORLAN, Špela Petrič, Chris Salter, Maja Smrekar, Klaus Spiess, our alumna Lucie Strecker/KT Zakravsky, Franco Vaccari, Paul Vanouse, M R Vishnuprasad and Peter Weibel.

Curated by Judith Reichart, alumna Lucie Strecker, Thomas Feuerstein, Jens Hauser and Magazin4.

When? Where?
17 April – 20 June 2021 (opening: 16 April, 3-5pm)
Bergmannstraße 6
6900 Bregenz https://www.udk-berlin.de/en/research/graduate-school/current-events-archive/archive/2021/holobiont-life-is-other/