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Panspermia- a multispecies performance in microgravity

Published onJun 30, 2021
Panspermia- a multispecies performance in microgravity

This project is an art performance that seeks to rethink imaginaries of multispecies survival in space exploration via the lens of symbiosis. The narrative is inspired by biologist Lynn Margulis' endosymbiotic theory of species evolution through a process which Donna Haraway describes as “critters eating critters and getting indigestion.” The flyer will wear a bio-designed flight suit to collide with a bacteria cellulose sac in microgravity and proceed to "become one" by inhabiting the bacteria cellulose.

There are 2 components to this performance:

I. A fermented bacteria cellulose sac.

II. A biodesigned and inoculated flight suit

I. A fermented bacteria cellulose sac.

Sketch of bacteria cellulose sac with performer inside it.

Fermenting kombucha produces a layer of gelatinous “bacteria cellulose” (also called SCOBY or mother). Like extremophiles, bacteria cellulose can be dried and passed on to future generations like seeds. When it is re-immersed into its preferred environment (water, sugar, tea) it will start reproducing again. The “mother” will give birth to a “daughter” SCOBY.

What can we do with this idea of latency and heritage in our space faring futures?

Fermenting SCOBY (Symbiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeast)

A piece of SCOBY mid-drying.

Dried SCOBY sac fused to ripstop nylon and coated with bioplastic

II. A biodesigned and inoculated flight suit

Sketch of a bio-inspired design for flight suit.

Time lapse of slime mold inoculation on flight suit. Play in full screen for best resolution.

Flight suit in the process of inoculation in grow chamber.

Slime molds (Physarum polycephalum) are single-celled organisms that, in times of food scarcity, congregate into a larger whole to make collective decisions. I laid out their food source in the pattern of star constellations and waited for them to migrate into the crevasses of the suit to form spores.

What does collective intelligence look like in space?

Slime mold inside a fold in the flight suit.

Flight suit (work in progress)

Flight suit detail.

On the bottom half of the flight suit are fibers that gets "activated" by microgravity (aka all fibers rising the way body hair react to goosebumps on the skin). This element of speculative biodesign suggests that space suits could function like skin, and the fibers can act as a sensory organ to respond to subtle changes in the surrounding environment.

Flight suit with mask component

Storyboard for performance on zero gravity flight

Sketch of storyboard.


Nancy Valladares, ACT alumnae

Rae Yuping Hsu, ACT alumnae

Special thanks to Ethan Kan for photography and fabrication support, and to ACT + Kevin McLellan for administrative support.

This project is funded by the Council for the Arts at MIT.

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