Urbonas Studio’s ‘Mushroom Power Plant’ at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm

Urbonas Studio. Mushroom Power Plant. Copper, aluminum, silicon slurry, carbonized mushroom and wood, acrylic, felt, UV print, silkscreen. Mud Muses. A Rant about Technology exhibition, Moderna Museet Stockholm, Sweden. 2019 Photo: Urbonas Studio
ACT at MIT

Mushroom Power Plant by Urbonas Studio (comprised of ACT Associate Professor Gediminas Urbonas and ACT Affiliate Nomeda Urbonas) is on view at the Mud Muses – A Rant about Technology exhibition curated by Lars Bang Larsen at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden.

Mushroom Power Plant encapsulates Urbonas Studio’s ongoing research in the field of energy humanities. It unfolds through a semi-fictional narrative about an alternative power plant and probes the hypothesis of energy produced by a symbiotic relationship between mushrooms and bacteria.

As a mycoglomerate, Mushroom Power Plant utilizes Geobacter bacteria that gains its energy by using iron oxide (an abundant rust-like mineral found in soils and sediments) in the same way humans use oxygen. The mud element connects with the component of carbonized mushroom slurry, which in turn replaces the graphite typical in conventional battery production.

At the Mud Muses exhibition the Mushroom Power Plant is featured in the form of a three-dimensional scientific poster that brings together materiality of energy and model of pedagogy into the focus.

Mud Muses – A Rant About Technology

How do we understand the relationship between life and technology in a time when they seem to be completely merged? The group exhibition “Mud Muses – A Rant About Technology” takes its title from an installation by Robert Rauschenberg and an essay by science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin. Featuring historic works, new commissions, and artistic research and organizational initiatives from the late 1960s and onwards, this exhibition presents 19 artists and artists groups who manipulate and play with (gender)codes, flip subjectivities, hook up with other intelligences and short circuit the promises of technology.

Eschewing the socialized technological forms of our present, the exhibition locates emergence in the imagining-otherwise and learning-differently of artistic practices that view technology as immanent to art making. Tech is not a 20th century supplement to art’s ontology: its temporalities are non-linear and its histories run deep. As tacitly known by weavers, for instance, and by cultures that develop and employ technologies relationally as commons, we have always been post-technological.

While some artists build counter-histories against hierarchical and industrial framings, others play with cybernetic control or immerse themselves in systems at the civic scale of contemporary culture. Often, their practice is distributed in a multiplication of authorship, across agencies, knowledges and disciplines, and on new productive platforms. The technological author knows that other intelligences and bodies are present in her signature.

The dialectic of the Enlightenment into which progress and growth are inscribed lends technology a myth-like quality. According to cultural anthropologist Roy Wagner, what we call mythology is a discourse about the given: the primordial conditions from and against which something or someone will be defined or constructed; discourses that establish terms and limits of an ontological debt. In the anthropocene, it seems that only artificial intelligence and synthetic life offer imaginable ways out of the planetary ontological debt made by humans. In this way, the conviction that we can distance ourselves from technology as an object of substance continues to create transcendent loops around it: technology is evoked as a mover of human history, at the same time as it is seen to be in excess of history. It is both what indexes human lack and makes us more-than-human; what makes us contemporary subjects and what may allow us to surpass ourselves as such, and so on.

What if we begin, not with technology’s mythical transparency, but its opaque force? As much as with the hardware, with the fictions with which we narrate its relation to its users and to the material world? With how we are dreamt by it?

In her text “A Rant About Technology” (2004), Ursula K. Le Guin uncouples technology from common sense and progress. She writes, “technology is the active human interface with the material world.” This simple definition expands the idea of technology and ensures that it doesn’t only belong to ‘advanced’ cultures or at our end of history. But how does ‘the material world’ act in this equation? And how does technology’s ‘active interface’ affect humans and their society?

Mud Muses is curated by Lars Bang Larsen, visiting scholar at ACT in 2017-18

 

Credits:

Concept Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas

Studio production: Simona Kačinskaitė, Indrė Umbrasaitė, Rytis Urbanskas, Aistė Ambrazevičiūtė, Lucy Siyao Liu.

Mushroom battery group at Kent University UK: Viktorija Makarovaitė, Sofia Perez-Villar,

Bacteria battery group at KTU: Kristina Kantminienė and Egidijus Griškonis.