The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons

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

    "The Tragedy of the Commons" refers to the so-titled article by Garrett Hardin and its implications on contemporary notions of community, sharing, gain and loss. Our research on Leafcutter ants led us to see a 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 instruments of private profit.

    The installation is comprised of augmented kinetic sculpture in which a colony of between fifty and one hundred thousand 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) and only a few seductive rose petals (will dry quickly and provide little nutrition), or between pieces of thin plastic with an attractive texture and a pocket world 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 collaboratively conceived and executed by Ali Momeni and Robin Meier.

    • Sculptural, electronics and lighting design by Ali Momeni
    • Sound design by Robin meier

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