OTHER
MINDS

BERLIN
23 SEP—20 OCT

CURATORIAL STATEMENT

Curatorial-Statement

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Screen City Biennial (SCB) Other Minds looks into the liminal states of consciousness that arise in the symbiotic relationship between the human mind and that of other living and non-living matter—including plants, bacteria, fungi, and technology. The project interrogates and challenges the notion of the human, embracing instead an idea of the more-than-human—a concept that expands personhood to entities beyond our species—by stressing the crucial connections among all living and non-living matter, both on a planetary and a cosmic scale. The core exhibition of Other Minds takes place at the Archenhold Observatory in Berlin. At this historically significant astronomical observatory, the project brings together the voices of artists whose work draws connections across layers of history, spacetimes, worldviews, and speculative narratives for the future. The program presents lens-based and time-based artworks, a majority of which are newly commissioned, including performances, activations, artist talks, and online events.

 

As a departure point for its storytelling, Other Minds focuses on the entangled issue of consciousness—a constantly morphing concept that has been at the center of philosophical inquiry for centuries. Its definition and application have changed radically during the course of history as a consequence of new scientific findings and the emergence of alternative worldviews. In recent years, animals like cephalopods—the octopus in particular—have led to a broader understanding of how non-human minds function, with their decentralized brains distributed all over their fluid bodies, merging what we call “understanding” and “sensing” into one single gesture. As argued by Peter Godfrey Smith, whose work has inspired this exhibition and its title, cephalopods—in contrast to mammals—represent a unique experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behavior. In fact, our most recent common ancestor dates only so far back and was a much simpler organism that, if we can make contact with contemporary cephalopods as sentient beings, it is only because evolution has built the mind twice over¹. In this view, the octopus could be considered the closest manifestation of an alien intelligence that we might ever encounter—our alien kin.

With their tentacles (deriving from Latin tentāre, to attempt, to try), cephalopods have inspired Donna Haraway’s notion of tentacular thinking—a strategy that encourages us to think and act beyond binary divisions and dual opposites, opening our awareness to the multiple realities that we are still unable to recognize and comprehend fully². Attempting to train our brains to think tentacularly could allow us to create a framework to overcome the dualities that are so rooted in our modes of thinking; the opposition between biological life and death, the human/non-human, gendering, among many others. In this way, tentacular thinking might help us arrive at a broader understanding of more-than-human agencies, perhaps even leading to a more liveable future for us all.

How can we learn to understand our worlds tentacularly, and what do we need to unlearn in order to achieve this? How can these strategies enable a shift in our paradigms and in our modes of seeing, a shift that ultimately establishes a collective planetary consciousness, rather than individual ones? And have we ever been one single entity, or are we essentially manifold?

¹  Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life, William Collins, London (2017)
² Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke university press, Durham & London (2016)

As has been proven, the human body is composed of a significantly higher number of microbial cells than human cells. Bacteria, fungi, and viruses co-inhabit our body, giving it life and allowing it to function. We are a consortium of critters that constitute much more than an individual body; we are a portable ecosystem that constantly exchanges matter and energy with its surroundings—a holobiont. Collaboration and symbiosis are therefore key to understanding life, evolution, and consciousness. Emerging evidence also points to the fact that our microbiome not only supports our metabolism, bodily functions, and evolution, but it may also directly affect our thoughts and feelings, ultimately influencing the way we act. If our thought processes and emotions are affected by other life forms that co-inhabit our body, then, is our mind ever really acting on its own? Or is the human mind merely a small component in a much larger planetary assemblage of more-than-human minds who are collectively shaping a cosmic intelligence—something that we may not yet be able to grasp and describe? 

Connections between the microscopic and the telescopic are drawn in Metahaven’s film Capture (2022), a cinematic search for what perception and sensing can entail today, with sound composed by Espen Sommer Eide. Including archival footage from the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) and newly-created cinematic scenes from a variety of cameras and sensors, the work plays upon observation, entanglement, sci-fi, science, and poetry. In Jenna Sutela’s audiovisual work Milky Ways (2022), the bodies of terrestrial organisms are explored as connected aquatic environments, drawing particular attention to the role of sugars contained in breast milk that communicate with babies' gut bacteria and seems to shape the development of babies’ nervous systems. Under these considerations, the transfer of breast milk from mother—or (m)other, as Sutela spells it—to baby is only partially an act of feeding; most significantly, it is an act of worldbuilding across generations and interspecies. The way memory allows for a string of data to be passed through matter across time is further developed by Lundahl & Seitl’s virtual reality experience and installation Eternal Return: the Memor (2019–2022, with ScanLAB Project). Drawing multiple connections between living matter and geology, the work crafts an experience of time-travel from earth’s deep past as unicellular cyanobacteria to its post-anthropocentric future. Their work Symphony of a Missing Room – Sternwarte choreographs a sensorial experience of the Archenhold Observatory; we become receivers of the light that travels from the stars, and attempt to make contact with a signal that reaches us from a multiple light-years distance. 

A large part of Other Minds' storytelling concentrates on vegetal intelligence, fungi and plant teachers. Throughout history, in fact, the symbiotic relationship between humans and psychoactive plants, mushrooms, and even animals, has opened up new modes of seeing and sensing the real. This may bring us closer to notions of oneness and the planetary, holistic agency, beyond an idea of fragmented functioning. The dissolution of the “I” that can be experienced when psilocybin compounds enter our metabolism may equally enable a temporary comprehension of the functioning of holobionts and more-than-human agencies. It has even been argued that psilocybin mushrooms may have had a crucial role in the rapid development of the human brain, which tripled in size in just two million years. The mushrooms would not have provoked a sudden shift, but they may have been a subtle and considerable factor in the evolution of the brain by acting like “hackers” of the human mind and contributing to its expansion into a neurologically modern hardware for thinking. The connections between the human brain and psilocybin plants are explored and dreamed up by Grace Ndiritu in Becoming Plant: the Experience (2022), Viktor Pedersen and Ingrid K. Bjørnaali in To See Without Man (2022), and Patricia Domínguez in Matrix Vegetal (2022). These works emphasize the mind-expanding potential that could be unleashed if we established a symbiotic connection with the vegetal mind, thus expanding posthumanist notions of planetary entanglements into cosmic consciousness. Can thinking about the leaf as an energy-processing surface help us to revise our current extractive practices, which are leading to an anthropogenic depletion of resources? Can photosynthesis provide a speculative framework for imagining a future in which the human body has learned to process starlight directly and has partly become vegetal?

curatorial_design

Another thread of Other Minds focuses on the development of artificial intelligence, the mind of software, and on how the possibility of artificial consciousness is already affecting our present and the way we envisage a future amidst the ruins of capitalism. In the augmented reality work Coffee Ground Imaginaries (2022), Anna Ehrenstein and 4DHD use the traditional divination technique of tasseography (a method of interpreting patterns in coffee cups) to respond to the way algorithmic engineering is creating patterns to predict and materialize global futures. In the lecture performance I’d Blush If I Could (2022–2023), Eli Cortiñas proposes a critical approach to the increasing feminization of technology by putting in dialogue different devices—humanoid robots, voice-activated systems, chatbots, gynomorphic and zoomorphic social devices—to discuss issues around ecology, sustainability, care, and gender.

Concluding the drift of Other Minds, with Opus Mors (2019) Jacob Kirkegaard crafts a complex space for the audible experience of the molecular modification of matter once life’s state of consciousness has ended. Being presented at an astronomical site, the work combines the molecular and the cosmic, re-signifying the notion of human decomposition as a natural transformation (or re-composition) into another matter. Is it possible to hear the sound of electrons? Beyond its apparent stability, on the atomic and subatomic levels, matter is incessantly electric. It vibrates within its seeming solid confines, in a dance that entangles us all with the invisible bacteria, viruses, and fungi that thrive in our bodies, or with the “inert” objects we are surrounded by. All the atoms are imperceptibly decaying and unawarely waiting to be transformed into new matter, in a continuous sympoiesis and coevolution.

Looking at the medium of the moving image in an expanded fashion, and occupying unconventional public spaces for the arts in in Berlin (2022) and Oslo (2023), Other Minds extends from its main venue at the Archenhold Observatory, to other locations across the city. Accompanied by an extensive public program, including activations, live performances, talks, and online events, Other Minds looks closely into more-than-human agencies, coevolution, and the fundamental interconnectedness of living and non-living matter.

Another thread of Other Minds focuses on the development of artificial intelligence, the mind of software, and on how the possibility of artificial consciousness is already affecting our present and the way we envisage a future amidst the ruins of capitalism. In the augmented reality work Coffee Ground Imaginaries (2022), Anna Ehrenstein and 4DHD use the traditional divination technique of tasseography (a method of interpreting patterns in coffee cups) to respond to the way algorithmic engineering is creating patterns to predict and materialize global futures. In the lecture performance I’d Blush If I Could (2022–2023), Eli Cortiñas proposes a critical approach to the increasing feminization of technology by putting in dialogue different devices—humanoid robots, voice-activated systems, chatbots, gynomorphic and zoomorphic social devices—to discuss issues around ecology, sustainability, care, and gender.

Concluding the drift of Other Minds, with Opus Mors (2019) Jacob Kirkegaard crafts a complex space for the audible experience of the molecular modification of matter once life’s state of consciousness has ended. Being presented at an astronomical site, the work combines the molecular and the cosmic, re-signifying the notion of human decomposition as a natural transformation (or re-composition) into another matter. Is it possible to hear the sound of electrons? Beyond its apparent stability, on the atomic and subatomic levels, matter is incessantly electric. It vibrates within its seeming solid confines, in a dance that entangles us all with the invisible bacteria, viruses, and fungi that thrive in our bodies, or with the “inert” objects we are surrounded by. All the atoms are imperceptibly decaying and unawarely waiting to be transformed into new matter, in a continuous sympoiesis and coevolution.

Looking at the medium of the moving image in an expanded fashion, and occupying unconventional public spaces for the arts in in Berlin (2022) and Oslo (2023), Other Minds extends from its main venue at the Archenhold Observatory, to other locations across the city. Accompanied by an extensive public program, including activations, live performances, talks, and online events, Other Minds looks closely into more-than-human agencies, coevolution, and the fundamental interconnectedness of living and non-living matter.

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