Jenna Sutela

Interspecies communicator using living material to explore the unknown

During her residency at MIT hosted by Professor Caroline A. Jones of the History Theory Criticism section of the Department of Architecture at MIT School of Architecture and Planning, Jenna Sutela is pursuing her interest in biological and computational art, making use of organisms such as Bacillus subtilis nattō bacteria and the “many-headed” slime mold Physarum polycephalum. Through her work with living materials, Sutela questions how humans and microbes relate to each other, exploring possibilities for interspecies communication. For example, Sutela’s previous work invites considerations of how the decision-making mechanisms of social amoebae could be the preferred model for constructing artificial intelligence (AI).

With a practice in sculpture, installations, sound art, and video, Sutela’s residency impacts several areas of MIT, stimulating curiosity-driven research in labs as well as providing new perspectives on organic and synthetic life for students and other community members who experience her class visits and performance.

As part of the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) Lecture Series, Sutela performs Extremophile in November 2019.

While at MIT, Sutela is participating in Professor Jones’s class, 4.S63 Architecture and Art: Building, Body, Biome.

Presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST).

Jenna Sutela is a Finnish artist based in Berlin who works with words, sounds, and other living media. She engages with both futuristic and ancient materials in audiovisual pieces, sculptures, and performances. Sutela’s work seeks to override aspects of culture based on a survival-of-the-fittest narrative in favor of symbiotic relationships between all life forms, both organic and synthetic.

As a bio-artist, Sutela’s microbial collaborators include Physarum polycephalum, the “many-headed” slime mold with a decentralized nervous system, and the extremophilic Bacillus subtilis nattō bacterium. Recently, she has also collaborated with artificial neural networks.

Sutela’s work has been presented internationally at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; the Serpentine Galleries in London; and other locations.

Past projects include nimiia vibié, sounds of machine learning and interspecies communication, released in summer 2019 on the record label PAN; and the audio-visual work nimiia cétiï, completed in early 2018. nimiia cétiï was produced in collaboration with Memo Akten as part of n-Dimensions, Google Arts & Culture’s artist-in-residence program at Somerset House Studios in London. Using machine learning, audio recordings of an invented Martian language, and the movements of the nattō bacteria, nimiia cétiï generates a new form of communication that aspires to connect with a world beyond human consciousness.

Sutela also launched the publication Orgs: From Slime Mold to Silicon Valley and Beyond in 2017, which presents her research into the slime mold along with decentralized organizations to explore the unknown possibilities for future life on Earth.

Visit the artist’s website: Jenna Sutela

Upcoming Events

Extremophile Performance in ACT Lecture series
November 18, 2019 / 6:00–7:30pm
ACT Cube, Lower Level, MIT Building E15
20 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA
Event registration available August 30


Arts Scholars Roundtable: Jenna Sutela
November 20, 2019

TANK Magazine: In Conversation with Jenna Sutela, 2019

Info Unltd Radio: Interview with Jenna Sutela and Nick Houde, April 2019

Somerset House: Nimiia Cétiï, 2018

Dazed Magazine: Five Artists Who Show Art’s Important Relationship to AI, September 2018

ARS17+: Gut Machine Poetry, 2017

Art Monthly: Jaime Sutcliff’s Review of Sutela’s “Nam-Gut,” July 2017

Flash Art: Homebrew Computer, December 2017

Caroline A. Jones, Professor of Art History in the History, Theory, and Criticism section, Department of Architecture, MIT

Jenna Sutela, nimiia seance, 2018. Photo: Anne Tetzlaff / Somerset House Studios.
Jenna Sutela, nimiia seance, 2018. Photo: Anne Tetzlaff / Somerset House Studios.