I plan for my interaction with Physarum polychefalum to manifest in a sculptural habitat that connects the organism's natural habitat - the woods - with the life it has been habituated to lead in sterilised, monitored and controlled human captivity. To this end, I am visually comparing the structure of tree trunks and/or branches to the human body in a 'shape/form-studie'. The sculpture should invoke a corporeal impression: In this context the human body will represent an analogy for the human-centred ontological terminology commonly used in both the media and scientific representation and study around the unicellular organism. Terminology like 'intelligence', 'memory', 'social behaviour', which we are quickly invited to use in our understanding of this other organism. I want to question such human-centred categorisation and how this (subconsciously) shapes our encounters with such species.
To develop this sculpture I will follow two guiding questions:
How can I shape the parameters and variables of the habitat to realise my vision, while tending to the 'needs' of a living organism? (Needs: moisture - Agar; micro-organisms - Oatflakes) (Parameters: Light, temperature, humidity, aerosole, bacteria, altitude, etc.)
i.e. Which parameters need to be closer to a lab context vs. which should more closely resemble the natural environment to ensure the vital plasmodial stage of the life cycle (yellow, branching out appearance)?
How does my human influence manifest on a controlled, repeatable visual level? i.e. can I control the look (structure, color, movement)?
When looking at the tree-habitat of PP the three main variables: moisture, 'food' and space appear invisible to our view. In the petri-dish, these variables are the most visible and limiting. So much so that they obstruct the visibility of the natural structure, colour and movement of the organism. I want to close the distance between these different conditions and open up a third environment: My sculpture will represent a meeting point between the natural and 'human-controlled' habitat. As such I will habituate PP from the Lab-context back towards more natural conditions in a process of adapting the 'living conditions/variables' between the varying degrees of synthetic to natural.
The parameters to be defined and controlled:
(1) Moisture - Agar
The Biolab standard is a 100ml distilled water x 2g Agar solution.
The natural condition is moist tree trunks and soil (moisture naked to the human eye).
Approach (1) Provide moisture by simulating rain and spraying the organism with (distilled) water. Approach (2) Create Agar/moisture 'pods' to show PP (at least partially) unobstructed. Akin to the idea of a watering hole in the desert: PP could draw its moisture from one spot from which it would branch out further possibly connecting these different 'moisture pods'.
(2) 'Food' - microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, yeast - oatflakes
The Biolab standard are oatflakes, from which the slime mold 'eats' only the bacteria on the flakes.
The natural condition are bacteria, yeasts, and fungi found on deciduous tree logs/wood drawn from the ground surface.
Approach (1) Investigate the question: How long can you live without me? by retreating the human influence and no longer 'feeding' it. Simultaneously, accepting that by releasing this control over the life cycle the slime mold might develop to spores or dry out, hence the artist looses control over the appearance.
Approach (2) Subsidies the oatflakes to something actually found in nature and supply this 'food' over the ground surface i.e. Agar base. I.e. develop an Agar mix that is both providing the essential 'food' source while not obstructing the visual appearance.
It is important to note that all decisions on technical parameter are made primarily on a visual aesthetics basis. This means that my aim is to create the most unobstructed presentation of the slime mold as possible within my sculptural vision.
(3) Space + Surface
When looking at the tree-habitat the first thing that strikes me is the surface. The surface is an obstacle course over which the organism sustains its life. This vital parameter is all but omitted in the lab context, where is sterilised, small and made conform for scientific observation. This parameter - Space + Surface - is the core of my work.
Approach (1) Source/collect tree trunks that have a visual semblance to the human body. Develop this found artefact further into a sculptural object through casting techniques (possibly with wax). In a second step: test PP's survival capacities on sculptural surface.
In parallel: Approach (1.1) Condition PP to live in a larger space (67x37x25 glass box), lifting the restrictive spatial boundaries and allowing for more natural movement patterns to emerge.
(4) Additional parameter through human interaction: Care
The method of inoculation can influence the appearance of Physarum polychefalum:
Approach (1) Inoculate 'fresh' PP with a chunk of the oat flakes.
Approach (2) Inoculate 'fresh' PP by scraping from the top of Physarum growing on oats.
Approach (3) Inoculate 'medium fresh' PP by scraping the veins that are reaching towards the outer walls of the petri dish
Approach (4) Inoculate 'old' PP by using the orange-y parts that have grown out of the dish.
Via recreating the same conditions several times and continued observation of these different methods of inoculation my understanding and control over the possible visual structures and colourations of the organism grows.
This investigates the question to which degree my human influence can manifest on a repeatable visual level within the petri-dish environment. In a second step the control over the appearance will need to be transplanted to the sculpture.