Symbiosis (Polymorf, 2021) is a performative, multisensory, multiuser and multi-species-storytelling VR experience. It offers a speculative world set 200 years in the future on the ruins of the Anthropocene after climate disaster has changed the world beyond recognition. This installation offers blueprints for the creation of new family relationships between humans, animals, plants and AI. On the verge of extinction, symbiosis between and the redesign of all these life forms is deemed necessary to have a chance of survival. Six participants can each embody for 15 minutes an enhanced biochemical symbiotic life forms: Camilla (a symbiosis of a post-sym human, an orchid flowering plant and a Monarch Caterpillar), a Colorado River toad (human/frog), a slime mold, or a three-part multibody creature (human/angler fish/octopus/AI). The full-body VR haptic suit enables participants not only to see, hear, and feel but also to smell and taste these symbiotic experiences.
Symbiosis is inspired by Donna Haraway’s book Staying with The Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016), especially the chapter ‘The Camille Stories. Children of Compost’. According to Haraway we live in catastrophic times, in an unending global ecological disaster. Existing social imaginaries and practices no longer produce the outcomes they once did, but no new imaginaries or practices have yet been created. It is our task to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuilt quiet places. We have to think-with, live-with, be-with other planetary organisms via the imagination and design of multispecies storytelling. To name this new yet-to-come epoch, Haraway introduces the concept of the Chthulucene in which the human and nonhuman are inextricably linked in tentacular practices; in which we break with human exceptionalism—humans are not dominant and controlling over other species and the earth—and advocate multispecies justice and response-ability, the ability to find ways of living together within the active biosphere we all inhabit.