87_PF04_Allard_Meier_Tragedy of the Commons 3
Robin Meier & Ali Momeni The Tragedy of the Commons, installation view, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2011.
Photo : Aurélie Cenno, © Robin Meier & Ali Momeni

The question of cohabitation of the living and the artificial is a constant in the work of Swiss artist Robin Meier, who is interested in the emergence of intelligence and the ability to communicate in natural and technological systems. Synchronicity (2015), an installation created in collaboration with artist André Gwerder and with assistance from entomologists, explores the natural synchronic mechanisms of fireflies and crickets within an artificial biosphere. Intended to affect the behaviour of these animals in a way that reveals the intelligence of collective functioning, the experiment generates a dynamic chain of communicational signals among them. The cycle of the artwork is initiated by the insects: the effects of bioluminescence and chirping are modelled, translated, or associated with visual and aural signals emitted by various apparatuses, including two metronomes and blinking lights, which, in their turn, influence the animals’ signalling behaviour. By creating an ecosystem in which the elements show an intelligence that reacts to subtle variations in their environment, the synchronization phenomenon observed here departs from purely anthropocentric logic to challenge the possibilities for transmission, adaptation, and self-regulation in inter-species relations. The social reflection provoked by the behaviour of super-organisms is also brought to light in The Tragedy of the Commons (2011). Developed with artist Ali Momeni, along with support from ethology laboratories, the installation shows how a colony of Atta ants functions. Thanks to surveillance cameras and microphones that amplify the acoustics of their movements and stridulations, we can observe the ants reacting to the supply of a free common resource: a variety of food with appetizing colours and odours. Yet, although the title of the artwork refers to the conflict between individual interests and the commons, it also designates the impossibility of showing this program: the collective behaviour made visible serves, instead, for the conception of what are known as ant colony algorithms.

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This article also appears in the issue 87 – The Living - The Living

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