“Microbial Revolts” presented by Pritchard


Session Title:

  • Germs - (Re)volting data

Presentation Title:

  • Microbial Revolts




  • In 1997 Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced the development of a living sensor, the “Critters on a Chip”, a tiny light-sensitive computer chip coated with bio-luminescent bacteria, placed on a standard integrated circuit. In the presence of targeted substances including petrochemical pollutants and explosives, the bacteria emitted a visible blue-green light. Small, inexpensive and fast, critter chips imagined an affective scene in which microbes could be used to monitor remediation and bio-accumulation at sites contaminated by petrochemicals. It was imagined these critter chips could be located in sites where humans and other non-humans could not survive.

    As Rosi Braidotti has noted, the political economies of bio-chemo capitalism hold no distinctions between humans and non-humans when it comes to profiting from them. Seeds, plants, animals and bacteria all become sites that generate data. Although much feminist theory and art/science work has focused on the positive, co-creativity of nonhuman organisms and humans, little attention has been dedicated to the aesthetic practices of nonhuman organisms in the network, who don’t engage with us, but accompany us in the dark backgrounds. This paper foregrounds the relations and material loops of environmental data; relations between petrochemicals, waste, computation and capitalism, so that we might attend to the semiliving, exhausted, partial lives of particular organisms that are enrolled with the computation of (big) data, yet often disappear in its data structures. By focusing on nonhuman organisms, I do not wish to reinstate the categories of the animal, fish or bacteria as fixed.

    Instead, I want to develop a fuller understanding of the capitalist practices of computing and the ways in which it extends its reach into non-human organisms through affect. I focus on the speculative figure of the critter chip and the artwork “Critter Compiler”. “Critter Compiler” is a speculative fiction writer, a botnet constituted by the queer musings of atoms, microbes, slime moulds and algaes. “Critter Compiler” engages with the more-than-human critters of the internet, an ecology of critical life that demands attention. Drawing on the work of Lauren Berlant I discuss the aesthetics and promise of critter chips that is brought into being by sensing corporealities. Highlighting the entangled intra-actions of bio-accumulation in the artwork “Critter Compiler”, I speculate on the resistances and revolting aesthetics of microbes that propose an alternate political possibility.

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