Symposium: The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish: We have never been one

Ambika P3, University of Westminster

1 Dec 2018 - 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Symposium: The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish: We have never been one

Tickets £5 / £4 (conc.) available via Ticketweb

This is the second instalment of this year-long symposium and research project, presented as part of the General Ecology project, and features anthropologists, artists, robotics experts, historians and more, to address interior multitude, swarming organisms, entanglements, pregnancies, endosymbiosis, microchimerism and metamorphosis - across vegetal, human, artificial, non-human animal and mineral beings. 

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Confirmed participants include artist Sophia Al-Maria, artist and educator Heather Barnett, swarm robotics engineer Sabine Hauert, science historian and writer Daisy Hildyard, neuroscientist Leah Kelly, science sociologist Hannah Landecker, composer and sound artist Annea Lockwood, anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, anthropologist Germain Meulemans, biological systems scientist and network architect Phoebe Tickell and artist Jenna Sutela and more. Part 2: We have never been one is presented in collaboration with the London Contemporary Music Festival and the University of Westminster. A full programme is coming soon.

To launch its General Ecology project, and inspired by the 2019-2020 exhibition programme, Serpentine Galleries launch a long, durational symposium and research project in several parts, that will take place over eighteen months. Titled The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish, the gatherings bring together a wide range of thinkers and practitioners from various disciplinary ambits across art, literature, environment, science and technology to explore the porous boundaries between human, non-human animal, vegetal, mineral, mycellar and artificial consciousness and intelligence. 

On Saturday 1 December, the symposium will focus on the idea of multitude. It is subtitled "we have never been one", echoing Bruno Latour's notion that we have never been modern, expanding it to reflect on how the modern definition of the individual has prevented more organic, holistic and complex definitions of the self as an entity constituted within a dense network of interrelated, internal and external phenomena and agents. The event will consider how contemporary thinkers are moving into and beyond embodiment to consider relationships and phenomena that happen in-between and across entities, and which in doing so, shatter and re-define the concept of the self and the one.

Thinking through the natural sciences, anthropology, environmental humanities and art, participants will address questions such as: 

  • Given an organism’s dependence on symbiotic relationships with other organisms (from gut bacterias to companion species), can we really think of ourselves as individuals? 
  • Conversely, what new ecological insights can be gained from thinking of the planet as an organism in itself? 
  • In what ways are species and beings that seem distinct in fact entangled in a planetary cooperation? 
  • Can we think of pregnancy as two (or more) brains thinking in a single body? 
  • Does microchimerism—the exchange of genetic materials across bodies—point towards a different understanding of the self? 
  • ...and many more. 


The first symposium in the series took place on Monday 28 May and brought together choreographers, scientists, artists and writers at the ZSL London Zoo to reflect about cognition and language in tandem with affect, agency and sensibility across species and beings. The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish, Part 1: Language opened with Simone Forti’s dance performance Sleep Walkers / Zoo Mantras (inspired by the movement of animals in zoos), interpreted by her long-time collaborator, dancer Claire Filmon. It was followed by talks and dialogues featuring writer Ted Chiang (author of “Story of Your Life”, the novella at the origin of the 2016 sci-fi blockbuster, Arrival); psychologist and dolphin cognition researcher Diana Reiss in collaboration with humanitarian and musician Peter Gabriel; artist Rasmus Nielsen from collective Superflex, as well as screenings of films by artists Allora & Calzadilla and Michela de Mattei and a remote contribution by Internet pioneer Vint Cerf

The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish is curated by writer and editor Filipa Ramos and Lucia Pietroiusti, Curator (General Ecology), Serpentine Galleries. Advisors to Part 2 include writer Chris Fite-Wassilak, artist Pierre Huyghe, anthropologist Tim Ingold, artist Giles Round, LCMF artistic director Igor Toronyi-Lalic, artist Katharine Vega and Serpentine CTO Ben Vickers.

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ZSL London Zoo, NW1 4RY

Symposium: The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish, Part 1: Language

28 May 2018 - 6:30 PM

Artists, dancers, writers and scientists gather at the London Zoo to consider animal, human and artificial consciousness, language, and interspecies communication. See below for participants. Participants include writer Ted Chiang, artist Michela de Mattei; dancer Claire Filmon (performing Simone Forti); artist Rasmus Nielsen; dolphin cognition researcher Diana Reiss, as well as a remote participation by Internet pioneer Vint Cerf and a screening of The Great Silence by Allora & Calzadilla (in collaboration with Ted Chiang). Click 'Read More' for a full programme. Part of the Serpentine's General Ecology project.

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