Experimental Ecology 

Art and Science in Dialogue 

April 6 to November 21, 2024 

The Kunstmuseum St.Gallen presents an interactive exhibition that provides new ideas on ecology. Five teams, each consisting of an artist and a scientist, approach current ecological issues from their respective perspectives. The exhibition opens new horizons and encourages dialogue between disciplines. 

In line with “Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.)”, an initiative to promote collaboration between art and new technologies in the late 1960s in New York, the Experimental Ecology project creates a platform for artists and scientists in the field of ecology. As part of the project, international representatives from both disciplines were selected to conduct research together.  

The five teams developed unexpected projects: cheese from human skin bacteria; a game to communicate with fish; a walk as a dialogue about the forest as a complex system; a play about plankton as the world's oldest oxygen supplier; and a theatre to introduce salmon farming in the southern hemisphere. 

The exhibition provides new ecological perspectives and develops a nuanced understanding of the complex environmental interconnections. Workshops and a lecture series offer the opportunity to actively participate in discussions and delve deeper into the individual topics. 

Participants: Christina Agapakis (Synthetic Biologist, Gingko Bioworks, Boston), Alex Jordan (Biologist, Research Group for Behavioral Evolution, Max Planck Institute, Konstanz), Michelle-Marie Letelier (Artist, Berlin), Ingo Niermann (Writer, Artist, Basel), Karin Pittman (Biologist, Professor of Marine Biology, University of Bergen), Matthias Rillig (Biologist, Institute of Biology, FU Berlin), Riikka Tauriainen (Artist, Zurich), Sissel Tolaas (Artist and Smell Researcher, Berlin), Meike Vogt (Biochemist, Department of Environmental Sciences, ETH Zurich), Zheng Bo (Artist, Hong Kong). 

Curators: Martina Huber, Founder, WE ARE AIA, Zurich, and Gianni Jetzer, Director Kunstmuseum St.Gallen. The exhibition was initiated, financed, and produced by the Basel H. Geiger Cultural Foundation. 

Regarding the individual projects: 

Sissel Tolaas and Christina Agapakis explore the symbiotic relationship between humans and microorganisms by making cheese. The team collected skin bacteria from various volunteers (including the Mayor of St. Gallen) and made cheese to explore the diversity of human microbiomes. The project emphasizes the diversity of microbial communities that shape the taste and smell of cheese as well as humans. 

Ingo Niermann and Alex Jordan aim to increase empathy for animals like fish, often perceived as distant and difficult to understand. They developed an interactive game that allows visitors to communicate with a digital fish avatar and establish an intimate connection. The focus is on the cichlid Neolamprologus multifasciatus from Lake Tanganyika, one of Africa's great rift lakes. This smallest fish species in Lake Tanganyika is often overlooked, yet it exhibits a rich social life full of drama and intrigue. 

Michelle-Marie Letelier and Karin Pittman examine ethical issues related to the global exploitation of salmon. They developed a role-playing game that addresses the effects of scientific information and its manipulation. Additionally, they explored bioplastics for theatre costumes that use the concept of slime as a means of communication (as researched by Pittman in salmon) between species. The project also reflects on the geopolitical aspects of salmon aquaculture. Letelier and Pittman expanded their collaboration to include a theatre piece that encouraged participants to raise ethical questions from various perspectives. 

Zheng Bo and Matthias Rillig developed a second chapter of their project in the beech forest of Grumsin, entitled The Political Life of Plants II. Here, they continue their discussions about complexity in ecological situations, this time from a plant and human perspective. Their collaboration aims to go beyond what science can express. 

The project of Riikka Tauriainen and Meike Vogt introduces viewers to the fascinating world of plankton. Through workshops, exploration trips, and the use of non-invasive instruments, they explore the diverse habitats and immense diversity of these microscopic organisms. Their immersive art aims to evoke empathy for these marine ecosystems and make the connection between humans and plankton tangible. 

The exhibition was initiated, financed, and produced by the Basel H. Geiger Cultural Foundation.