Heather Barnett is an artist, researcher and educator working with natural phenomena and living systems, often in collaboration with scientists, artists, participants and organisms. Working with biological materials and imaging technologies, her work explores how we observe, represent and understand the world around us. Recent work centres around nonhuman intelligence, collective behaviour and distributed knowledge systems, including The Realm immersive interactive experience; The Physarum Experiments, an ongoing ‘collaboration’ with an intelligent slime mould; Animal Collectives Leverhulme Artist in Residence with Swansea University; and a series of collective interdisciplinary biosocial experiments including Nodes and Networks and Crowd Control.
Heather is an Honorary Research Fellow with SHOAL group at Swansea University and has previously held Research Fellowships at the University of Sussex and the London School of Economics. She has consulted on arts, health and science projects for organisations such as Willis Newson, the Science Museum, and the Wellcome Trust. As Artist in Residence, Heather has worked with diverse organisations including L’Autre Pied Restaurant, Infoterra Remote Sensing Company, and Poole Hospital Pathology Dept. She has exhibited widely in art galleries, science museums and public venues, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Science Museum, Wellcome Collection (London), and the Pompidou Centre (Paris), the New Institute (Rotterdam), and Observatory (New York). Commissions include the Postgraduate Medical Institute (Anglia Ruskin University, 2012), Flow (Guy’s Hospital Cancer Day Unit, 2011), Small Worlds (The Museum of the History of Science, Oxford University, 2007) and The Other Flower Show (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2003).
She is Pathway Leader on the MA Art and Science and convenor of the (Art&) Living Systems Lab at Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London). Heather is a Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellow, regularly consults on interdisciplinary art and science curriculum and chairs London LASER, a regular talks series exploring art and science.
My artistic research engages with natural phenomena, complex systems and biological systems, using diverse methods including printmaking and photography, animation and video, installation and participatory experimentation. Often working with living materials and imaging technologies, my work explores how we observe, influence and understand networks, systems and ecologies. I am interested in the underlying principles of emergence within natural and cultural systems and in making visible that which cannot easily be seen.
Current work explores the translation of biological collective behaviours to interactive immersive experience design. Inspired by the coordinated motion of animal groups, ‘The Realm’ combines visual art and computational design with behavioural science to create aesthetic and immersive collective encounters. Through VR and generative technologies, participants interact with imaginary biological creatures, whose individual and collective actions are driven by rules drawn from real life data (such as shoaling fish and flocking birds). Computational models and player interactions interconnect to create a dynamic co-evolving system, affected by bodily gestures, sounds and social signals.
I have an ongoing ‘collaboration’ with slime mould – a single celled organism with primitive intelligence and problem solving capabilities. The Physarum Experiments is a multi-facetted series of collaborations and experiments connecting social, biological and technological readings of collective behaviour. I am the founding member of the research network ‘slimoco’ (The Slime Mould Collective) and speak internationally on the art and science of slime moulds. I also work with other intelligent organisms such as ants and humans.
In my teaching I am strongly committed to interdisciplinary learning and knowledge exchange. I am Pathway Leader on MA Art and Science, an interdisciplinary studio-based course exploring the interconnections between disciplinary forms of knowledge, discovery and creation. In addition to my teaching on MA Art and Science, I provide consultation to organisations developing art and science curricula and have published academic papers, books and chapters on the subject. I deliver art and science projects with a range of organisations encouraging wider dissemination of creative transdisciplinary practice. In 2012 I was awarded a Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellowship and in 2016 a UAL Teaching Award.
Art and Science, Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practices, Biological Systems, Imaging Technologies, Emergence, Model Organisms, Creative Processes, Collective Intelligence, Embodied Cognition, Complexity, Interdisciplinary Curriculum, Polymathic Pedagogies.
Grants and awards
(Figures indicate amount awarded to UAL)
- Innovate UK, The Realm: Immersive Entropy, £15,801.50, (2018-2019)
- Barnett H, Grushkin D, Jones J, May A. Being Slime Mould (2013)
- Barnett H. Being Other Than We Are... (2019)
- Barnett H. Many-Headed: Co-creating with the Collective (2019)
- Barnett H. The Liquidity of Knowledge: Learning across Disciplinary Divides (2013)
Conference, Symposium or Workshop item
- Barnett H. The Physarum Experiments (and Being Slime Mould) (2016)
- Barnett H. A Malleable Metaphor: Physarum polycephalum as artistic and educational medium (2015)
- Barnett H. Being Slime Mould: a participatory experiment exploring bodies of intelligence (2015)
Animation, interactive, film and sound