Collective matters, 2021. Fresh A.I.R Residency at Urban Nation Berlin.

Text by Dr. Kea Wienand

For a long time, European art history only traced works back to a human (mostly male) subject. The naming of collectives already undermines this focus. However, META-colectivo does not just consist of Adriana Tamargo and Guillermo Escribano as well as their various human collaborators: It also encompasses non-human agents, such as bacteria, fungi, and mold spores. This cooperation corresponds to a philosophical position that pleads for a responsible community of all organisms in the face of the climate catastrophe. And this involves renouncing the idea that human beings are the center of the world and could rule over nature. By contrast, META-colectivo adopts the philosopher Donna Haraway’s position that sympoiesis is necessary. According to Haraway, sympoiesis simply means “makingwith.” 1 In keeping with this, the artist collective asked what they could do in order to do something with and for the environment they were living in, something responding to it responsibly.

For their project, they collected organic waste from their immediate surroundings in Berlin-Schöneberg: They received coffee grounds from cafés, spent grain (that is, malt residue) from breweries, hair trimmings from hairdressers, autumn leaves from the street, etc. They then experimented with these materials and various eco-friendly binders, such as agaragar and plant-based glycerol. Together with bacteria, mold spores, rain, sunlight, etc., they created a material they could form. This was then used to create sculptures whose shapes were inspired by organisms like protozoa and paramecia or by geological phenomena like boulders or rock formations. The modeling process was again defined by all these factors. Ultimately, the sculptures constructed in this way cannot be described as human-made or natural—neither in terms of their form nor their production. Here no dualism of this kind exists anymore. It is “something” in between and it is together—that is, “meta” and collective. And the objects’ temporality is not solely defined by people either. Exhibited outdoors and exposed to the influence of the weather, they will decay and once again become part of the ecosystem. As such, they are biodegradable and remain ephemeral.

We can thus summarize that the project Collective Matters takes the significance of the utilized material seriously. Its material aspect, its composition, and its production are taken into consideration. However, the aspects of its handling, legibility, and aesthetic appeal are also considered. This is precisely what makes their work smarter than art that may draw attention to the devastating effects of waste products, such as the greenhouse gases produced by incinerating garbage, but flies halfway around the world to do so and ultimately leaves behind non-organic waste. By contrast, META-colectivo shows that dealing responsibly with the environment not only requires us to give up assumptions but also to create new options for collaboration. And this also instills optimism.

︎︎︎ Project webpage