Symbiosis: Space and Process
Art and Research Project
The Main Botanic Garden, Almaty
Within the framework of ARTBAT FEST 7
3-30 September, 2016
Curator: Yana Malinovskaya
Artists: Alexandra Kalacheva with the participation of Almaz Turysbekov, Alexey Shindin, Altynay Satanova, Anvar Musrepov, Askhat Akhmedyarov, Bakhyt Bubikanova, Dalida Aliyeva, Daria Spivakova, Yelena and Victor Vorobevy, Katya Nikonorova, Zoya Falkova, Ilya Romanov (Russia), Krëlex zentre, Christoph Ducse (France), Natalia Tsvetkova (Russia), Natalya Lisovaya (Ukraine), Moldakul Narymbetov, Maria Syrtlanova (Russia) with the participation of Eldar Khasanov, Olivier Lulum (France), Saule Dussenbina, Saule Suleimenova, Svetlana Plotnikova with the participation of Sergey Ledyaev, Creative group 705, Timur Aktayev, Fatima Omir, WELAR
Every living thing on the planet is in a relationship that can be described as symbiosis (relationship useful for two or more partners) or parasitism, also known as antagonistic symbiosis (relationship useful for only one partner). Any multi-celled organism is an example of symbiosis. Independent particles, cells or individuals bond together for two key reasons: efficient resource utilization and protection.
On Earth, struggle for survival has always been balanced with mutual assistance and cooperation. This fact was ignored during the reign of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which stepped outside the sphere of biological processes. The idea of the struggle for survival was considered a factor for natural selection; thus, it justified the capitalist principle of competition and became increasingly appealing to new sociological theories. Followers of Social Darwinism proclaimed the idea of ‘the survival of the fittest’; Thomas Hobbes concluded that ‘the war of everyone against everyone’ was a society’s natural condition prior to forming a state. According to Hobbes, life of a man would be “nasty, brutish, and short” without political power.
In the context of such interpretation of the species evolution, human nature appears to be personalized, selfish, and hostile to fellow human beings and other species, as in the case of dog-eat-dog. According to Hannah Arendt, the extreme level of sectarianism is one of the causal factors of totalitarian activities. We have come full circle, mankind is struggling to survive in a fierce competition and isolation; we are relapsing into totalitarian regimes, which in turn reproduce systems of isolation as their main condition of existence.
In order to restore historical justice, it shall be noted that Darwin pointed out the inaccuracies of narrow definition of biological competition. Founders of symbiotics always claimed that mutual aid was a much more significant element in evolution. Karl Kessler's idea was that in nature, besides the law of mutual struggle, there is the law of mutual aid, which “for the success of the struggle for life, and especially for the progressive evolution of the species, is far more important than the law of mutual contest”.
In reply to the manifesto The Struggle for Existence in Human Society by Thomas H. Huxley, where competition was declared the main trigger of social evolution, Peter Kropotkin published his research Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. The image of victory of ‘the fittest’ and the need for struggle have been rock-solid until now, despite criticisms of Darwinism, new theories of co-evolution, and statements from modern evolutionists and microbiologists proving that evolution would be impossible without continuous cases of symbiosis on a cellular level. Socialist ideas of biologist and anarchist Peter Kropotkin, though quite radical at the time, remain true to this day.
According to Kropotkin, social relations and mutual aid are a natural biological need,
We have heard so much lately of the “harsh, pitiless struggle for life”, which was said to be carried on by every animal against all other animals, every "savage" against all other “savages", and every civilized man against all his co-citizens – and these assertions have so much become an article of faith – that it was necessary, first of all, to oppose to them a wide series of facts showing animal and human life under a quite different aspect. It was necessary to indicate the overwhelming importance which sociable habits play in Nature and in the progressive evolution of both the animal species and human beings. (…) Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle.
Kropotkin never questioned competition between peers of the same species, ‘survival of the fittest’, and the importance of personal self-assertion. Though he assured that ‘the fittest’ are individuals and communities that liaise with one another.
Cooperation and symbiosis are not synonyms of harmony and merger. They are a respectful collaboration of opposites who need each other. Symbiosis is possible thanks to an acceptance of a ‘saint’ transition zone between a pair of antipodes or extreme values of oppositions. In this transition zone, the contrary elements create some kind of an obscure nature. Such an uncertain area implies a variety of meanings and contexts.
Symbiosis emerges from cooperation of two opposites and contains a great potential for opportunities. One can only imagine what creative power is released as a result: the past and the future, the local and the global, man and nature, man and technology, different cultures, art genres, art and science, etc.
The Main Botanic Garden, as an area that sustains continuous symbiotic relationships with the city, inspired us to explore this process. Within it, different forms of symbiosis are visible both in biological and social dimensions.
A research laboratory in the city center, which is considered an entertainment site by the city residents, is unprepared to function as a recreational facility due to technical reasons; hence, its pursuit of other partnerships. The garden has been used as a place for wedding shoots and picnics, though these activities are not profitable yet as the cost of waste removal exceeds the income from admission tickets. In addition, there is not much public interest in the research work of the Botanic Garden due to the peculiarities of this science and its long-term non-spectacular processes.
When art and research projects are hosted on the Botanic Garden premises, they give rise to a new type of cooperation between contemporary art and science. We have purposefully avoided narrowing the topic of our research – symbiosis of area – but defined the matters to be explored: the garden and the city, symbiosis of cultures, symbiosis of man and nature, symbiosis as response to atomization, symbiosis as choice of relations.
We chose a research laboratory format and evolutionary theories as a framework in order to show the value of symbiosis and its meaning for development.
Our presentation of the results of the research to an audience creates a new occurrence of symbiosis, so the artwork, the artist, the viewer, and the location all cooperate and produce a space of collective consciousness. That is why we consider our project a contribution to cooperative evolution of species.
Yana Malinovskaya, curator (Russia)