21-22 April at the Science Gallery London, marking the publication of Gaia and Philosophy by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan on Earth Day.
In collaboration with Gaia Art Foundation and Science Gallery London.
Image: Asad Raza, still from Ge, 2020-ongoing.
In the 1970s, microbiologist Lynn Margulis and atmospheric chemist James Lovelock developed the Gaia theory. Embracing the circular logic of life and engineering systems, the Gaia theory states that Earth is a complex, self-regulating system in which life interacts with and eventually becomes its own environment. Gaia, describing a living Earth – a body in the form of a planet, resonates with the ancient magico-religious understanding that all is one: as above, so below.
What does a body in the form of a planet look like? AS ABOVE, SO BELOW draws inspiration from Margulis’ creative scientific vision to illuminate the interconnectedness of life, from microbial to planetary bodies. Through an interdisciplinary approach, the programme, coinciding with the publication of Gaia and Philosophy by Margulis and Dorion Sagan (Ignota, 2023), explores the potential of the revolutionary Gaia paradigm not only for understanding life's past but for shaping its future.
Book tickets here.
Friday 21 April
18:45: Doors open
19:00 – 21:30: Screening of Symbiotic Earth (Theatre)
AR by Sammy Lee in Atrium
Saturday 22 April
11.15 – 11.30: Introductions by Sarah Shin and Burcu Yuksel (Theatre)
11.30 – 12.30: Gaia – The Story of Science panel discussion (Theatre)
12:30 – 1.30: Break for lunch
13.30 – 14.30: Gaia Today panel discussion (Theatre)
14.45 – 15.45: Polymorphic Microbe Bodies Workshop (Workshop)
14.45 – 16.15: Artist’ film screenings (Theatre)
16.15 – 17.15: Poetry readings
AR by Sammy Lee in Atrium
Gaia: The Story of Science
Edna Bonhomme, Daisy Hildyard, Merlin Sheldrake and Gaia Vince.
Gaia theory has inspired scientific and cultural narratives that highlight the interdependence of humans and the natural world. Drawing on biology, environmental science, climate and histories and languages of science, the panellists will explore Gaia theory as a form of scientific storytelling that weaves together different disciplines and connects them to a profound narrative about the Earth's history and future. What is the role of science in society? What kinds of storytelling allow us to hold many sciences together at the same time?
Sougwen Chung, Asad Raza and Gary Zhexi Zhang. More participants TBA.
What are the legacies and utilities of Gaia theory within today's art, culture, technology and society? In this panel discussion, artists, technologists, curators and scientists reflect on the influence of Gaia theory on contemporary ideas and practices of collaboration, mutualism and sustainability. What new models of living can be developed that prioritise ecological stewardship and economic redistribution? How do Gaian ideas support human and other-than-human creativity and explorations of consciousness?
Polymorphic Microbe Bodies: Multisensory Somatic Workshop
Erin Robinsong and Hanna Sybille Müller
Polymorphic Microbe Bodies is a multisensory dance work created by Hanna Sybille Müller and Erin Robinsong that invites audiences on a somatic journey into their own bodies. Guided by binaural sound, smell, touch, language and taste, we travel the microbial worlds inside our mouths, guts and imaginaries. More than half the cells in our bodies are not human but microbial, and we are like planets, composed of ecosystems, inhabitants and relationships. Bacteria, viruses, archaea and fungi together form ‘our’ body. What does it mean to be a multispecies community? How do we feel our multiplicity?
NOTE: Participants must bring their own headphones and smartphone to access the binaural sound file via a QR code.
Symbiotic Earth: How Lynn Margulis Rocked the Boat and Started a Scientific Revolution
John Feldman, 2017, 2h 27m
Symbiotic Earth explores the life and ideas of scientific rebel Lynn Margulis, who challenged entrenched theories of male-dominated science. As a young scientist in the 1960s, Margulis was ridiculed when she first proposed that symbiosis – when organisms live and work together — was a key driver of evolution, but she persisted. Through numerous collaborations, including developing the Gaia theory with James Lovelock, she caused a seismic shift in our understanding of life. Margulis’ symbiotic narrative presents an alternative to the destructive worldview based on extraction from the natural world and competition with others. Her vision offers bold insights into health, society and nature, and inspires creative approaches to our pressing environmental and social crises.
Artists’ Short Film Programme
Image: Eglė Budvytytė in collaboration with Marija Olšauskaitė and Julija Lukas Steponaitytė, still from Songs from the compost: mutating bodies, imploding stars.
Eglė Budvytytė in collaboration with Marija Olšauskaitė and Julija Lukas Steponaitytė, Songs from the compost: mutating bodies, imploding stars, 2020
Songs from the compost is a hypnotic exploration of nonhuman forms of consciousness and different dimensions of symbiotic life: interdependence, surrender, death, and decay. The song lyrics draw on the work and words of biologist Lynn Margulis, celebrating the role of bacteria in making life and the collaboration between the single-cell organisms possible, as well as concepts by the science-fiction author Octavia Butler, who employed tropes of symbiosis, mutation, and hybridity to challenge hierarchies and categorisation.
Image: Kyriaki Goni, still from A way of resisting (Athens Data Garden), 2020.
Kyriaki Goni, A way of resisting (Athens Data Garden), 2020
An imaginary community of digital citizens stores its most valuable digital data in micromeria acropolitana – a small plant that is endemic to the Acropolis. The life cycle of data follows that of a plant, fostering a relation of interdependence and care. In a peculiar garden, users become the plants’ gardeners, whereas plants in their turn become gardeners of the stored information. Can anyone think of the future of connectivity beyond surveillance, minimising the consequences of technological infrastructures on the natural environment? Is it possible for the bond between human and non-human worlds on this planet to be substituted?
Kyriaki Goni, The mountain islands shall mourn us eternally (Dolomites Data Garden), 2022
A plant indigenous to the Dolomites addresses humans and shares a simulation revealing the upward migration and extinction of its species, due to rising temperatures and overexploitation of land. Is there any hope, or will the mountain islands indeed mourn life as we know it on Earth? The plant transmits information about a decentralised alliance of techno-shamanic, interspecies communities spread around the planet known as data gardens. Storing digital memory in the plants' DNA, this network has at its epicentre interspecies care and solidarity.
Image: Asad Raza, still from Ge, 2020-ongoing.
Asad Raza, Ge, 2020-ongoing
The first iteration of Ge, an endless and evolving video work, mixes fiction and documentary to create a portrait of the bioscape surrounding James Lovelock’s Dorset home: the conditions that produced the idea of the planet as a living feedback loop. The second iteration features the artist and his daughter demonstrating how to make soil from sand, vegetable matter and other ingredients. The third iteration traces a sailing trip with seven musicians across Lake Erie, and a subsequent performance of music they made on the voyage, in collaboration with the lake.
Image: Ben Rivers, still from Urth, 2016.
Ben Rivers, Urth, 2016
Urth was filmed in and around Biosphere 2, the largest closed ecological system ever created for scientific research in the Arizona desert, designed to emulate Earth’s environment (Biosphere 1). Taking its title from the Old Norse word suggesting the twisted threads of fate, Urth forms a cinematic meditation on ambitious experiments, constructed environments, visions of the future and humankind’s relationship with the natural world. An unnamed protagonist, who appears to be the last survivor of her kind, reflects upon her own mortality and the unknowable fate of the planet after the end of humanity.
Image: Mariana Sanchez Salvador and Rain Wu, still from As Above, So Below, 2020.
Mariana Sanchez Salvador and Rain Wu, As Above, So Below,
Empathy begins with acknowledging the position of our body in the world, not simply towards a different body, but also across time and dimensions. Food spans across all aspects of our lives, from the most profane everyday nourishment to the sacrifices that made an anthropological imprint on the collective psyche. It connects science and myth, known and unknown. The meal, the settlement, the landscape, the cosmos, down to the microbial and viral in our guts and in the air—food allows us to discover a new perspective on our world. The film makes use of archive images and microscopic photography of edible substances—fruits, vegetables, grain, fish, vitamins—as a metaphor of the macro, to create a timeless, scaleless world.
Image: Jenna Sutela, still from Holobiont, 2022.
Jenna Sutela, Holobiont, 2022
Holobiont considers the idea of embodied cognition on a planetary scale, featuring a zoom from outer space to inside the gut. It documents Planetary Protection rituals at the European Space Agency and explores extremophilic bacteria in fermented foods as possible distributors of life between the stars. Bacillus subtilis, the nattō bacterium, plays a leading role. The term 'holobiont' stands for an entity made of many species, all inseparably linked in their ecology and evolution.
Bloom, Sammy Lee, 2023
Approximately 3.4 billion years ago, Earth experienced a profound transformation. In this volatile oceanic world, water, carbon dioxide and volcanic eruptions cycled through chaotic movements of thermodynamic energy. From this chaos, life emerged when a random fusion of water, enzymes, and gasses organised into a primordial cell. This single, slime-encased cell, and its multiplication, led to the rise of oxygen and the transformation of the entire planet: from below, so above.
This extraordinary chain of events set the stage for the Gaia theory, first proposed by atmospheric scientist James Lovelock and developed with microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s. Describing a living earth – a self-regulating planetary system – Gaia theory was modeled by Lovelock and Andrew Watson’s 1983 simple computer simulation, Daisy World. This black-and-white daisy-filled world illustrated temperature regulation through the feedback mechanisms of the two different types of daisies interacting with the ‘Sun’. When there was more heat, white daisies proliferated to reflect the heat away from the surface of Daisy World and cool the planet; when there was less, black daisies proliferated over white daisies to absorb more heat and warm the planet.
Bloom, like Daisy World, is a Gaian planet. In this blue oceanic world, algae bloom in vibrant colours that respond to the energy of a simulated star to effect planetary cooling, producing a sulphur-dense atmosphere. This complex simulated world responds to Dorion Sagan’s description of Gaia in his new introduction to Gaia and Philosophy (Ignota, 2023) as less ‘a reactive, cybernetic system, but rather an anticipative, autopoietic one. Autopoiesis (auto: ‘self’; poiesis: ‘making’) refers to a system – living matter – that is self-reflexive, self-oriented, literally self-producing.’ Bloom’s autopoetic simulation, a microcosm on a planetary scale, takes place in augmented reality across mixed physical and digital ecosystems to invite reflection on the entanglement of multiple systems and hybrid environments.
Pratyusha, Nisha Ramayya and Erin Robinsong close the programme with readings engaging with entanglement, care and ecology.