Becoming the Other: Experience 'Symbiosis' at Waag
On November 2nd (Waag Open) and during Museumnacht Amsterdam (4 November), Waag Futurelab is proud to host the artist collective Polymorf and their full body VR experience Symbiosis, based on Donna Haraway's 'Staying with the Trouble' and exploring our future in 200 years, when human and more-than-human (such as plants and animals) have survived climate change through the process of symbiosis. Waag's curator Maro Pebo spoke to Marieke Nooren, producer at Polymorf, about what to expect when participating in Symbiosis.
Waag Futurelab is interested in exploring transgressive perspectives that can address the crises and concerns we currently face. Artists, like the Polymorf collective, provide experiences that center around the more-than-human, evoking empathy through direct immersion.
The work of Polymorf is characterised by a trans-disciplinary approach, delving into the sensory experiences of other species, including smell, touch, and vision. In their award-winning interaction work 'Symbiosis', using virtual reality (VR), participants are engaged in sensory experiences, incorporating elements such as gourmet food, sound, and suits that physically immerse participants in the 'other'. This approach aims to foster empathy and envision new ways of coexisting with the other.
Notably, the work of Polymorf has earned recognition through the S+T+ARTS Prize, which honours projects bridging science, technology, and the arts to address pressing social issues, particularly our relationship with non-human entities in the face of the environmental crisis.
Maro Pebo: Can you tell us what Polymorf is?
Marieke Nooren: Polymorf is a creative design collaboration collective based in Maastricht in the south of the Netherlands. We're a small team of people with theatre, film, and music backgrounds, and we create experiences with any media necessary. So, we are not only focused on VR or technology, but mostly inspired by bigger topics around embodiment, the body, humans and nature.
Soon, you will present one of your works, Symbiosis, at the Waag.
Yes. Symbiosis is inspired by the notion of the Symbiocene, which is the next step after the Anthropocene, a response. So, we're now living in the Anthropocene; at least, we think humans are the most important. But of course, we face quite some problems with our current way of living. Thus, can't we go to another phase? One in which we live with other creatures, with animals and lands? And if you want to do that, what kind of issues do you encounter? Symbiosis is a way of speculative thinking about that. It's this idea, which Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour inspired. But of course, way before that, a lot of indigenous thinkers were already working on these topics. We want to make this idea of symbiosis more tangible and have it as a starting point for dialogue with each other.
What will people who participate in Symbiosis experience?
All we have talked about up until now might sound very theoretical and intellectual. But actually, what you will experience is a very felt experience, a VR experience which triggers all of your senses, and you won't be just sitting with those VR goggles. Oh no, it will be full body. We will ask you what kind of creature you want to become. Then you get the goggles and a suit, with many custom-made haptics connected to what you see. You have hosts who help you in a story, so depending on what you choose, every story is an inner monologue for another creature. Therefore, you become this other creature, and you follow their story, its story. Every story is filled with sound, but there will also be visuals, foods, touch. So, every sense will be involved.
And how does experiencing Symbiosis play a part in where we currently are in the environmental crisis? If this is about awareness, what is the relationship with it?
I think Symbiosis connects to this in different ways. The experience raises awareness, but most of the time, it gets us to speculate about the future, and it gets you thinking. The way we're living with nature, maybe that's not good, and how do we get out of that? So, Symbiosis gets you also to feel and experience this issue, and not only to think about it. As an example, after almost every performance people really start to enter into dialogue with each other. Where did you experience it now? How did that work for you? This dialogue in which we are thinking about other creatures, thinking about other relations: that's really starting the conversation on how can we think and live differently.
On Thursday, November 2nd we will host Polymorf for Waag Open and you can experience the full work during Museumnacht Amsterdam on November 4th. Symbiosis by Polymorf was nominated for the S+T+ARTS Prize in 2022 and will now be featured for participants in The Netherlands to experiment and enjoy. Please note that Waag Open and Museumnacht Amsterdam have both sold out.