Memories of Failure Externalised


This week I ran a microbiology and art workshop with 30 participants  at the University of Surrey for the first time.

One of the microbes we explored was and old favourite, the Yellow coloured slime mould Physarum polycephalum. This is a remarkable microorganism that can solve the shortest root through a maze and that also possesses a spatial memory. In essence, as it moves it lays down a layer of slime in a complex 2-dimensional network. When it has explored a region of its environment where there is no food or opportunity, it retracts from this area, but leaves its traces of slime behind. If it encounters these abandoned threads of slime again, it will not re-explore this region, as it knows that it has visited this area before and that there is no reward here.

I’ve been exploring ways to represent the participants work and an am exploring the use of a discarded Overhead Projector (OHP) for this. The role of the yellow pigment,  that is characteristic of Physarum, is probably to absorb light and to protect the organism from its damaging impact. The images here are of the slime mould as projected via the OHP, and thus after the microorganism has modified and interacted with  the light passing through it. I have a strong sense that this process inverts usual microscopic practice, so that that instead of a single observer peering down at microscopic worlds through complex series of lenses, the worlds themselves are projected directly into our own macroscopic reality.


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