The focus of this artistic research project lies on non-linguistic microbial communication. The project investigates the language of microbes, known scientifically as ‘quorum sensing’. This field of investigation was initiated more than thirty years ago and is still to be fully explored. According to the population density, microbes can alter their behavior using an intercellular signaling molecular process. Quorum sensing effectively allows microbes to be aware of one another’s presence, to ‘count’ themselves and behave as a multi-cellular group at a high cell number. If we, humans, aspire truly to experience and thus better understand inter-organismic communication, there must be an need to recognize microbial life-forms as actors co-shaping our bodies (and hence our physical and mental constitution). This may allow us to take better care of both the microcosm and the macrocosm, and thus ultimately to take better care of ourselves. How can we develop critical artistic research tools that will allow us to deepen our understanding of non-linguistic organisms? Could we expand our sensual, haptic, physical, visual and imaginary language to explore our relation to these living organisms and thus deepen and broaden our understanding of being in the world? How can an imaginary world facilitate a radically new view on biological rules, hierarchies, interactions, dimensions and scales?

Building on questioning the metaphor of living species’ skins as surfaces, membranes or interfaces linked to the discovery of the Microbiome, we will re-imagine skins as fictional layers of communication, as landscapes of multi-beings. Experiencing bodies as walking biotopes opens up a realm of completely new perspectives and possibilities, as part of human culture. We will study the ‘social network’ of ecosystems by striving to learn microbial languages and their collective behaviours. What if we had wondrous artifacts that could act as mediators to gain a better understanding of ‘the other’? New societal landscapes could evolve related to ethical issues. Artifacts allow us to broaden our view, to start talking to them and to envision further forms of interaction. We will stress the need for a change in the long-lasting belief that microbes are asocial creatures that do not affect either us or our environment.

As part of this project, wondrous artifacts will be developed and utilized as imaginary tools. By doing this, we aim to sharpen and awaken the explorer’s senses, to create awareness and encourage the development of private knowledge about the body. We aim to activate the use of the largest non-verbal communication platform between humans, as a method for thinking critically and envisaging alternative futures. Once created, these landscapes of multi-beings will allow the viewer to experience recently acquired scientific knowledge and offer the opportunity to approach and potentially understand the human body from a new standpoint. The project seeks to address human exceptionalism and expand current knowledge about microbial communication by developing new artistic, chemical and biological tools. The invisible microcosm will become tangible and imaginable, and thus accessible to a broader audience.

The project runs from autumn 2017 until spring 2020.


What would a microbe say? is supported by