The Swamp Game by Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas at the Postscript of Silence exhibition curated by Iris Long, Sam Shiyi Qian for Shanghai Ming Contemporary Art Museum, China
November 4, 2023 – February 25, 2024

Gediminas Urbonas, associate professor MIT ACT
Nomeda Urbonas, MIT ACT research affiliate
Vinzenz Aubry, graduate student SMACT ’25
Haozheng Feng, graduate student SMACT ’25

The exploratory Swamp Game: Eat Me, installed in the center of the Postscript of Silence exhibition at McaM in Shanghai, invites the public to experience the changes in perspective unfolding in a trembling swamp. Originally commissioned by ZKM for Critical Zones –  Observatories for Earthly Politics, an exhibition curated by Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour with Martin Guinard, it was exhibited as an online exploratory experience and later as LED screen installation. The installation at McaM is a result of ongoing collaboration with a group of MIT’s Climate Visions that includes contribution from ACT graduate students Vinzenz Aubry (SMACT ’25) and Haozheng Feng (SMACT ’25).

The Swamp Game: Eat Me is inspired by the research of German botanist Carl Albert Weber, who in 1902 published the first ever treatise on swamps based on his scientific study of the Aukštumala raised bog, then colonized by German Empire, which had belonged to the former province of East Prussia. Based on his drawings and the data collected by a group of contemporary biologists who recently studied the Aukštumala bog (nowadays in Lithuania), the game proposes the swamp as a sentient entity, and what biologists term the “sympoietic relation”s that unfold in it—that is, the collective creation or organization of the fragile interdependencies of an ecosystem.

The game operates on several levels: It traces interactions between organisms and their habitats and distorts human coordinates in space and time, introducing an alternative universe where both forms and dimensions, as well as distances, intervals, and rhythms question perception and orientation. Here every member of the community is part of every other member’s environment—and as such, necessary for the survival of the environment as a whole.

Swamp Game: Eat Me allows audience to embody different species by floating into swampian creatures: plants, insects, birds, amphibians, fungi, bacteria, or algae and discover the main rule of cannibal metaphysics: to become the other, one has to be eaten. The swamp world is uncertain and navigation here is by gut feeling. Players should abandon the human desire for individuality, productivity, and competition to allow for other ways of knowing and sensing the world. The ambient soundtrack attunes players to a metamorphic world of chimeric shapes and saturated colors, where body, scale, and pace of movement shift as the perspective changes.

Above: Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas with MIT Climate Visions, Swamp Game: Eat Me, 2020-23. Installation view at “Postscript of Silence”, McaM, 2023. Photo: JLW Studio. Image courtesy of the artists

Swamp Game: Eat Me (2020-23)
Digital projection of the online game 16:10, game controller.  Courtesy of the artists.

Concept: Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas in collaboration with Nikola Bojić, Kristupas Sabolius, and Indrė Umbrasaitė (MIT Climate Visions)

Development & User Experience: and Siamend Darwesh

Web design: Serge Rompza (NODE Berlin Oslo)

Sound: Jan St. Werner (Mouse on Mars).

Installation support: Vinzenz Aubry, Haozheng Feng
Research in collaboration with scientists Vesta Aleknavičiūtė (Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas), Jūratė Sendžikaitė (Nature Research Centre, Institute of Botany, Lithuania).

Swamp Game was commissioned by ZKM for Critical Zones – Observatories for Earthly Politics curated by Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour with Martin Guinard. Supported by Lithuanian Council for Culture.

Above: Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas with MIT Climate Visions, Swamp Game: Eat Me, 2020-23. Screen capture, 2020. Image courtesy of the artists.

About the exhibition Postscript of Silence:

The exhibition is curated by Iris Long, Sam Shiyi Qian for Shanghai Ming Contemporary Art Museum, China, and organized by Ming Yuan Group, Ming Contemporary Art Museum. 

Is silence the opposite of being heard? Postscript of Silence aims to explore aspects of the world that have not yet been coded into the human perceptual lexicon, thereby examining and questioning knowledge pertaining to environments that are increasingly being technologized and operationalized.

Understanding and interpreting matter, life, and geological time through “operational ontologies” and a mediatized approach—as both a response to the anthropocentric ecological crisis and as a thematic element—are present in much of contemporary artistic creation. As Donna Haraway suggests, a range of life-extending imaging technologies (such as ultrasounds, MRIs, and electron microscopes) are gradually placing the objects of our focus and nature itself in the position of the observed. This allows more observational detail to infiltrate previously unknown domains, rendering them readable, understandable, and exploitable, and integrating them into a worldview underpinned by scientific thought. In Postscript of Silence, this operationalization of natural knowledge involves not only a foundational infrastructure for probing, verifying, and processing data and signals but also implies a set of actions and management patterns driven by scientific or objective reasoning. The fascination with laws, models, and even predictions often overlook the fact that scientific perception is also a form of collective empiricism, and that the dynamics of knowledge categorized as “scientific” are flows of power rather than flows of truth.

Confronted with this situation, the exhibition takes silence as its metaphorical point of departure, aiming to carve out an interpretive method that does not center on the visual or scientific by utilizing a series of key terms centered around acoustics, listening, or the reachable environs and technologies of sound (such as muting, silencing, or inaudible entities). This leads us to focus on non-standardized operations, undecodable signals, and fugitive, elusive, uncaptured, or unidentified elements. Through the works or projects of 23 artists or artists groups, the exhibition allows the environments and natural entities that resist objectification and defy prediction and regulation to make their voices heard. In the gaps between sound emission and its capture or listening, the show implies a newly reopened cognitive pathway.

Curators: Iris Long, Sam Shiyi Qian
Assistant Curator: Zihan Chen
Artists: Vibeke Mascini & Ella Finer, Fei Yining, Julie Freeman, Liu Chuang, Nicole L’Huillier, Hsu Chia-Wei, Knowbotiq, Jeroen van Loon, Nicholas Mangan, Yuri Pattison, Diana Policarpo, Shubigi Rao, Riar Rizaldi, Susan Schuppli, Nastassja Simensky, Himali Singh Soin, Su Yu Hsin, Jol Thoms, Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, Richard Vijgen, Susanne M. Winterling, Cosmo Wong, Zhang Beichen

Exhibition design: Wang Yifan
Organizers: Ming Yuan Group, Ming Contemporary Art Museum
Producer: Li Songjian, Lin Feifei

Related links
Online experience of the Swamp Game: Eat Me

Postscript of Silence at the Shanghai Ming Contemporary Art Museum, E-flux announcement

Shanghai Ming Contemporary Art Museum