Untitled (superorganism) is a video installation commissioned in 2014 for ‘Anthropocene Monument’, an exhibition and symposium-performance curated by Bruno Latour, Bronislaw Szerszynski and Olivier Michelon at L’Abbatoirs Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Toulouse. The exhibition and event was a precursor to the determinations of the Anthropocene Working Group and The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), to examine the evidence of a new geological epoch in which geologically significant conditions and processes have been profoundly altered by human activities. In this context Untitled (superorganism) questioned our concept of “nature” in relation to popular ideas from ecology and complexity theory, and how we perceive the relations between ourselves as individual agents, and the systems we are embedded in.
The video installation simulated the event of a so-called ‘ant mill’, involving hundreds and thousands of real dead ants, as if the event had just taken place in the museum space. An ant mill is a phenomenon observed in Warrior Ants, where up to hundreds of thousands of ants follow each other walking in circles, until overcome by exhaustion and, eventually, death. The phenomenon is a side effect of the self-organising structure of Warrior Ant colonies, related to a flaw in the ingenious system of pheromones that govern the complex social behaviours and hierarchy of the colony.
Development of the virtual ant simulation involved research into ant feeding and pheromone laying behaviour, to simulate the behaviour of an ant colony. Digital simulations were composited into live video footage of the museum space and exhibited next to the physical aftermath of an actual ant mill, as if it had just taken place inside the museum space. The work was further commissioned for GLOBALE: Exo-Evolution in 2015-16, where an ant mill was simulated for the ZKM Art and Media Centre exhibition space in Karlsruhe.
This project contains further videos that can accessed via the full case study below.
This collection of images displays the outputs from this project. Find out more details in the full case study below.
To create the video that documents the event of an “ant mill” taking place in the gallery space, initial research into the phenomenon was conducted with support from ant researchers at Bristol University and other research institutions.