press release

Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere
October 21, 2022–February 26, 2023

The MIT List Visual Arts Center is pleased to present Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere, a major group exhibition bringing together fourteen international artists whose work prompts us to reexamine our human relationships to the planet and the microbial, fungal, plant, and animal agents within it.

Symbionts are partners in symbiosis, a concept in biology that means “with living” and describes various forms of interdependent relationships between organisms of different species. The exhibition posits a recent shift within bioart, a field loosely defined as artists working with organic or living materials. Bioart of the 2000s was largely grounded in artists’ manipulation of genetic sequences. By contrast, the diverse practitioners in Symbionts are not interested in being masters of code. Instead, their works unveil the critical interspecies entanglements that give shape to our world. Some of the artists in Symbionts describe their works as collaborations with other life forms: for them, biological organisms are not simply treated as material, but welcomed as partners in creation. Others engage bio-remediation and conservation to show us that every human act has environmental, aesthetic, ethical, and political implications. Many of the works on view deconstruct the Enlightenment-era legacy of the vitrine and related scientific practices of isolating non-human lifeforms, underscoring how humans play at being administrators of plant-animal systems, but are in fact part of them. Throughout the exhibition, artists employ sound, vibration, scent, and other sensory modes to articulate the sometimes-invisible intersections of biological, social, and economic systems.
Symbionts proposes that humans shift away from practices of extraction towards more humble, symbiotic, relations of reciprocity. By understanding ourselves as part of an interlinked planetary ecosystem, and attending to art that pulses with these rhythms, we might learn to replace competition with collaboration and halt our anthropocentric drive toward species extinction.

Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere is organized by Caroline A. Jones, Natalie Bell, and Selby Nimrod, with research assistance by Krista Alba.

Participating artists
Crystal Z Campbell (b. 1980, US); Gilberto Esparza (b. 1975, Mexico); Jes Fan (b. 1990, Canada); Pierre Huyghe (b. 1962, France); Candice Lin (b. 1979, US); Alan Michelson (b. 1953, US); Nour Mobarak (b. 1985, Egypt); Claire Pentecost (b. 1956, US); Špela Petrič (b. 1980, Slovenia); Miriam Simun (b. 1984, US); Pamela Rosenkranz (b. 1979, Switzerland); Jenna Sutela (b. 1983, Finland); Kiyan Williams (b. 1991, US); Anicka Yi (b. 1971, South Korea).