VERMI CELL by JENNA SUTELA at FRAGILE [from 20230909 to 20230924]

[Photos: FRAGILE]

Jenna Sutela’s art is invested in biological and computational systems, including the human microbiome and artificial neural networks. It often manifests as sculptures, images and music. Embedded in the structure of most of her works is an invitation for the unpredictable to take place.

In her exhibition Vermi Cell we are confronted with an audiovisual installation that seems to evolve both out of and into piles of compost placed throughout the main room at Fragile. The piles consist of soil, food scraps, earthworms, and humus as a trace of the worms. The compost soil releases electrons that pass through a series of copper and aluminum rods to generate power for an audio piece. The piece combines compost recordings with tone transfer technology, conjuring a lively saxophone. Inside the piles, the movement of the worms becomes an organic audio filter: the more activity the more electricity, the more electricity the more echo.

A visitor entering the exhibition space encounters darkness and rhythmically flickering strobes. The space is designed for earthworms who like it dark, while pulsating light is said to be beneficial for plant growth. In many ways, the work and the life entangled in it exists beyond our perception and control. Maybe your presence, your body, your breath plays a part in the process of decomposition. Does it matter for the compost ecosystem if you’re there?

Accompanying the installation in the smaller room is a pile of poetry. An energy poem is screen printed with edible ink on edible paper, inviting the visitor to participate in the metabolism of the exhibition, by themselves ingesting part of the work.

A report on managing existential risks* notes how the so-called efficiency of our supply system—food, products, waste—has led to less margin for unplanned disruptions. The system that supports us, they say, is utterly fragile, vulnerable to everything that it does not know, that it cannot calculate, that cannot be reduced to mathematical probability. The system that we depend on is afraid of everything that lives. Life and all the chaos and beauty that is entangled in it pose a threat to it. Vermi Cell introduces another way of relating to a system that supplies and cares for both the human and non-human actors involved.

The work challenges the illusion that everything can or should always be readily available to us. To move forward, we’ll need to adapt to the cycles of the wider environment. Both the image as well as the functionality of an earth battery is helpful here: depending on the rate of decomposition also the rate of electricity varies. The exhibition is a type of an electrical battery that is, quite literally, an experience powered by the earth.

*United Nations Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction

[Text: Maurin Dietrich]

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