‘Symbiosis is like a flash of evolutionary lightning.’ – Lynn Margulis, aka ‘Science’s Unruly Earth Mother’
In many ways, evolutionary theorist and biologist Lynn Margulis was ahead of her time when, starting in the 1960s, she advanced the theory of symbiogenesis. Symbiogenesis is the idea that life emerged from and evolved through cellular symbiosis, which, in the latter half of the 20th century, very much rubbed up against the biology credo ‘survival of the fittest’. At a time when male neo-Darwinists dominated the field, and when the assumption of a natural marriage of evolution and competition – and, by extension, progress and the values of capitalism – went largely unquestioned, Margulis pushed symbiogenesis despite fervent professional rejection. Now her theories have been broadly substantiated and accepted, and they have, in fact, been shown to work in step with Darwin’s theory of evolution, rather than the two being mutually exclusive. Over her long and controversial career, she was vindicated many times over by subsequent research and awards, including, perhaps appropriately, the Darwin-Wallace Medal in 2008, before her death in 2011.
Looking at life on Earth through Margulis’s lens has deep socio-political implications: What if we choose to view progress as something achieved through co-evolution, co-creation, collaboration, and sharing, rather than competition? How can we imagine our future on this damaged planet, and the boundaries between species, between individual beings, differently? This line of thought is some of the inspiration behind Olafur’s current solo exhibition ‘Symbiotic seeing’ @kunsthauszuerich – on view through 22 March.
Shoshanah Dubiner, ‘Endosymbiosis: Homage to Lynn Margulis’, 2012.