Fly cultures [2018]

Flies in my kitchen

Fly cultures is a series of artistic installations on the behaviour of flies and humans and its meaning and interpretation in scientific and societal contexts. We aks how scientific interpretations of behaviour affect our understanding of human social behaviour and how they shape our civil life. The relation of humans towards animals has been a relationship of domination and use for a long time. As an alternative to the scientific paradigm of gaining knowledge out of a distant, cartesian perspective on nature, we want to experiment with the construction of a “consensual domain” for flies and humans by facilitating interspecies communication.
In a cooperation between Art (Ursula Damm, Weimar) and Neuroscience (Birgit Brüggemeier, Erlangen) we produce toolkits to engage citizens in experiments involving the fruit fly Drosophila, and in human–animal interaction. Our experimentation kits (tools and material for workshops, textbooks for unsupervised experimentation, games and instructions) are designed to enable experimentation in an everyday environment and not only in a laboratory. We aim to expand our view from standardized laboratory experiments to complex real-life exploration, leaving the laboratory-based knowledge of modern science behind and engaging in experimentation in the wild.

Why flies? Fruit flies are close to humans on many levels: Fruit flies (Drosophila) are so called hemerophiles, animals that follow humans and our civilization. In addition, flies are regarded as synanthropic – a species lingering most of its lifetime in direct proximity to humans and their immediate environment (like food industry, agriculture, treatment plants). Furthermore, fruit flies are model organisms in medicine since the early 20th century and until today fruit flies are studied to learn about human diseases: In Neuroscience and Genetics the fruit fly is investigated to learn about the human: ‘The fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster and humans share a great many of the same genes in common. Similarly, they share considerable conservation of metabolic and signaling pathways at the cellular level. Most strikingly, and most relevant for this discussion, there is growing evidence for conservation at the level of behavior and its molecular mechanisms [1].
Building upon that our project poses the question whether our self-perception is influenced by the fruit fly Drosophila?

Karaoke Bar: Singing in the language of flies

Schematic Set-up of Karaoke Bar

invites visitors to establish a direct exchange with fruit flies through a technical interface. A software is transforming human speech into signal that cna be perceived by flies. It allows auditory feedback between people and animals. For blending human and fly songs we will use a special signal processing vocoder provided by Berd Edler of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits.

Visitors are requested to talk and sing with flies. Birgit Brüggemeier, Neuroscientist and fly researcher explains in a video the meaning of the separate constituents of fly song. She informs listeners about the syntax and semantics of Drosophila songs, in order to give the visitors a better understanding of fly communication. The video encourages the visitors to sing and speak to flies. A sound visualization in 3D enhances the auditory perception of the sphere of the flies with a visual monitoring of fly songs on a screen: the location, amplitude and pattern of the sound sources shall help the performer to identify its influence on the fly behaviour.

A large pile of sand covers with its weight the habitat of flies to isolate their buzzing against the noise of humans shows. The massiv sand pile repesents  the sensual and the semantic gap between a fly and a human.

Another set of headphones offer an ‘anthropocentric’ view point on flies: we track the occurring frequencies of our fly community, constituting in courtship songs and flight sounds (differing from about 1 octave). A specially designed software enhances the real-time sounds by modulating them with previously found chords. This software raises the question: are there more hidden patterns of communication within fly songs than described by science yet?

With Karaoke Bar we learn to become silent and careful to be able to hear the voice of Drosophila. Our setting offers a possibility to communicate with Drosophila at eye (ear) level. By concentrating on Drosophilas proper way of expression (what kind of signals are they sending to their surroundings? How are they communicating? How does it sound if they are approaching their comrades? What do they want to negotiate? What are our common windows of perception?), we want to circumvent an anthropocentric world view. The installation not only translates the signals of drosophila (sonifying and visualizing, as it was done earlier), but allows a shared practice in a direct feedback situation, offering a novel sensual experience.