- Mobile Performance
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- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
'So in a single drop of water the microscope discovers, what motions, what tumult, what wars, what pursuits, what stratagems, what a circle-dance of Death & Life, Death hunting Life & Life renewed and invigorated by Death … a many meaning cypher.' - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Bacteria are not are endless reprints of a few successful species, they are not a collection of best-selling paperbacks. Only a fraction of bacterial species can be cultured and the smallest working unit is the individual bacterium only in in the case of a small number of well domesticated laboratory pets, and then only in man-made environments of abundance. The BacterioSphere is the microbial equivalent to the weather, a provisional collection of recognized formations to name by analogy what is mostly beyond direct observation. Shotgun sequencing reveals the diverse make-up of the biofilm, hints at its existence as an assortment of adaptive feedback loops, suggests them being laterally organized animalcule phalanxes immersed in wafts of self-brewed Bella Donna. It leaves to the imagination the fierceness of their independence and the intelligence of their strategies. When the bacteria are united they can never be divided: in their fight against death, bactericide by antibiotics or otherwise, the collective sculpts the bodies and programmes the behaviour of its constituent by direct excitation. Souls are rewritten by accepting and ejecting genetic shrapnel, this happens with such speed and with such variety of means and mechanisms that bacteria can change faster than our notion of a specie can accommodate for.
[Bacilli and Cocci, colored with the Gram staining / photo: Umberto Salvagnin]
A bacterium is a system within a system, a wheel within a wheel. Hindu mythology in its effort to set a deity against every essential quality of the universe is a minor work in comparison to the pandemonium of niches inhabited by bacteria, from deep-sea thermal vents to magnetic fields to human probes orbiting outer space. Mutations are the background radiation of biology, a slow invisible random hand pushing species apart. This is in the textbooks and it means to say that an organism can only learn what it already knows, that the thinker/seer/hearer has no direct control over what it thinks/sees/hears. Sex has been invented as a short-cut through this rigidity. The bacteria have jaywalked their way out of this fatalist dilemma by working magic. "They even..." is the bacteriologists most frequently overheard colloquial prefix. Yes: the applause thunders from the benches when 1) a colony under attack makes a heroic comeback by stealing the right bit of DNA from the poisonous other to synthesize the antidote 2) bacteria target specific regions of its structure to mutate with accelerated pace to provide creative solutions where and when they are needed most 3) dished-in bacteria generate electricity, petrol, insulin, psychedelic drugs, etc. etc. 4) a bacterial colony engineers gossamer filaments of nanowire into protruding fully networked power-grids, zapping current through it in order to bring fuel to self, over vast distances, and possibly use it to sense, anticipate, participate and even communicate with the world around it 5) a public school strain solves chess problems, performs logical operations and predicts future states of its environment. By holding on to its open-ended relationship with the world, by remaining a process instead of becoming a finished beast, by resisting purity, bacteria are able to create their own relevance by colonizing esoteric realities.
The savage simplicity of the bacteria is not a sign of its stupidity but a token of its long term commitment to survival. When looking at the tree of life in terms of creative ability it is clear that it is not the bacteria that are primitive; it are the branches 'above' them that are caged in ancient, conservative, over-elaborate and fragile textual heritages. But, the lichen, that many-coloured plant-like coat of nothingness, that centrifugal furry Mandelbrot cloak spreading out in search for a minimal splash of sunlight across otherwise lifeless mineral surfaces underscores the point that driftwork may be the ideal but that the bacterial condition, in finding symbiosis with the fungi, in succumbing to its own comedic take on the cargo-cult, has the profundity to disobey its own principles.
There is plenty of room on all sides of the vortex and the chattering classes are fond of quoting Big Bacterial Numbers, usually taken from Wikipedia, on their blogs: there are 40 million bacteria in a gram of soil and a million bacterial cells in a millilitre of fresh water, the average human body counts 100 trillion bacterial cells in all equalling 10% of our dry bodyweight, one kilogram of bacterial matter is in our gut alone, etc. etc. The numbers inform a position defended by a prominent student of the bug: "They are Us"; without the unacknowledged legislation of the bacteria, inside and outside us, there is no us. The animal kingdom is a pareidoliac catastrophe, a by-product of the BacterioSphere. Ultimately the BacterioSphere is an everlasting Gaia Illuminati handshake that leads the entire biosphere through the pinhole of entropy. Let it be noted.