Workshop on Symbiosis, Reciprocity, and Indigenous Epistemologies

2021-22 Visiting Artist Grant

Symbiotic relationships of the Anthropocene


Human beings, by definition, are utterly dependent on the thriving of other life. The implications of widespread symbiosis—as the simple fact of “with-living” that describes life on this planet and holds Earth systems in tenuous equilibrium—inform a new politics of reciprocity and entanglement. Can we turn collectively from the mistaken ideology of the “individual?” Can we bring a better understanding of our dependencies to our life with the planet and the biosphere that life maintains?


In preparation for a major international exhibition at the List Visual Arts Center (working title: Symbionts – Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere, October 2022), Natalie Bell, Caroline A. Jones, and Maggie Spivey-Faulkner are organizing an interdisciplinary Workshop on Symbiosis, Reciprocity, and Indigenous Epistemologies. Artists, scholars, theorists, and activists come together to discuss biology and artistic practice through the dual lenses of science and time-honored Indigenous practices of ecological knowledge.


The overarching questions the workshop poses are: can the marginalized discourse of symbiosis in biology learn from the deep traditions of empiricism and reciprocity that characterize Indigenous communities’ relations with the environment, and can art produce the “common sense” of such a broadened understanding?


Upcoming Events

Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere
October 21, 2022 – February 26, 2023
List Visual Arts Center
MIT Building E15, Atrium level
20 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA

Workshop on Symbiosis, Reciprocity, and Indigenous Epistemologies
Friday, October 1, 2021
Attendance by invitation only


Workshop Organizers

Caroline A. Jones, Professor, Department of Architecture, MIT

Natalie Bell, Curator, List Visual Art Center, MIT

Margaret Spivey-Faulkner, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Alberta, citizen of the Pee Dee Indian Nation of Beaver Creek, and Assistant Chief of the tribe’s Upper Georgia Tribal Town

Workshop Participants

Claire Pentecost, artist whose work includes explorations of soil, compost, and human-environmental biomarkers

Tiare Ribeaux, Kanaka Maoli interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker whose work engages in speculative fictions around bioplastics and symbiosis. 

Christina Agapakis, artist and Creative Director, Gingko Bioworks

Jolene Rickard, Associate Professor in the History of Art & Visual Studies and the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program, Cornell University, and Turtle Clan member from the Tuscarora Nation territories

Ryan Emanuel, Professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, and citizen of the Lumbee Tribe

Scott Gilbert, Howard A. Schneiderman Professor Emeritus of Biology, Swarthmore College 

Bruce Clarke, Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Literature and Science in the Department of English, Texas Tech University, and Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation

Leah Aronowsky, Columbia University Society of Fellows

Penny Chisholm Lab will be represented by Rogier Braakman, Research Scientist, and Sean Kearney, Postdoctoral Scholar. 

Michael Laub, Professor of Biology, MIT

Lieberman Lab will be represented by Arolyn Conwill, Postdoctoral Associate.