Looking back at the #4 'Curious About…The Symbiocene' event

Published on february 28th, 2024
Last modified on february 28th, 2024
10 min read

How would the world look if we lived in harmony with the non-human entities around us? The answer? Enter the Symbiocene! This question and the introduction of this new era were central during the fourth 'Curious About...' event, organised by A-Lab Amsterdam and VandeJong. An event where everyone was invited to collectively look, think, motivate, inspire, and discover how we can achieve this transition towards this new era, where Earth and Humanity heal their toxic bonds.

The Symbiocene—for the newcomers—is an era in which nature revolves not only around human life but where humans, technology, and nature coexist in mutual interdependence within dynamic networks. The aim—and relevance—is to break free from the current dominance of modernist ideology, also known as the Anthropocene, where humans regard the Earth as an extension of their own actions.

The event brought together various exhibitions, demonstrations, and workshops, led by people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, with the aim of exploring the diverse possibilities within this transition. The programme included:

A spatial dialogue

When I received the invitation for the event, asking if I was interested in showcasing my work, I didn't hesitate to respond with a resounding yes. Since graduating from the ArtEZ Academy for Art & Design Zwolle, my fascination with the Symbiocene has only continued to grow. Even though I wasn't previously familiar with the concept of 'Curious About...,' I quickly realised that this was a great opportunity to further contribute to the realisation of the transition into this new era. After all, I have been faced with difficulties in finding concrete follow-ups in line with this philosophy. There is still too little demand for it, making the opportunities very limited. However, this has meant that one point I made in my thesis, namely that the design world is mainly in the service of capitalism, has only come to my attention more deeply.

The exhibited work was similar to what was previously on display during the graduation exhibition at ArtEZ in Zwolle last summer, the project 'Het Bestaan Uit Allen' (‘The Existence from All’). This project centres on introducing the concept of the Symbiocene and highlights the relationship and relevance of the designer's role within it. It included my thesis presented as a book and growing organism, the work 'Artificial Reproduction', as well as 'Organic Typography' and the 'Het Bestaan Uit Allen' website.

However, the event also provided space to exhibit other works. For instance, 'How Do We (Re)Connect To The Land?' (2023) was presented as a video montage. This visual research project focuses on the implications that arise when we produce and possess an exact digital replica of our world. Additionally, the most recent work, 'Weather Sonification' (2024), was also showcased. This project explores the importance of actively listening to our environment by collecting weather data (JSON files) from a specific location and time, and converting them into sounds. Visitors are invited to listen to the subtle nuances of weather patterns, fostering a deeper connection with the natural world.

Talking brings insight.

Looking back on the event, what stands out most is the interaction with the visitors. Due to the diversity and the opportunity to engage in dialogue with different people, insights emerged that I had not previously considered. This resulted in a breeding ground for like-minded individuals, where not only knowledge was shared that I could apply to my own work but where the passion of others was also evident.

In the space next to mine stood artist Rebekka Bank (1998), with her work aiming to raise awareness of how recognising a plant can feel like meeting an old friend. Her art depicted how, in a changing habitat, estranged from natural artefacts, the act of collecting them became a ritual for her. Each discovery became a carrier of a memory, allowing her to train herself to attribute deeper meanings to a place. Her exhibited work was very thoughtful and evoked a sense of tranquilly and connection. She explained that the project is a construction of her own environment, with objects that are mystifying for many. Her project illustrates for me the urgency and danger of the prevailing hurried pace at which we find ourselves as humans today.

Later in the day, I engaged in conversation with Dutch writer, explorer, and biologist Arita Baaijens (1956), who had been invited to give a lecture on her projects. Her story is remarkable. From 1988 to 2004, Arita spent seventeen years travelling with camels through the Sahara. She was the first woman to traverse the Western Desert of Egypt alone on a camel. She documented her experiences in the books 'Een regen van eeuwig vuur' (1993), 'Oase Farafra' (1998), 'Woestijnnomaden' (2003), and 'Desert Songs' (2008). Additionally, she spoke about her experiences horseback riding through Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and Russia, covering a journey of over fifteen hundred kilometres, which led to her work 'Zoektocht naar het paradijs' (2016). We further discussed my work, 'Weather Sonification,' where Arita wondered about the definitions of the sounds she heard—in this case, the sounds of the sun, wind, and rain. As I described the concept behind the work, she emphasised that her value in active listening lies in the actual sounds present. While my presented work sought dialogue between humans and the environment, Arita was curious about how I could perceive the sounds in their original state—without manipulation. She advised me to experiment with contact microphones, which could provide a next step in my artistic research into the importance of active listening.

The Significance of a Collective.

As I write this text a few days later, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity given to me by A Lab and VandeJong to present my work. The many encounters during the event have made me realise and inspired me to be part of a collective of people striving for a healthier future together. Even though the concept of the Symbiocene is still relatively new, I clearly see and notice that it has gained attention in recent years. I take with me the many inspirations, ideas, and contacts in my next steps and deeply believe that the transition to the Symbiocene has begun.