Science Gallery: Swarm

Content Warning: The following post will discuss elements of an exhibition that explore the topic of euthanasia. If you are uncomfortable reading this material, please skip this post.

This was my first visit to the Science Gallery, located within The University of Melbourne. Currently on display is an exhibition titled SWARM, which aims to reflect on our desire to be social. On the introductory banner, the question is posed: ‘is it better to be part of a pack or go it alone?’ I was intrigued by the premise of the exhibition and the kind of themes that would be addressed. The main exhibition space is spread across one level. It consists of multiple stand-alone installations and interactives that all speak to the overarching SWARM concept. Each installation has a digital label displayed on a tablet device providing information on both the work and the artist. For most of the installations, the amount of information was enough to establish context and raise my level of understanding. Roaming the floor are mediators, staff who are also there to help with interpretation and understanding the works. I was very glad that they were there as it added to the experience.

For me, there were some standout works that were either truly intriguing or totally bizarre. I have selected five to focus on.

Read more: Science Gallery: Swarm

One. Scrape Elegy by Willoh Weiland, Gabby Bush, Monica Lim, Lauren Stellar, Misha Mikho

I was most looking forward to experiencing this installation. The label starts by asking the question ‘what skeletons are in your digital closet?’ Truly this could be the start of a modern horror film. If you dare, you are encouraged to share your Instagram handle and step inside to hear your posts read aloud. My favourite quote from the label is that the installation acts as a ‘mourning poem for the late capitalist hell that makes even the worst of us valuable.’ Talk about a one-sentence critique of society. There are broader themes here of data scraping, digital identity, and critical reflection.

After you’ve shared your handle, you walk inside a room and sit on a bright pink toilet with a speaker hanging above. I can’t quite describe to you what it’s like sitting on a toilet while voices read aloud all the cringe you have written in the past. It was almost like a really bad meditation session. I encourage you to experience this for yourself.

Two. Euthanasia Coaster by Julijonas Urbonas

I started this post with a content warning so if you missed reading that and you’re uncomfortable with discussions on euthanasia, please stop reading. Urbonas is a Lithuanian artist and engineer who has dedicated his career to creating extreme simulations. What’s pretty intriguing about this artist is that he was also a director of an amusement park in Klaipeda. All these elements combined to inspire Urbonas to create this rollercoaster. It sparks some pretty interesting ideas and, depending on your cultural background, challenges your ideas of life and death.

Basically, what you are looking at is a rollercoaster that will end your life. It works to humanely end life by depriving the brain of oxygen. All the loop-de-loops and 500m drops contribute to this loss of consciousness and eventual death. I am about to attend a three-day conference on death and deathcare so I am quite comfortable with these types of discussions. I am also glad to see that they are being de-stigmatised in a public space. The final question asked on the label is ‘would you want your last experience to be one final, thrilling ride?’

Three. Synthetic Pollenizer by Michael Candy

I liked this installation because it’s all about saving the bees. Bees are awesome, they play such a vital role in our ecosystem, and they need to be saved. If we can achieve this through creating robotic flowers designed to secrete nectar, then great. These robotic flowers can create a safe environment for bees to thrive. Happy bees for a happy planet.

Four. Planet of People by Julijonas Urbonas

We are back looking at a work by Urbonas that once again tackles the broader theme of death. This time focusing on how overpopulation is leading to a shortage in space for burials and holding human remains. The solution? Shoot people’s bodies into space so they can form their own planet. After entering space, your body would float amongst the stars then join with other bodies to create a giant blob planet. If you are wondering what that might look like, you can step in between the screens, be 3D scanned and see your body digitally join the blob.

Five. The Egg by Marco Barotti

Similar to the previous work, this one also addresses overpopulation. This egg is a sculpture that speaks to the impact of overpopulation. It uses kinetic sound to indicate when there is a new birth in the world. This is driven by real-time data generated by the World-o-meter. Although you can’t hear the sound, the bass of it causes a subwoofer to vibrate and the egg looks like it has ripples going over the surface.

Along with these five installations, you can also have a tree follow you and ‘open up a dialogue between human and shark that has never been experienced before.’ If you are looking for a morning/afternoon filled with new experiences that may or may not challenge your beliefs, then go and see SWARM.

Logistical Information

The Science Gallery in Melbourne is open Tuesday – Saturday between 11am and 5pm. It is completely free of charge and accessible. Located near the CBD, it is also easy to find and there are plenty of transport options available.

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