Kuai Shen


thermoacoustics generated by the social metabolism of Formica rufa and their microbial communities


hibernation arch...thermoacoustic colony...biodynamic poikilotherms

Thermotaxis is a biologically-mediated acoustic installation based on the social thermoregulation of red wood ants in a Vilnius forest. The ant colony presented here is hibernating inside a custom-designed winter arch, which is augmented with a self-regulated cooling system and monitored with a thermal camera using computer vision to transform the data into sound. The common red wood ant is an ancient inhabitant of the Baltic forests, and is an important social organism in the preservation of natural ecosystems in Europe.

We are Formica rufa. We are predators, with the potential to control outbreaks of pests, creating nutrient heterogeneity, contributing to seed dispersal, and affecting the biotope by gathering food and organic material in our fortresses. We change the structure and property of soil, spawning microbial communities, and transforming the availability and accessibility of resources to others.

Above all, we are eco-engineers and social beings, which establish interspecies relationships with other forms of life in the forest. To this end, we build the foundations of a complex forest life: commensalism, mutualism and parasitism, all in one superorganism.

We host over 49 different living beings, of which 12 depend on us for their survival. The striking diversity of our dependents can be explained mainly by the protection provided by the efficient thermal insulation of our architecture. We create a warm place in winter, and invite exclusive life forms to join us. Thus, we share and command, engineering the ideal conditions for interspecies hibernation in the forest.

We hibernate from October to April. So the population gathers in low temperatures, and disperses in higher temperatures. The internal temperature of our winter arch is always warmer with the decline of the outside temperature. This is achieved by self-organisation: we cluster together, producing metabolic heat, and moving always towards warmer gradients. Our workers lower their metabolic rate over the winter, to store lipids in their fat bodies in order to transform the reserves into glandular nutrients to raise brood the next spring.

The highly efficient social thermoregulation is magnified by the metabolism of our fellow microbial communities, and by a reliable thermal insulation system: the thatch which protects us prevents heat loss, providing stable and long-lasting internal micro-habitats, with controlled temperature and humidity. The un-hierarchical, and to some extent even anarchic, individual decisions of each of us, who in the summer collect pine needles and a diverse amount of organic material and honeydew, make this complex community of forest life possible.

We are here to challenge the domination of man over natural spaces, and the incessant expansion of the city, that Leviathan which perpetually devours forests. We dominate territories and expand our turf like human cities, offering opportunities for cooperation, reconstruction and cohabitation. Yet unlike the waves of man-made urbanisation that began in Soviet times and which in this post-capitalist era is a relentless virus, we transform natural spaces, but still contribute to the balance of nature.

We are Formica rufa


    (2017) National Art Gallery, Vilnius

Residency funded by: Ministerium für Familie, Kinder, Jugend, Kultur und Sport des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen

Commisioned art work for: National Art Gallery, Vilnius