Sowers: a collaborative interspecies performance by SlimeTech Lab

All that you Change,
Changes you.
The only lasting truth
Is Change.

-Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

Slime mold is a bright, vivid, living monoculture. Once mistakenly classified as a part of the fungi animal kingdom, this fascinating eukaryotic organism has the remarkable capacity to both aggregate into a multicellular structure as well as live freely as single cells. Due to its ability to grow in the pattern of nodes and branches, technologists have been using it as a tool and medium to represent a wide array of efficient systems, from the functionality of the Internet to the decision making patterns of algorithmic artificial intelligence.

In an ever-changing world, concerns about the future of Blackness become a collective urgency. Taking Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower as a seed, we ask how do we care, how do we work collectively to repair, and how do we tend to injury? In this workshop, we, as Sowers, will investigate the translations between slime mold and the network of the diaspora. Through critical theory, short readings, and discussion, we’ll consider the slime mold a framework for communicating in obfuscation as we crawl towards the future. 

Together we’ll populate a web network of story-based nodes. Controlled by slime mold, the system reaches out and urges participants to respond collectively to prompts with stories of repair and connection. The stories feed an ever-growing network, allowing the slime to thrive thus revealing new hidden spaces. Throughout the weeks following, living slime mold will join the collaboration and aid us in dynamically performing this piece over time.

The SlimeTech Lab (STL) is a mobile laboratory and living system that explores new futures through science, technology, and storytelling. The STL is an art piece in itself – in roaming around New York it experiences feelings akin to the diaspora as it navigates to unpack its own narrative. As a beacon for futuristic exploration, it unfolds to teach spectators of the marvel of slime mold, revealing how this primordial organism can inform us about problem-solving, equity, and social cooperation.

Slime Tech Lab: Ashley Jane Lewis [Canada] and Ayodamola Okunseinde [US]
Sowers, 2021-ongoing.
New media collaborative interspecies performance.

Slime mold is a bright, vivid, living monoculture. Due to its ability to grow in the pattern of nodes and branches, technologists use it to model a wide array of efficient systems, from Internet functionality to algorithmic artificial intelligence. For the artists, slime mold models an Afrofuturist vision of social organization rooted in a distributed web of care. Taking Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” as a seed, the artists sow crucial questions with this work, asking, How do we care? How do we tend to injury? Can slime mold inspire us as we work collectively toward repair? 

The SlimeTech Lab (STL) is a mobile laboratory and living system that explores new futures through science, technology, and storytelling. As a beacon for futuristic exploration, it unfolds to teach spectators of the marvel of slime mold, revealing how this primordial organism can inform us about problem-solving, equity, and social cooperation.

Ayodamola Tanimowo Okunseinde (Ayo) is a Nigerian-American artist, designer, and time-traveler living and working in New York. Okunseinde has taught at New York University, Bennington College, Hostos CUNY and 92Y. He holds an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons School of Design in New York, where he is currently a faculty member.

Ashley Jane Lewis is a tech educator and interactive artist with a focus on bioart, Afrofuturism and speculative design. In the summer of 2016, she was listed in the Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada. Her new media work has been exhibited in both Canada and the U.S., earning editors’ choice at Maker Faire and, most notably, featured on the White House website during the Obama presidency.

Physarum polycephalum, or slime mold, is an informal name given to several kinds of unrelated eukaryotic organisms that can live freely as single cells, but can aggregate together to form multicellular reproductive structures. Slime molds were formerly classified as fungi but are no longer considered part of that kingdom. In urban areas, they are found on mulch or even in the leaf mold in rain gutters, and also grow in air conditioners, especially when the drain is blocked.

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