2016
Slime Mold
Experiments

This project is part of an ongoing investigation into the astonishing abilities and visual qualities of the single-celled organism Physarum Polycephalum, also known as slime mold.

Context
Spring/Summer 2016
Design Studio
Holon Institute of Technology

During my first semester at the MFA Design and Technology program, I conducted various experiments to get acquainted with slime mold. I further tried to answer the question of why slime mold should be of interest to artists and designers.

Slime molds sense their environment, sending out protoplasmic tubes to create links among resources and allowing for information transfer within this emerging decentralized network. Despite not having a formal nervous system, slime molds know how to reinforce the most efficient routes; they exhibit memory and the ability to learn. These are only a few characteristics that constitute the astonishing capabilities of a unique non-human-intelligence that prompts us to rethink our sense of sovereignty in the hierarchy of knowledge.

Slime molds sense their environment, sending out protoplasmic tubes to create links among resources and allowing for information transfer within this emerging decentralized network. Despite not having a formal nervous system, slime molds know how to reinforce the most efficient routes; they exhibit memory and the ability to learn. These are only a few characteristics that constitute the astonishing capabilities of a unique non-human-intelligence that prompts us to rethink our sense of sovereignty in the hierarchy of knowledge.

Context
Fall/Winter 2019
Major Studio 1
Parsons School of Design
Slime mold experiments
During my first semester at the MFA Design and Technology program, I conducted various experiments to get acquainted with slime mold. I further tried to answer the question of why slime mold should be of interest to artists and designers, by creating
Slime mold colored with red iron oxide (left), and blue cobalt- and aluminum oxide (right).

To get acquainted with slime mold, I conducted seven experiments in seven days: I tracked the organism’s growth with computer vision and built a slime mold electrode. I further introduced Physarum Polycephalum to textured surfaces, resulting in new branching behavior, and fed pigments to the organism in an attempt to change its color. My experimental inquiries taught me a lot about Physarum Polycephalum but also gave form to a personal approach around collaborating with someone or something that can’t share its intentions with me verbally - observation is key.

For proper documentation of my findings, I used a 350 Watt studio strobe and mounted my DSLR on a tripod with a horizontal arm. The setup was then placed in a dark room to create an optimum environment for the slime mold and ensure stable light conditions for timelapse photography.

This video, a compilation of the various time-lapses I recorded with the above setting, documents the beautiful branching patterns of Physarum Polycephalum.
Takeaways

Slime mold doesn't always play along. My experiments (and their shortcomings) show that Physarum Polycephalum is not merely a material that can be shaped the way we desire - it is an organism with a mind of its own, that never ceases to surprise, sometimes behaving with an unpredictability that seems against all reason. But if we stop projecting human reasoning and logic onto the organism, we can harness these glitches to scrutinize human supremacy, become more humble and reverent about nature and its wonders. The concept of slime mold as a collaborator might be humorous, but it is relevant in light of the massive loss of biodiversity and climate change.

Secondly, we might look at Physarum Polycephalum and see an opportunity to challenge our prevailing ideas about the concepts of intelligence and consciousness. In the last decade, artificial intelligence has gone from a science-fiction dream to a critical part of our everyday lives, raising fundamental questions about machine consciousness and leading to the dehumanization of intelligence. This paradigm shift made it acceptable to attribute intelligence to non-humans, that, in the tradition of French philosopher René Descartes, were for centuries thought to be devoid of all forms of thinking. While slime mold unarguably exhibits intelligent behavior, is it conscious? We don't know. But asking this question might alter our definition of consciousness and even help us navigate ethical challenges concerning our relationship to emerging technologies.

2020
Franziska Mack