This multipart work uses real-time data gathered from a colony of naked mole-rats, allowing a peek into their lives. The project reflects Julie Freeman’s fascination with their cooperative lifestyle and how it differs from human social organization. Mole-rats thrive within colonies, while lone individuals have little chance of survival. RAT.systems embodies a broad series of unconventional approaches to working with data to examine different structures and forms of life. It also pushes the material possibilities of data.
A Selfless Society (2016)
Online audio-visual artwork
Created in collaboration with Marcin Ignac
A Selfless Society is an abstract animation comprising forms whose shape and behaviour are influenced by the activity patterns of a naked mole-rat colony. Naked mole-rats are ‘eusocial’ – not all members of the community reproduce. Like bees, only the queen breeds. The questions that emerge from this piece: What would happen if human society were restructured in this way? Would non-breeding females be considered selfish or selfless? How would political, economic and other systems be re-routed to serve the interests of the whole? What would become of the individual?
This is Nature Now (2016)
Real-time data-driven silicone kinetic sculptures (documentation version)
3 x single channel HD digital video
Created in collaboration with Professor Kaspar Althoefer
This is Nature Now harnesses innovative soft robotics techniques, representing live data from a naked mole-rat colony through physical movements of an artificial material. The work explores the body language of objects, and asks us to reflect on how technologies mediate our experience of the natural world. How do we encounter nature through our devices and broadcast mechanisms? Can living things be represented through data? If so, what are the traits a non-biological physical object requires to convey this sense of life?
Colony Omega Redacted Portraits (2016)
24 C-type photographs; 26.6 x 40cm each
Portraits by Lorna Ellen Faulkes, commissioned by Julie Freeman and Dr Chris Faulkes
Should data privacy be restricted to humans? RAT.systems involves tracking (but not experimenting on) Colony Omega – a colony of naked mole-rats maintained in an artificial environment designed for behavioural observation. Freeman has blocked out all of their eyes – an apparently humorous act that highlights the individuality of each animal, while reflecting on real-world problems. Poachers are said to be using metadata from tourist’s photographs on safari, or even academic papers, to locate and kill endangered animals. Respecting an animal’s right to privacy may become akin to respecting their right to life.
Awards2017 Long-listed for the Lumen Prize (A Selfless Society)
2021 Festival Panoràmic, Museu de Ciències Naturals de Granollers, Spain
2017 The New Observatory, FACT, Liverpool, UK
2017 Technology is not Neutral, Watermans, UK
2016 Utopia Treasury, Somerset House, London, UK
2016 Technology is not Neutral, Phoenix Brighton, UK
2021 Festival Panoràmic Conference, Museu de Ciències Naturals de Granollers, Spain
2018 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, London, UK
2017 New Scientist Live, London, UK
PartnersNew Scientist Live, Somerset House
SponsorsCentre for Public Engagement at Queen Mary University of London and Arts Council England
Collaboration with Dr. Chris Faulkes, Marcin Ignac. With Sonia Blair, Matt Jarvis, Lorna Ellen Faulkes, Herrik Wollik, and Colony Omega. With special thanks to Prof. Mark Sandler, Prof. Geraint Wiggins, and Prof. Kaspar Althoefer.
Additional thanks to Hannah Redler, the Utopia crew: Grace Perrett and Karishma Rafferty at Somerset House, Tony Bailey, Helge Wurdemann and Lukas Lindenroth (for soft robotics inspiration), Yodit at OpenSensors.io, Stephen Wolff, the Open Data Institute, and staff and students at the Media & Arts Technology DTC at QMUL.