Exhibition by artistic naturalist and researcher Kuai Shen
Manifesta 9, Courtesy of Manifesta Foundation BY-NC-SA
DIY Antibiotica
Kuai Shen ant project
Kuai Shen BY

DIY Antibiotics #2: grow [ant]ibiotica*

In the DIY Antibiotics workshop series we prototype and test alternative strategies to counter the antibiotics crisis. After the first workshop “HUNT”, in which we explored the realm of antibiotics as a whole and analyzed the bellic semantics used, it is now time to zoom in a particular field of antibiotic research and grow our own antibiotics.

Within the antibiotics scientific research community there is an emerging interest in insects or so called “Yellow Biotech” (referring to the yellow color of squashed insects). Artistic naturalist and researcher Kuai Shen will introduce us to his practice and interaction with ants with [ant]ibiotica, a hands-on workshop about symbiotic antibiotics in leaf-cutter ants.

What do humans have in common with ants? We are both eco-engineers, invasive species, masters in controlling natural resources, and we have colonized the whole planet. Yet, the most interesting aspect we share is that we are both hosts of parasites. We both rely on hygiene and disease control in order to protect against parasites, viral pathogens and other diseases.

Nevertheless, the ant society has over 100 million years evolutionary advantage on the biological control of parasites. Particularly, leaf-cutter ants of the genera Atta and Acromyrmex are farmers and pharmacists. They have confronted and solved problems which might seem analogous to the public-health challenges modern medicine is facing regarding the control of antibiotic resistance… and have succeeded by means of cooperation with exotic and colorful microorganisms.

The creation of antibiotics from the antimicrobial compounds of leaf-cutter ants represent a new field of research, which could be mediated in novel artistic ways and elicit new perspectives and debate on the utility of insects and parasites for medicine.

Entrance is 10 euro, PIN only, to be paid on location.

The DIY Antibiotics workshop

  • Kuai Shen will introduce his leaf-cutter ant colony and reveal their complex life and the mutualisms hidden in their fungi-cultural garden. We will learn how to interact with ants and how they have become models for science and technology, as well as inspiration for artistic practices.
  • You will search for antibiotic producing bacteria in different parts of the ant colony and offer a sample of their own sweat and/or saliva to analyze and identify potential partnerships between ant and human microbiota.
  • We will then try to isolate and incubate these on petri dishes to create a living observatory which will host a diverse collection of different microorganisms from human and ant kind coexisting together. You will be allowed to take home the samples they produce in order to create a time-lapse photographic documentation of this experimental antibiotic micro-ecology. The results will be shared later on a third installment of the workshop.

About the artist
Kuai Shen is an audiovisual naturalist and ant lover. His artistic research was published in 2010 by the University of Colorado in the book “Biologically-Inspired Computing for the Arts”, in the Leonardo MIT Journal for the Siggraph 2011, as well as in the Acoustic Space Journal for the 5th Renew Media Art Histories conference in 2013. He has been selected among the best contemporary artists in the recent book of William Myers entitled, “Bio Art: Altered Realities”, published by Thames & Hudson London in 2015.

His audiovisual installations reflect on the remediation between ants and humans as a metaphor for a nonhuman ecology whose future lies in the mutualism between artefacts and organisms. His current research focuses on ant mimicry in the post-biologic technology of humans based on emergence, resiliency and imitation-contagion phenomena. In 2013 he received an honorary mention in hybrid art from the Prix Ars Electronica for "0h!m1gas". In 2014 he was honoured with the Cynetart Förderpreis des Sächsischen Kunstministerium for his work “Playing with ants & other insects”.

*[ant]ibiotica is a new work commissioned by the Arts Catalyst which Kuai Shen is developing as a biologically mediated installation. It is inspired by the mutualism of bacteria, parasites, fungi and ants, which produce antibiotics to control infections and viruses.

The evening is hosted by Mike Thompson, Susana Camara Leret, Špela Petrič (artists) and Pieter van Boheemen (biohacker) as part of an Art of Impact project.




Waag, Nieuwmarkt 4, 1012 CR Amsterdam