The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons

  • 2011
  • Leafcutter Ants, computer controlled kinetic sculpture, sound
  • Description

    "The Tragedy of the Commons" refer to the so-titled article by Garrett Hardin and its implications on contemporary notions community, sharing, gain and loss. Our research of this species led us to the wide range of applications of their impressive foraging schemes, specifically in the world of finance. We model a behavior that optimizes collaboration and cooperation towards the good of the colony, in order to predict market tendencies, bankruptcies, investment returns and other forms instruments of private profit.

    The installation is comprised of augmented kinetic sculpture in which a colony of between fifty and one hundred thousand (aka leafcutter) ants live and forage. The sculpture allows the colony access to selected pairs of true or faux food sources with poetic significance: the colony must choose between a plentiful source of fresh leaves that don't smell quite right (eucalyptus, a natural deterrent), or only a few seductive rose petals; what will dry quickly and provide little nutrition; or between pieces of thin plastic with an attractive texture, and a pocket world at last with colorful pages and the smell of orange extract. In every case, the ants optimize the seemingly difficult decision and do what is best for the community; the process is rapid, theatrical and in the case of this work highly visible.

  • Acknowledgements

    This work was commissioned by Palais de Tokyo, under the curatorial leadership of Marc-Olivier Wahler, and collaboratively created with Robin Meier.

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