Meta.Morf 2022 – Ecophilia / Dokkhuset / Conference May 20 / Curator: Zane Cerpina

The Dark Side of Evolution; On Ticks

Laura Beloff [FI]

At the same time as humanities are calling for a reassessment of our worldview and increased affection towards non-humans, ticks have entered our land in masses with an intention for permanent residency. They crawl in the forests and commonly cause feelings of fear and loathing in humans. We perceive a tick as an intruder without a right to a home in ‘our’ shared landscape. This aspect locates a tick into a category of a stray. A stray is someone that is not where it should be, often considered homeless or not having a right to a home in their current location. Barbara Creed has investigated the term stray in reference to animals and with a focus on the relationship between human and animal (Creed, 2017). She defines a new form of stray, an anthropogenic stray, which is a result of human actions on nature.

Interestingly, Michel Serres has written about the parasite from a different perspective – according to Serres parasite is based on relations between different entities and that there is often noise in these relationships (Serres, 1982). Serres refers to biologist H. Atlan, who has argued that noise forces the system to reorganize in a way that incorporates noise as a part of the complex system. Serres sees the parasite as a key to evolution and similar understanding is also advocated by evolutionary biologists.

Scientist Tuomas Aivelo claims that humans would not have evolved to what we are today if there would not have been parasitic relations on the way. Parasites are noise that reorganizes our minds and bodies – as well as forces us to cope with old and new relations and unexpected noise in them.

Inside my apartment hangs a glass cylinder, 90 centimeters high and 30 centimeters in diameter. The glass cylinder has some earth, some dead leaves, cones and green long grass grows in full length of the cylinder. I anticipate that this provides an excellent tick habitat. Inside the glass cylinder are around 40 ticks in different sizes and stages of their life. This is an experiment to investigate the habitat and survival of ticks. But with a different perspective, one could also claim that this Tick Garden is a continuation of our display practices of animals in zoos, natural history museums, cabinets of curiosities, and in terrariums – like in this case.

The talk presents insights and learnings from artistic investigations into the world of ticks and our relation to them, as well as two works; The Tick Garden (2021) and The Tick Terrarium (2019-2020) as an output of the on-going investigation.

This research has been partly conducted in collaboration with Kira O’Reilly under the title TickAct [Instagram #tickact]. The Tick Terrarium and The Tick Garden are made by Laura Beloff.  The podcasts, TickTalks, were produced in collaboration with Kira O’Reilly and commissioned by Bioartsociety as a part of their project Biofriction.

This talk is based on two recently written papers:
Beloff L. (2022) Investigating Stray-Concept and Ticks as a Co-Species (forthcoming).
Beloff L. & Søndergaard M. (2022) Living Biotechnological Lives: Noise, Parasites, and Relational Practices (forthcoming).

Laura Beloff
Laura Beloff (Ph.D.) is an internationally acclaimed artist and researcher based in Finland. She functions in-between artistic production and academic research with a core in artistic methods. Beloff’s concept- and practice-driven research is located in the cross section of art, science and technology. The research engages with the areas such as human enhancement, biosemiotics, biological matter, artificial life, artificial intelligence, robotics, and information technology in connection to art, humans, environment and society. The specific interest in recent years is in the diminishing gap between concepts and disciplines of biology and technology. The outcome of her research manifests in exhibited art works, innovative practice-based experiments, wearable artefacts, process-based and participatory installations exploring the merger of art, technology, biology and environments – as well as in research papers, articles and invited chapters in a variety of publications and conferences.

Beloff has engaged in numerous international activities including: participation in international research and art projects, organizing committees of international conferences, editor of publications, evaluator and opponent of PhD dissertations, supervisor of PhD-projects and evaluator for international funding bodies for transdisciplinary initiatives across art, technology & science. She has been a visiting researcher in Mexico UNAM 2015, Shanghai SIVA 2017, Trento University 2018. Beloff is a frequently invited speaker on her transdisciplinary artistic practice for art and academic events. Beloff has received various art awards as well as artistic and research grants throughout the years.

Previously she has been a Full Professor at the Art Academy in Oslo 2002-06; a visiting Professor at The University of Applied Arts in Vienna 2009 and 2011; she has been a recipient of a 5-year artist grant from the Finnish State 2007-11; 2012-2019 she was Associate Professor, Head of Section 2012-2016 and Head of PhD School 2017-2019 at IT-University in Copenhagen. Currently she is Associate Professor and Head of ViCCA-program (Visual Cultures, Curating and Contemporary Art) at Aalto University’s School of Art, Design and Architecture. /

Header Graphics: “The Tick Terrarium” by Laura Beloff.