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On Decomposition and Interspecies Collaboration (Work-In-Progress) Various-Authors

Paper fragment

A Live feed (the sound of woodlice eating and communicating) as the keynote presentation for the ‘Hopsitality’ symposium/conference 2021. This text talks about how this came about, and outline the presentation and details of the ‘paper’ that was produced.

As part of ‘Hospitality’ a residency project with Proximity hosted by the UoC Fine Art writing group, a conference was organised as a final outcome and reflection on the project. The idea was that we would speak about our various practices and explore cross overs concerning the theme of Hospitality. Unfortunately, as the deadline drew near, we found ourselves having to find a keynote speaker at the last minute. 

At the time, I had been working on some sound recording experiments, listening to the sound of feeding woodlice and their communication signals [this was an idea that had come through the concept of #mosspitality that was developed through the project] I suggested that these woodlice could perhaps stand in as keynote speakers. I proposed that I would mediate the sound live from their terrarium during the presentation and address questions on their behalf—this idea resonated with the group. I was tasked with writing a biography for our humble keynote. 

Keynote Speaker biography

Woodlice belong to a collective known as the Terrestrial isopods, an internationally regarded group of land-dwelling crustaceans with armoured segmented bodies, and 14 legs. Sometime in the carboniferous period, dissatisfied with aquatic life, the Terrestrial Isopods developed adaptations to survive on land. Therefore for the woodlouse, moisture is a critical factor. They avoid light and seek dark, moist environments, often gather in large moisture-retaining groups. Woodlice are known for their crucial, yet often overlooked work on ‘decomposition’ and enhancing the activity of microbes in the soil. An ongoing project which, at the time of writing, has been in progress for nearly 299 million years. Despite this vital work, woodlice often receive a hostile reception when they infringe on the human environment.

Transcript of introduction by mediator:

[whispering as this is transmitted through the sensitive contact Mics recording the woodlice] 

Hello everyone, my name is Antony Hall, and I will be mediating this presentation from the woodlice.

Just for context, over the past three years, I’ve been keeping this terrarium in collaboration with my son, for educational purposes. The idea was to keep handfuls of deadwood and leaf matter, and moss from the garden to see what turned up and what it would take to maintain a hospitable environment for those creatures. We noticed ground beetles and centipedes, which are predators of the woodlice. But over the years, the main organisms that persist and now dominate the tank’s tank are woodlice.

We’ve been discussing whether this group of woodlice should be considered as a community or collective. It consists of four different species of woodlice, the common Porcello Sabre, which is the grey kind commonly found in the garden, and a more unusual orange variation and black and white dalmatian variation, which have migrated to this country through human interaction.

However, This ongoing and significant work of decomposition is very much a collaboration between the different species of terrestrial isopods and a multitude of minute soil-dwelling organisms. In particular the following live Feed, you will see tiny white specs, which are springtails.

It is interesting to note that it is necessary to show these works as a live process since their work is essentially ‘procedural’ and only finished when the material form is entirely decomposed.

The following presentation, which has actually already started, consists of several small works performed in parallel. Several works in moss, and a soy meatball, under which I have placed the microphones and I can mix between these. I will try and move the camera between works. Please use headphones for the best effect.

I will attempt to address any further questions on behalf of the woodlice after the presentation…”

[10 mins sound from woodlice]

On Decomposition and Inters… by antony

Artist, educator, and researcher working between the fields of science and art.