Mexican collective Interspecifics is going around the globe, from labs to biohacklabs, art and technology festivals. They explain their way of working on interspecies communication.
At Transmediale in Berlin in February, we met Paloma López and Leslie García, who spoke to us about interspecies communication and how the Interspecifics collective is pushing this work philosophy into science labs, biohacklabs and festivals. The whole team (including the green plants and bacteria) worked on this interview!
Where does the name Interspecifics come from?
“Interspecifics means ‘arising between species’. It comes from the idea to collaborate with other organisms to better understand how we construct reality. We explore the possibility to extend our own sensory abilities through the creation of an inter-species communication system, what Paul Beatriz Preciado calls a material counter-technology of consciousness production.
What is the background of the collective?
“Paloma López comes from a Communication Sciences background, ‘science’ standing for the empiric analysis of communication as social phenomena. Unfortunately, and as we often see in formal education, the approach was strongly anthropocentric, more focused on established media and less on building new tools for meaningful production.
“Leslie García studied integral design, a strange hybrid in-between industrial and graphic design. She left the career early and in 2003 started working in the media arts domain. Her background played an extremely important role in the way we understand the semiotic relationship between objects and the way we approach the world and its phenomena.
“Thiago Hersan used to work improving semiconductor manufacturing technologies, now he is more interested in exploring non-traditional uses of technology and their cultural effect.
“At this point we also have the duty to explain the background of E.coli, Geobacter, Shewanella, Physarum, green plants, Euglena, as we consider them part of the collective, but doing so may become extensive.
Can you tell us more about the B10S (read Bios) lab in Mexico?
“Last year we were commissioned to develop an art and science educational program in Mexico City, so we designed B10S. B10S held a series of labs covering topics from microbiology to neuroplasticity, where participants needed to build a device every time, a tool they could take home and use to undertake their own research. All the participants were selected from an open call, and we all worked together with a specialist in the field for 4 days. We wanted to go beyond the theoretical definitions of bio art in Western culture to empirically analyze its incidence within the Latin-American context, which is characterized by precarity. B10S is a space to analyze the epistemological sphere arising from transdisciplinary multimedia practices and DIY. A place where knowledge is constructed collectively to expand the scope of both its development and dissemination. This year we will continue, and we are preparing a special program with the Hackteria network.
As bio-artists you have been working with scientists in different labs. How do you see your experience and the relationship between artists, scientists and tinkering?
“Yes, it’s been several years since we’ve been working very closely with scientists from different institutions. Within the Phychip project we had the opportunity to work with biologists from Graz University, mathematicians and computer scientists from UWE Bristol, among many others. In Mexico we’ve also teamed up with researchers from centers such as Cideteq, Ciatej and Inaoe. The nature of these collaborations relies on a mutual exchange of methodologies from which new forms of knowledge can arise, forms that are not completely determined by science or merely by the subjectivity of art. There is a very clear hierarchy evolving from within the world of science, and this makes it sometimes difficult to find scientists who are really committed, with questions that are constantly arising from their research, rather than the status conferred by their results. However, there are those who work from a fundamental ontological need to unlock, unveil the nature of our universe, and we empathize with them the most.
“When an artist, a designer or a tinkerer is included in the science dialogue, a new epistemology emerges, one where knowledge is not created from a marked hierarchy but a space of dialectic exchange, where we all can contribute. In this way, we could create together a new economy of knowledge that is not based on the quantitative aspect of production. Lastly, when these kinds of exchanges occur, we believe that we should not just reproduce from an Open Source perspective what science kindly offers us, but approach it critically, demystify and, as far as possible, modify it. Clearly, this posture will not always be well received by some scientists.
Because scientists are still very suspicious of artists and Open Science activists?
“The Open Science movement is touching restricted areas on alternative funding and divulgation strategies. It is possible that suspicion may arise from arguments such as the democratization of research and the ways this democratization can completely change the economy of science. But suspicion arose first from our side as a result of practices where the commitment for neutrality was replaced by capital interests, modifying their data to benefit companies or corporations.
“On the other hand, the Open Science model suggests a different approach regarding the issue of tool development. While universities and research centers work with very expensive equipment, various groups are working on developing accessible tools and providing workshops to disseminate techniques and instruments. That is probably the reason why the number of supporters grows in exponential numbers around the world.
Tell us more about the Energy Bending Lab suitcase?
“The Energy Bending Lab is a sound instrument comprised of a custom-built modular synthesizer and signal processing tools that aims to create real-time bio-sonification using the electrical signals coming from different organisms to influence sound parameters. It was conceptualized as a DIY interspecies system. The interface first amplifies the micro voltage produced by these microorganisms and turns their oscillatory features into voltage control signals that tune the internal clock of the whole system, dynamizing the composition on one side and giving us data patterns on the other, sound being the transduction bridge. The object explores the relationship between waveforms and matter, seeking a pattern-based understanding of our context that can illustrate the underlying order within the universe and human consciousness that appears to be intimately related to vibration.
“Non Human Rhythms”, Interspecifics, live, Berlin, February 2016 (with Energy Bending Lab):
“We started this project driven by our interest to work with these highly specialized agencies that have evolved for millions of years on the same planet where we live. For us, the cellular level represents the tiniest dimensions of reality with which it is still possible to interact. One of the ideas that most intrigues us is the sensory capacity of these bodies, how they perceive their environment and how this perception affects our collective construction of reality. Based on this idea, we realize how every organism perceives in terms of the capacity of its sensory interface, and that this is what we call reality.
“For us, the development of these tools is an essential part of our artistic research. We call them ontological machines, which are designed to experience aspects of our world that are seemingly imperceptible.
Audio example made with the Energy Bending Lab suitcase:
What is your approach to the open science movement?
“We have a keen interest in knowledge construction and dissemination, where and under which circumstances it emerges and gets legitimized, and to what extent non-formal and informal practices can contribute from an empirical perspective.
“For this purpose, not only is open science fundamental, but also open knowledge, and in this sense we try to keep track of our whole process of research for easy reproduction and implementation. Every research project we undertake is always accompanied by a workshop, where we share and expose the level of research we are involved in at the moment.”
“We are very much considering ourselves in the culture of the Remix. For us, the open science movement reaching the arts, or bringing artists, tinkerers and scientists to work together is very much something of a Remix culture. That’s why for us it is very important to quote the source you are remixing, being a code, a DIY idea, a piece of hardware, etc. By always referring to the source, you can map the evolution of ideas, the history, the science, and the philosophy too. You can also start to build a network of people and ideas. If you think about it, considering the difficult times of the planet today, with global warming and its consequences, we are constructing intuitive knowledge. Before the crafts were essential for building economical autonomy, but today we are developing new abilities, because you need a bit of electronics, a bit of biology, etc., to be systemic in a way, in order to be able to relate with this very savage world we are creating.
Are you working in sonification within the medical field?
“We’ve been working for a couple of years sonifying EEG signals. We started with neuroesthetics, trying to map the brain’s response to esthetic stimuli, and now trying to see collective coherence under meditation or creative intention. For this we’ve developed our own software called Action Potential to access the raw data from commercial headsets and for data filtering and analysis. This software could potentially become a tool for neurofeedback therapy and could be used as a multimodal tool for neuroscientists and a ludic option for patients, but for this it would need a couple more years of implementation. But we are working very hard under the advice of a team of neuroscientists from Inaoe Institute in Puebla Mexico and in Portugal with neuroscientist Xico Texeira and composer Horacio Tomé-Marques from Mu-arts collective.
EEG sonification examples:
Can you tell us more about your large project in Mexico City featuring a mobile lab?
“We are preparing a piece for Proyecto Líquido, an open-ended curatorial project exploring alternative curatorial formats and commissions from Foundation Alumnos47 in Mexico City. The curatorial statement from Jessica Berlanga Taylor explores the postcolonial influence on desire. We attempt to analyze the way intention operates in terms of desire from a neuroscientific perspective and the possibility of reprogramming memory on a symbolic level. For this we’ve been mapping brains from different shamanic, herbalist, meditation and therapeutic traditions in a mobile library that we turned into our lab for this purpose. We are looking for a collective coherence on EEG signals that can be used to design an interface for social feedback through a collective sound ritual following theories that predict that meditation has a broadcasting effect on the surrounding population, based on the understanding that consciousness is a fundamental, unbounded, non-localized field that connects us all.
So it is a kind of psychotronic post-colonial deconditioning treatment?
“Yet not only thinking of just one colonization but of all the recurring colonizations that we are constantly undertaking and are programming at different levels, our personal and social desire machinerie.”
Open Sensory Substitution lab organized for B10S, 2015: