Interspecies Gossip Monika Seyfried

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Interspecies Gossip
01.Interspecies Gossip

A science fiction and speculative fantasy exploring the secret stories of the beings we are home with.

Interspecies gossip is a collection of stories and a guide to a new practice, that might once again connect human beings with the nonhuman kin we live alongside. In equal parts science fiction and speculative fantasy, it reveals the conversations within, between and amongst communities of species that go unheard, unseen and undetected by human beings in their own homes. By following the guide, you embark on a journey encountering chatty viruses, bored bacteria, intoxicated butterflies and heartbroken plants, accompanied by bodily rituals designed to help you get in touch with the nature of the home. Through Interspecies Gossip, we give a voice to the voiceless, create a space for reconnection and allow ourselves to indulge in some subversive fun.
With people suffering from social isolation, touch deprivation, and increasing reliance on the digital cloud for connection, Interspecies Gossip presents an alternative hedonism, inviting you to embrace the nonhuman world, using your skin as a technology to connect to the microbial cloud. Through this work we invite you to explore the home in a new way, encountering the microbial cloud with the native technology of your skin. The skin’s true nature is revealed and its full potential harnessed. Rather than being seen as a barrier or as a site to be cleansed of microbes, we offer a practice which emphasizes the active skin-microbiome, a living interface. The eyes and ears of the body. A point of connection to another world.

The core of the work is an interactive book, designed and developed in collaboration with Henriette Kruse and Ines Alpha, which progresses through 3 chapters: Initiation, Growth, and Immersion.

In Chapter 1 - Initiation, the reader is invited to work with the skin as a performative site and develop bodily practices to touch the microbial gossip at home. We establish modes of consent, and begin exploring life at home through a series of stories, which reveal the hidden voices of the beings that live at home through chatty tales of gossip.

Chapter 2 is all about growing. Growing interfaces that are designed to attract more gossip to the home and body. We called these ‘Objects of Attraction’. These living objects attract and rewild the home. They can be applied to skin to create an attraction layer and can be mated to create new variants.

The work includes instructions to create Objects of Attraction. These living objects can be rubbed onto human skin creating an attraction layer, and mated to create emergent variants. They are a critique of military–industrial projects, which use synthetic biology to repel other species. With scientists at Ginkgo and CRI Paris, we explored engineering a pandemic microbe, Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast) to produce pheromones, attracting beings from house flies to Asian elephants. We cultured and mated genetically modified yeast strains in the wetlab, and through experimentation, developed transparent biomaterials based on agar-agar and amino-acid growth-mediums to house and nourish yeasts.

In Chapter 3 - Immersion, we are pointing at the idea of blurring the boundaries between biological and computational, human and nonhuman worlds until they merge. This is the grand finale of the speculative fantasy. The participant has now gone through understanding their home from a new microbial perspective. They dance the rituals at home, almost inviting the stories to emerge. They grow Objects of Attraction, and after adding the attraction layer to their skin, they step into the world which stretches beyond their own body. They are being invited to let themselves get lost and become part of the interspecies gossip.

For this final part, we worked with 3D artist Ines Alpha. We sought to bring our thinking to life through augmented reality and graphics that would appear on the skin, embodying and encapsulating this merge. In the final sequence we see one of the protagonists of the story and various organisms coalesce, culminating in an almost take-over of the human being and human body.

Created in the context of a global pandemic, during a remote residency with Ginkgo Bioworks, the project is the fruit of a virtual lab process. It translates synthetic biology and interspecies theory, and initiates citizen engagement with issues from the micro to planetary scale, without leaving home. With people suffering from social isolation, touch deprivation, and reliance on the digital cloud for connection, it offers an alternative. An invitation to embrace a nonhuman world, using skin as a native technology to connect to a microbial cloud.

Read more about the residency here.