In 2018, I started Emergent is a research creation project investigating ways in which we can better comprehend and eventually cope with newly emerging or newly created life forms that won’t fit or will exceed the categories defined by traditional taxonomies.
I had two main questions in mind: how is the emergence of these new life forms challenging traditional research methods and existing disciplinary containers? and how can research based on artistic practice and on collaboration across science and the arts help producing new ones?
The project focuses simultaneously on two notions of emergent life forms: life dynamically emerging as the result of profoundly entangled and situated processes; and life that does not belong to or escapes any category, because it is either too new, too complicated or unstable to fit a category, or not worth the effort because in constant change.
These life forms are the products of screen technologies; they are the result of synthetic, molecular and tissue culture lab processes to modify and customize life; they are the result of environmental transformations originated from adaptation and forced migration due to climate change. Examples of these lifeforms are the sometimes bizarre, sometimes disturbing AI generated creatures populating Midjourney and DALL-E; the recent xenobots produced by combining programming via evolutionary algorithms and wet tissue culture; GMO insects, oncoviruses or animals whose existence only occurs in the lab; wild life and vegetal life being displaced or forced to adapt to environmental changes, or undergoing behavioral transformations caused by their exposure to other species in deforested and urbanized spaced.
After almost two years of research, the project was expected to culminate in an exhibition showcasing collaboration notes, objects and specimens, as well as artworks originated from, or illustrating the findings generated during the research phase. However, the pandemic brought the initial plans to a halt as galleries suddenly had to shut their doors. During the pandemic, the project prompted reflections about the state of the arts and their exhibition spaces in post-pandemic times. In fact, with the closure and re-structuring of many galleries and museums during and after the pandemic, one question kept arising as our research team prepared to make the project public: could the extraordinary circumstances we all experienced offer an opportunity to renegotiate the significance of gallery spaces? Could the gallery be freed from the constraints posed by its traditional spatial and cultural configuration as a (real and virtual) enclosed space, and be at the forefront of new and more intense forms of (re)socializations? Facing a sudden absence of exhibition spaces and fueled by a genuine curiosity to experiment with new opportunities, we decided to create a multipurpose mobile object to not only contain research findings and artifacts, but also to interface and engage in dialogue with the city and its human and non-human dwellers. The resulting mobile gallery then acquired multiple new meaning: it is no longer just a new safe exhibition space where emergent forms of life are observed and debated, but also a space where emergent life is created and lived, and ultimately an emergent “life” on its own.
The mobile gallery now exists in two forms: one fully portable built to be exhibited internationally (see the first three images above) and one destined to travel the city of Toronto (second set). Every time the gallery is handed to a different artist, it takes a very different appearance. full documentation can be found here