Symbiosis. Space and process

Art and research project

Botanical Garden of Almaty (within ARTBAT FEST 7, Almaty)

02–30 Sep 


”Every living thing on the planet is in a relationship that can be described as a symbiosis (relationship useful for two or more partners) or parasitism/ antagonistic symbiosis (relationship useful for only one partner). An example of symbiosis would be any multicelled organism. The independent particles, cells or individuals bond together for two key reasons: efficient resource utilization and protection.

On Earth a 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 a struggle for survival was considered an evolution factor, thus it justified the capitalist principle of competition and happened to be very appealing for new sociological theories. The 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 the life of a man would be “nasty, brutish, and short” without political power.

In the context of such interpretation of the species  evolution the human nature appeared to be personalized, selfish and hostile to the fellow human beings and other species, it is a case of dog eat dog. According to Hannah Arendt the extreme level of sectarianism is one of the causal factors for totalitarian activities. We’ve come full circle, the 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 its main condition of existence.

In order to restore historical justice it shall be noted that Darwin pointed out the inaccuracies at narrow definition of biological completion, and founders of symbiotics always claimed that mutual aid was a much more significant factor in the evolution. Karl Kessler's idea was, that besides the law of mutual struggle there is in nature 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 the victory of ‘the fittest’ and the need of struggle is rock-solid until now despite of the criticism 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. The socialist ideas of biologist and anarchist Peter Kropotkin were quite radical at that time, but they remain true today.

According to Kropotkin the nature of social relations is the natural biological need for mutual aid: “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 doubted competition between peers of the same species, ‘survival of the fittest’, and importance of personal self-assertion.  Though he considered ‘the fittest’ are those individuals and communities that cooperate with one another.

Cooperation and symbiosis are not synonyms of harmony and merger. This is a respectful cooperation of the opposites who need each other. Symbiosis is possible due to acceptance of a ‘saint’ transition zone between a pair of antipodes or extreme values of oppositions. In this transition zone the opposite elements create some kind of hidden obscure nature. Such uncertain area implies a variety of meanings and contexts.

A symbiosis emerges from cooperation of two opposites, though it is an independent process and space; it contains a great potential for opportunities. One can only imagine what creative power is released with cooperation of the opposites: the past and the future, the local and the global, man and the nature, man and technology, different cultures, art genres, art and science, etc.

Botanic Garden is the area that has continuous symbiotic relationships with the city; that is what inspired us to explore this process. In the area 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 technically not prepared to organize space in terms of a recreation facility and is currently seeking options for cooperation. The garden has been used as a place for wedding shoots and picnics, though these activities are not very effective yet – the cost of wastes removal exceeds the amount of income from entrance tickets. In addition there is not much public interest to the research work of Botanic Garden due to the peculiarities of this science, as selection is a long-term non-spectacular process.

When an art and research project is hosted at the Garden premises there might be a start of new case of cooperation between contemporary art and science. We have purposely avoided narrowing the topics of our research, but defined the matters to be explored – symbiosis of area – the garden and the city, symbiosis of cultures, symbiosis of man and nature, symbiosis as response to atomization, symbiosis as choice of relations.

We choose a research laboratory format and we’re back to the starting point of evolutionary theories in order to show the value of symbiosis and its meaning for the evolution.

When presenting the research results to the audience we create a new case of symbiosis, so the art work, the artist, the viewer and the location cooperate and produce a space of collective consciousness. That is why we consider our project a contribution to cooperative evolution of species."


Yana Malinovskaya, project curator (Russia).

Detailed information is available at the link: Symbiosis

Eurasian Cultural Alliance Public Association

Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty

Nurmakov str, 79

For all inquires please contact