A conversation between Anab Jain and Marta Peirano, as recorded and retold in a small colony of ants

Written by: Gabriele Ferri and Inte Gloerich

Ant 1: [Wiggles antennae, wiggles antennae, wiggles antennae.] I bring an interesting message to pass along.

Ant 2: [Wiggles, wiggles.] I’m listening.

Ant 1: This is something that I’m passing along on behalf of my other sisters in the colony, who received it from another anthill, which received it from another anthill, and so on until we can’t count that anymore.

Ant 2: [Opens jaws. Closes jaws.] I’m listening.

Ant 1: My sisters have been using internet quite a lot. It’s not difficult after you get the hang of it. A few sunsets ago, they listened to a human conversation. It’s complicated to understand, they just can’t wiggle their antennae, but we don’t want to judge their communication system. It’s not necessarily worse than ours, it’s just different.

Ant 3: What is the message? [Wiggles antennae.]

Ant 1: Some humans are showing some encouraging signs of a more mature rapport with our environment. This is a thought that come for our queen ant. We have listened to Anab Jain and Marta Peirano discuss at an event called “(re)programming – Strategies for Self-Renewal”. If you find an internet cable, you can watch the recording at this URL, write it down:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k40Rddp7OE0

Ant 2: [Scratches jaws.] Who is Anab Jain?

Ant 1: Anab Jain co-founded Superflux, which is a studio that “creates worlds, stories, and tools that provoke and inspire” the humans “to engage with the precarity of our rapidly changing world.” [Wiggles antennae.] You should remember about the other ant colony that lived in that small apartment full of things that grow food like we do in our tunnels. That’s something that Anab and her partner Jon Ardern call “Mitigation of Shock,” and if you wait your turn to use our antennae-to-internet connection you can look it up here: https://superflux.in/index.php/work/mitigation-of-shock/.

Ant 4: Humans are not smart at all. [Shrugs antennae, wiggles butt.] It is a well-known fact that they can’t interpret future scenarios. Our reality could be their future!

Ant 1: [Shakes jaws, shakes antennae.] Anab and Superflux seem to prove differently, if you care to pay attention to these strange humans. They say that what they do is not predicting a future that will necessarily take place, and it is not about making accurate predictions. Instead, they emphasize storytelling and the creation of imaginaries that provoke reflection on what could happen.

Ant 4: Just like we do when we raise an alarm throughout the ant colony.

Ant 1: [Wiggles antennae.] Yes, something like that. Anab says that they search for ethnographic and anthropological insights. They listen for what they call “weak signals,” which are meaningful elements that they capture throughout human discourses, and that may hint to future possibilities. Then, they produce diagrams, quadrants, and other schemas that highlight interconnections and interdependencies. When they find something that captures a provocative possibility, they flesh it out. It is a matter of putting different weak signals in relation to one another and exploring/expanding that constellation of elements. Anab and Superflux are interested in examining the fringes and experimenting with when and how they enter mainstream mundane life. For them, envisioning a future is never a matter of abstract thinking, but mostly of translating a set of interdependencies in an experience.

Ant 2: [Scratches head. Wiggles antennae.]

Ant 1: [Wiggles head.] Marta asked how Superflux avoids the pitfall of imagining future scenarios that are very different to what we are experiencing now.

Ant 4: [Closes jaws.] She’s right! Humans should look closer at what is happening around them.

Ant 1: Anab thinks that there’s no future without history, and so it stands to reason to look back in order to look ahead. Of course, it’s fundamental to avoid falling into determinism. This could be achieved by considering multiple levels of critical sense-making – which are the diagrams and interdependencies that she mentioned before – and by reflecting on the biases and preconceptions that the analyst inevitably brings to the table.

Ant 4: [Wiggles butt.] Of course, humans have a tendency to visualize the past and the future as a sequence of events carried out by well-defined actors, often anthropomorphic.

Ant 2: Ah! Anthropomorphic! Why not ant-ropomorphic for a change?? [Wiggles butt vigorously.]

Ant 1: Anab thinks that humans must embrace complexity and be critical of reductive visions of the future based on the ‘archetypical single hero.’ (Also, our mother queen ant agrees with Anab.) This is what Superflux experimented with in Mitigation of Shock, which is less a tale of survival and more a reflection on the interconnecting social, cultural, and ecological forces that shape humans’ future. Instead of those awful shiny materials that don’t welcome critters like us, when Anab looks ahead, she sees systems that build bridges between multiple species and are useful for more than just humans.

Ant 4: [Wiggles antennae, wiggles antennae.] This reminds me of what happens in a forest, where the connections between mushrooms and plants shape the whole ecosystem with very complex feedback loops, where we ants play a fundamental role.

Ant 1: [Wiggles antennae enthusiastically.] Indeed! [Wiggles antennae.] We should all – ants and humans – imagine an ecological cooperation between different multispecies actors. If we could imagine a cooperative network of different entities, we would be able to have a much larger positive impact on the world. It’s never a matter of one project, one species, one hero, but a convergence/emergence of many factors that lead to an outcome.

Ant 3: [Wiggles antennae.] Excuse me! [Wiggles antennae.] I want to discuss this in the next colony study group. Who’s with me?

Ant 1: Me! I already picked up some books that Anab referred to so we can study them together. I will put them in the communal library later. I found a book about our friends the mushrooms and how they can thrive in the ruins that humans create around the world: Anna Tsing – The Mushroom at the End of the World. Perhaps we can find out how to learn from the mushrooms. It seems like humans like to write about what happens at the end of the world, because I also took this book by Timothy Morton with me, it’s called Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World and it is about how there are things in the world that are so big that it is hard to see them, like climate change. And the other book I found is really nice because it refers to all kinds of beings and machines as critters, not just ants and other normal-sized animals like us. Everyone is a critter, and everyone can become kin! We are all together in this! It’s written by Donna Haraway and called Staying with the Trouble.

Ant 5: [Wiggles antennae, wiggles butt.] This is all fine and dandy, but I’m curious to know what Anab and Superflux are working on these days.

Ant 1: [Opens and closes jaws.] You’re right, I was a bit curious after hearing about them. I had to queue for a while to find an empty spot in our antennae-to-internet connection, but I was finally able to find this link: https://superflux.in/index.php/work/refuge-for-resurgence/. Superflux will be presenting a new work, titled Refuge for Resurgence, at the Venice Architecture Biennale. It is a large, beautiful oak table around which all life-forms – including ants, and also humans – can gather as equals to dine together.

Ant 4: [Wiggles antennae.] Seems appropriate. As humans go, these ones seem smart enough.

Ant 6: Make way! Make way! We found an edible seed!

Everybody rushes to help, as more-than-human philosophical conversations temporarily leave space to foraging and caring for the anthill.

The (re)programming: Interdependence event was organized by Aksioma and can be watched here.


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