Jenna Sutela is an artist who is trying to establish forms of interspecies communication by bringing together biology, technology and poetry. The blue-green liquid on screen is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast in Kombucha tea, analyzed through a microscope. On the surface of this gelatinous mass is a shuffle of alphanumeric characters. These almost-sensical graphemes take shape from Sutela’s poem, inspired by an ancient Sumerian magic spell called nam-shub. Words combine and break apart on the surface while interfacing with an anagram-solving algorithm called Jumbo. Originally developed by cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, this automatic algorithm for solving word games in newspapers is inspired by the way complex molecules are constructed inside a living cell. The artist draws a parallel between the enzyme, which catalyzes chemical transformations in our bodies, and the phoneme, a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. Both share an enchanting ability to transform something into something else.
The artist thanks the Gut-Machine Poetry project collaborators, Vincent de Belleval and Johanna Lundberg as well as the artist-run project space, Banner Repeater.