Slime molds in Japan
posted by Milla Millasnoore on 30 April 2024

Antti Tenetz was chosen by the Bioart Society and the Finnish Cultural Institute in Japan for a month-long art & science research residency at the BioClub in Tokyo. Tenetz proposed to develop slime mold navigation on 3D printed surfaces as well as methods of producing the surfaces by using satellite data, laser scanned and photogrammetry-built environments and landscapes. The underlying idea was to explore symbiotic, other-than-human relationships, in which mycelium receives resources and by growing and communicating can in turn help us humans to navigate towards the unseen future.

The following text was written by Tenetz during and after his residency in Tokyo.


My dream for my residency was to explore what other-than-human life, slime molds, local and AI, machine systems-based knowledge, and co-wandering can teach us about survival and evolving as a whole. One artistic attempt was to navigate and find relevant questions from open nature, urban environment, and 3D-formed terrains, in dialogue with different knowledge and experimental systems. Can slime molds guide us in man-made hybrid environments, merging biosphere and technosphere for more livable possible futures?

Residency in Tokyo was a blast in many ways. It began with a long overnight flight from Helsinki to Tokyo on 7 December 2023. It took more time than estimated from Haneda airport to BioClub Tokyo's facilities with all my gear. For this reason, the presentation originally scheduled for the day of my arrival was postponed until the next BioClub meeting.

Even as I suffered from jetlag, getting to know the lab, the environment, and the overall surroundings was exciting. Acclimating to Tokyo City, Shibuya, and LAB was a challenge, but a positive one. You cannot get a good grasp of this 25 million people mega city during a month-long residency, but I planned to connect and get to know the people and the city based on my interests and possible resources in a sort of natural way, to strengthen and build a network based on my needs and the focus of my residency. My points of interest were Shibuya home street, camera stores, tools, and DIY gear stores like Tokyo Hands, and parts of the town filled with electronics and second-hand gear. Naturally, I was also interested in Onsens, bath places, and environments for encountering wild slime mold, like the park and forest of Jogigogu, Meiji shrine forest. I somehow navigated and spent most of my time in this triangle of Lab, Forest, and a local Onsen. It helped to focus and build my slime mold-derived system in BioClub Tokyo's lab to sustain and support my residency.

My Tokyo Art and Science Research Residency at BioClub Tokyo was divided into three parts: research and study of slime molds in a lab setting and semi-wild urban areas and forests. I wanted to know the slime molds as a species but also as a cultural element and practice different growing and building methods for slime mold navigation patterns. The second trajectory was to study 3D-printed and wooden structures carved with traditional methods and to develop agar environments for those for navigation in simulated settings, which had different conditions in temperature, light, humidity, and varying food resources. The third trajectory was to build imaging systems like interval photography with different techniques and focal lengths (from 34mm to 1:1 Macro) and microscopy imaging to collect photos, image sets as data for machine learning cycles. During my residency, I also investigated the possibilities of using ML models and image sets for navigation algorithms for different environments from space to open water for future work.


Getting to know the lab and people

Georg Tremmel, the heart, soul, and father of BioClub Tokyo, and the host of the residency welcomed me. He also organized an introductory presentation at BioClub Tokyo and hosted my stay in Tokyo by providing accommodation just 11 minutes away from BioClub facilities. This practical aspect gave much the needed flexibility to work late nights and long hours in the lab.  Georg was also kind to share with me his private maps for finding electronics, cameras, and vintage games.

I lived near Yoyogi Park and started to walk and run there to see a glimpse of the forest and other-than-human life in Tokyo. The park served as a headquarters and base for the American occupying army just after the Second World War. The old shrines in the forest bear some marks of that era, as it was burned down by American bombs during the war. I accepted the challenges the environment proposed and headed to find some wild slime mods. Experiences in tracking and observing wild or semi-wild species in wild and rural landscapes are for me more common than hybrid terrain of a tightly build city, areas between cities or industrial areas, or in general, human-built environments. During the residency, I concentrated on lab-cultivated species and also cultivated some local species found at Jogygogi Park and Meiji Shrine Forest. Later Georg and I organized a workshop for slime mold hunting and gathering in Yoyogi Park and forest. After a short presentation, a small group of enthusiasts headed to a nearby park and forest. After deep discussions and looking under tree trunks and leaves of the forest for some hours, we finally found wolf blood and possibly physarum polycephalum.

Rhizomatic and the connecting nature of the residency played out when CCBD people – a newly formed organization founded by Tokyo hosting art/tech projects concentrating on tech and society – attended our mold foraging workshop. They invited us to a cyber feminist manifesto book launch and seminar. Here I witnessed an inspirational presentation by the author Mindy Liu. Her project and the way it has been thoughtfully built to last in a web and book format was functional and worth a check. The evening ended with dinner and an insightful discussion with the CCBD crew, Mindy Liu, and contributing artists and curators. Meeting the local curator Yukiko was an especially pleasant surprise. She had been working and meeting artists and organizations in Oulu-region with help from a well-known sound artist and activist AGF in 2023.

BioClub Toky's lab and setting with its functional bioart lab, 3D printer, and small workshop space was an ideal setting for me. The small lab was practical with all necessities like a flow hood, UV-cleaner, and autoclave at arm's length. This compact setting made working fast and efficient. Working alongside long processes and living systems is a tricky and messy business. In practice, what I had planned did not come out as planned in the beginning, so I concentrated on developing my research, trial and error-based protocol, and working process. The lab setting enabled this research-based process of navigating ideas and gave space for new questions to emerge. Printing models also inside the lab was possible with the 3D printer. The timelapse camera system was set inside of the flow hood and I worked below the other flow hood with 3D printed and agar-based environments. Research on protocols and adapting my work and process for hosting slime molds and curating possibilities for navigation paths advanced and I was happy to see some results already during the residency. Some uninvited and unwanted guests also emerged due to contamination, but thanks to autoclave and UV-cleaner not on a large scale.


We are currently accepting applications from Finnish and Finland-based artists for the Tokyo Art & Science Research Residency for 2024. Deadline for applications is Sunday 5th May 2024. You can apply by filling a form at the bottom of this page.