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The Laboratory for Embodied Intelligences (LEI) is a collective of artists, scientists and other experts working to create experiences that allow humans to “try on” non-human perspectives.

LEI offers performances, art-videos, public movement/science workshops, installations, panels, and think tanks lasting from 2 hours to 2 weeks. Projects to date have been shaped by LEI director/co-founder Nina Waisman and co-founder/movement-expert Flora Wiegmann, in collaboration with context-determined teams of artists, scientists and enthusiasts of many stripes. LEI believes we have much to gain – aesthetically, sensorially, practically, politically – by approaching intelligence from a less anthropocentric perspective, considering intelligences in entities with different bodies and sensory apparatus, living in different time scales and environments than we require.

LEI has begun this pursuit with works focused on making bacterial cultures viscerally accessible to humans. Why? We evolved from microbial bacteria, yet only recently did we learn that “all mobile unicellular organisms possess the fundamental characteristics of nervous systems” (Dr. Lori Marino). Perhaps fundamental cognitive capacities and “modes of reason” we think unique to humans belong in some form to bacteria. We know they communicate – in fact, they are multi-lingual. They have survived and communicated with each other over 3.5 billion years. Surely there are a few things we can learn from cultures exponentially more long-lived and adapted than we are? Looking outward, astrobiologists agree that microbes are the most likely form of life we will encounter out in the cosmos. Can our terrestrial bacteria help us communicate with these extraterrestrials? Closer to home, humans have 150 times more bacterial DNA in and on their bodies than human DNA: much of this microbial culture is in direct dialogue with our so-called intellectual processes, individually and collectively.

Intelligence moves between entities.

Arroyo Seco Weekend
Brookside Golf Course
Pasadena, CA

Program Notes:

Human thought and signals are based on chemical and physical abilities latent in bacteria
Lori Marino, Founder and Executive Director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, neuroscientist, expert in animal behavior and intelligence

Mindness is the internalization of movement
Rodolfo Llinas, Thomas and Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience and Chairman Emmeritus of the department of Physiology & Neuroscience at NYU

Single cells
Bacteria have figured out a way to use one cell, a few microns in diameter, to sense a much larger environment.

By liquifying paths through their cell matter bacteria are able to move their organs where needed and create new appendages on the fly.

Bacteria cover us in an invisible body armor.

They digest our food, they make our vitamins, they educate our immune systems.

They impact our emotions, our memory, our cognition.

Behavior wires the brain and the brain shapes behavior.

Attach, exchange, leave.

Multi-cell colonies
The kind of junction between individuals indicates the quality of communication between them.

Bacteria turn on group behaviors that are only successful when all of the cells participate in unison.

Bacteria make chemical words, they recognize those words, they are multilingual.

A signal by itself may not be meaningful, it’s all in what an individual does with a signal.

How would we know if we came across non-human intelligence – would we recognize it?

A new generation of bacteria is born every 20 minutes

Replication, mutation, contagion

Benign infectiousness

Restrained predation

We never had a clue what intelligence was – and still it’s the same.
Kanna Rajan, former director of the Artificial Intelligence program at NASA

We are going to discover the universe we are prepared to discover
Nathalie Cabrol, Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center

Why Microbes?
In and on your body is 150 times more microbial DNA than human DNA – we are arguably more bacterial in nature than human. Widening this perspective, astrobiologists agree that bacteria-like lifeforms are the most likely kinds of life we will find out in the cosmos. If we are searching for intelligent life out in the cosmos, and scientists expect most life out there to be bacterial  – shouldn’t we try to understand intelligence in our bacteria here on earth, in preparation for our extra-terrestrial meet-ups?

All life on earth is deeply dependent on bacteria: bacteria create oxygen and soil, they digest our food, equilibrate our moods, maintain our health – the list goes on. Scientists agree that all earthly lifeforms evolved from bacteria. But even if you do not agree with evolutionary science, our mutual dependence on bacteria suggests that looking more deeply at their behavior is likely to locate patterns of connectedness between our behaviors and theirs – we couldn’t host them without this connectedness.

The scientific information and quotations above were gathered during interviews with lead scientists at SETI Institute, NASA, NYU, Stanford, etc, as well as through research papers by experts in astrobiology, bacteria, microbiology and neuroscience.


Narratives, artistic direction & choreography:
Nina Waisman
Flora Wiegmann

Milan DelVecchio

Jamie Carr, Madison Clark, Venus Fields, Kearian Giertz, Maya Gingery, Kai Hazelwood, Colleen Hendricks, Sarah Jacobs, Spencer K Jensen, Michelle Lai, Carol Mcdowell, Samantha Mohr, Natali Micciche, Nguyen Nguyen, and Michelle Sui.

About the Artists:
As a former dancer turned multi-media artist, Nina Waisman is fascinated by the critical roles that movement and sensation play in forming thought. Her interactive sound installations, videos and collaborative performances highlight the subliminal training and possible hacking of such embodied thinking. These works focus on related issues including surveillance, invisible labor, machine-human feedback loops, nanotechnology. Venues include House of World Cultures, Berlin; Hammer Museum; LAXART; CECUT, Tijuana; OCMA; Museum of Image and Sound / Sao Paolo; tBeall Center for Art & Technology; Zero1 Biennial; San Diego Museum of Art. She has taught at institutions such as Cal Arts, SFAI, UCSD, collaborates with NASA and USC scientists and spent 2015 as an artist in residence at SETI Institute. Waisman’s ongoing series of collaborative artworks, under the umbrella of The Laboratory for Embodied Intelligences (LEI) which she co-founded and directs,  explore the role of embodiment in forming non-human intelligences, ranging from microbial on through plant, animal and extraterrestrial intelligences.

Flora Wiegmann is a Los Angeles-based dancer and choreographer. After a year at the Laban Centre in London, she earned her BA in Dance from Columbia College, Chicago and got her MFA from UCLA in 2007. She works in both live performance and film/video, often making research-based work that is specific to its particular site. Her projects have been presented at the ICA, Philadelphia; The Kitchen, New York; the California Biennial, Newport Beach, and LA><ART; Los Angeles, Midway Contemporary, Minneapolis; The David Roberts Foundation and The Camden Arts Centre, London; The Banff Center for Creativity in Canada, and Université Rennes in France. She is currently showing a new video and performance piece as part of Made in LA at the Hammer Museum this summer. She is co-founder of the Laboratory for Embodied Intelligences with Nina Waisman where they have been translating scientific research in the field of astrobiology into movement since 2016.