The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish: we have never been one

Ambika P3, University of Westminster 1 Dec 2018 Free

The second instalment of this year-long symposium and research project, presented as part of the General Ecology project, features anthropologists, artists, robotics experts, historians and scientists, to address interior multitude, swarming organisms, symbiosis and entanglement.

Participants include artist and educator Heather Barnett, site-specific practitioners Gruff Theatre, swarm robotics engineer Sabine Hauert, science historian and writer Daisy Hildyard, neuroscientist Leah Kelly, science sociologist Hannah Landecker, anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, anthropologist Germain Meulemans, biological systems scientist and network architect Phoebe Tickell and artist Anaïs Tondeur plus film and sound works by artists Sophia Al-Maria and Jenna Sutela and composer Annea Lockwood. Part 2: We have never been one is presented in collaboration with the London Contemporary Music Festival and the University of Westminster.

Scroll down for the day’s programme

On Saturday 1 December, the symposium focused on the idea of multitude. It was subtitled “we have never been one“, echoing Bruno Latour’s notion that we have never been modern, expanding it to reflect on how the modern definition of the individual has prevented more organic, holistic and complex definitions of the self as an entity constituted within a dense network of interrelated, internal and external phenomena and agents. The event considers how contemporary thinkers are moving into and beyond embodiment to consider relationships and phenomena that happen in-between and across entities, and which in doing so, shatter and re-define the concept of the self and the one.

Thinking through the natural sciences, anthropology, environmental humanities and art, participants addressed questions such as:

  • Given an organism’s dependence on symbiotic relationships with other organisms (from gut bacteria to companion species), can we really think of ourselves as individuals?
  • What new ecological insights can be gained from thinking of the planet as an organism in itself?
  • In what ways are species and beings that seem distinct in fact entangled in a planetary cooperation?
  • Can we think of pregnancy as two (or more) brains thinking in a single body?
  • Does microchimerism—the exchange of genetic materials across bodies—point towards a different understanding of the self?

…and many more.

Saturday 1 December, 3-10pm (doors and café/bar open from 2:30pm)
Ambika P3, University of Westminster
35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS


*Jenna Sutela, nimiia vibié (video, 2018)
Filipa Ramos and Lucia Pietroiusti, Introduction
Phoebe Tickell, Entangled, networked and blurred boundaries: symbiogenesis as successful organising pattern of life
Sabine Hauert, Swarm Engineering Across Scales
Germain Meulemans with Anaïs Tondeur, An Alchemy of Soils
Hannah Landecker, Outside In: Microbiomes, Epigenomes, Visceral Sensing, and Metabolic Ethics
Panel with Sabine Hauert, Hannah Landecker, Germain Meulemans, Phoebe Tickell and Anaïs Tondeur. Respondent: Heather Barnett. Moderators: Lucia Pietroiusti and Filipa Ramos



Sophia Al-Maria, Mothership (video, 2017, 3’)
Lucia Pietroiusti and Filipa Ramos, Introduction (cont’d)
*Annea Lockwood, Tiger Balm (stereo tape, 1970, 19’)
Daisy Hildyard, Do I Contradict Myself? The Experience of Being more than Individual
Leah Kelly, Chimera and Mirror: Identity at the Bench
Panel with Daisy Hildyard and Leah Kelly. Respondent: Heather Barnett. Moderators: Filipa Ramos and Lucia Pietroiusti
*Jenna Sutela, nimiia vibié (video, 2018)



Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing with Gruff Theatre, Golden Snail Opera (performance, 2016, 50’)
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing in conversation with Lucia Pietroiusti and Filipa Ramos

*denotes remote contribution

The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish is curated by Lucia Pietroiusti (Curator, General Ecology, Serpentine Galleries) and writer and editor Filipa Ramos, with Kamal Ackarie, Production Management, Holly Shuttleworth, Producer, Giles Round, Design and Visual Identity and Kostas Stasinopoulos, Assistant Curator

Advisors to Part 2 include Chris Fite-Wassilak, Pierre Huyghe, Tim Ingold, Phoebe Tickell, Igor Toronyi-Lalic, Katharine Vega and Ben Vickers.

To launch its General Ecology project, the Serpentine Galleries launch a long, durational symposium and research project in several parts. Titled The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish, the gatherings bring together a wide range of thinkers and practitioners from various disciplinary ambits across art, literature, environment, science and technology to explore the porous boundaries between human, non-human animal, vegetal, mineral, mycellar and artificial consciousness and intelligence.

The first symposium in the series took place on Monday 28 May 2018 and brought together choreographers, scientists, artists and writers at the ZSL London Zoo to reflect about cognition and language in tandem with affect, agency and sensibility across species and beings. The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish, Part 1: Language opened with Simone Forti’s dance performance Sleep Walkers / Zoo Mantras (inspired by the movement of animals in zoos), interpreted by her long-time collaborator, dancer Claire Filmon. It was followed by talks and dialogues featuring writer Ted Chiang (author of “Story of Your Life”, the novella at the origin of the 2016 sci-fi blockbuster, Arrival); psychologist and dolphin cognition researcher Diana Reiss in collaboration with humanitarian and musician Peter Gabriel; artist Rasmus Nielsen from collective Superflex, as well as screenings of films by artists Allora & Calzadilla and Michela de Mattei and a remote contribution by Internet pioneer Vint Cerf.


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