Museum of Symbiosis: science fiction storytelling from a symbiotic future
Museum of Symbiosis is an imagined future institution that unearths real-world artefacts donated by people shaping the field of biotechnology today. Grounded by a speculative, mycelium-based 1:100 scale site model, the audience is taken on a sonic journey through a part of the museum through polyphonic retelling of this powerful collection of narratives. Maurizio Montalti’s (IT) 17th-Century microscope makes visible the life we are entangled with, whilst also representing colonial scientific methods which alienate people from nature. Chido Govera’s (ZW) mushroom reveals the erasure of indigenous knowledge systems and what becomes possible when their originators reclaim them. The project demonstrates that the stories of biotechnology are all our stories, and that to share a vision in common we must tirelessly seek out strategies to locate and re-tell compelling narratives.
“The people of the Symbiotic Era knew how important it was to understand history and, where necessary, to correct its imbalances. They also learned to cherish the rich web of relations that define existence on Earth. They celebrated interdependence, or else they never would have survived. They never would have turned the colossally extractive mechanisms of industry inside-out, or made the regenerative processes of the living world available to all. They never would have returned technology to the earth, integrating everything humanity had learned in its troubled journey to maturity back into its source. And they never would have built the Museum of Symbiosis—the first seed planted in a flourishing new world.”
– An extract from The Museum of Symbiosis, by Claire L. Evans, as part of Faber Futures and World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Synthetic Biology. BIO STORIES Report. London: Faber Futures; 2022
The materialisation of Museum of Symbiosis is an investigation into both technical and conceptual possibilities of mycelium-based technologies. Made possible with support by the African Futures Institute, and through close technical development with Mogu, an Italian-based biotechnology start up, the model is grown from mycelial fungal networks. The design development of the piece pursues the relationship between mycelial growth parameters, form and scale, and how these attributes can inform a new architectural language and aesthetic rendering.
The Museum of Symbiosis installation debuted as part of Special Projects, Guests from the Future at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia curated by Lesley Lokko. These Guests from the Future were invited to challenge the limits of what constitutes architectural agency and practice under the curatorial themes of decolonisation and decarbonisation.
The piece emanates from BIO STORIES, a design-led stakeholder engagement project published in 2022 by Faber Futures in collaboration with the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on Synthetic Biology. With synthetic biology now firmly on the global agenda as a key economic driver, this deep listening project engaged thirty knowledge-diverse stakeholders to explore how this technology also transforms our relationships with the living world.
Each stakeholder presented an artefact, animating their dialogues with qualitative insights demonstrating what is at stake as we design. These dialogues were sensitively interpreted into BIO STORIES, amongst which stands ‘The Museum of Symbiosis’, written by Claire L. Evans, a writer and musician.
“It has been very important for us to develop design strategies to retell the stories from our stakeholder engagement, and in different contexts. Retelling these stories through Laboratory of the Future has made material, interwoven and nuanced visions of a biotechnological future from scientists, farmers, artists, designers, industrialists etc. all speaking from diverse geographies, climatic environments and socio-cultural contexts. One of the key challenges the global community faces is how to agree upon a coordinated socio-technical framework for equitable decarbonising. For us, storying and polyphonic retelling of each other’s narratives is a powerful tool to engender the social resilience we need to manifest anything close to the utopian visions of Museum of Symbiosis.”
– Natsai Audrey Chieza, founder, Faber Futures
While the BIO STORIES narratives serve to inform the Forum’s strategic work on synthetic biology, the Museum of Symbiosis’ specially formulated presentation evokes sights, sounds, and feelings that help us inhabit a symbiotic existence that can still be made possible.
The Laboratory of the Future | 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (2023)
Claire L. Evans, Writer & Musician
Mogu, Mycelium Material Manufacturer
Bronze Age, Bronze Foundry
Mathias Arrignon, Sound Designer & Artist
Francesco Anselmo, A/V Engineer and Developer
With special thanks to:
Dr. Christina Agapakis, Dr. Lotte Asveld, Selassie Atadika, Margo A. Bagley, Marlene van Bergeijk, Dr. Rob F. Beudeker, Tom Bosschaert, Dr. Roel Bovenberg, Dr. David A. Bray, Dr. Jane Calvert, Fernando ‘Nano’ Castro, Dr. Matthew Wook Chang, Carole Collet, Dr. Drew Endy, Cameron Fox, Dr. Paul Freemont, Chido Govera, Dr. Faisal Khan, Dr. Pim Klaassen, Dr. David Sun Kong, Douwe Korting, Dr. Natalie Kuldell, Dr. Kyle Lauersen, Emma van der Leest, Dr. Gillian Marcelle, Maurizio Montalti, Dr. Nhlanhla Msomi, Geoffrey Otim, Dr. Megan J. Palmer, Dr. Jahnavi Phalkey, Elissa Prichep, Julia Rijssenbeek, Dr. Melissa Salm, Corinne Okada Takara, Dr. Kassahun Tessfaye, Dr. Ionat Zurr
With the additional support of:
African Futures Institute