Synergies: Selected projects 2024

Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, Pro Helvetia New Delhi, Pro Helvetia South America, Art+
Abstract image of blue background with white lights
© Jean-Vincent Simonet

With Synergies the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia supports research-based and process-oriented programmes that foster exchange between art, science and technology involving organisations in Switzerland and across the world.

Synergies offers support for international collaborations and encourages programmes which spark new approaches, methodologies and connect knowledge from different contexts.

The open call was launched in the beginning of 2023 and closed in October of the same year. A transdisciplinary jury of experts has selected 11 projects whose promising collaborations will start in the next months.

The 11 projects are:

Fluid Boundaries: The Interplay of Water, Art, Science, and Indigenous Knowledge Systems

This transdisciplinary, transcultural collaboration is situated at the intersection of art, science, and indigenous knowledge systems, with a strong focus on decolonial practice. By creating a common space for the exploration of water – and the flow of knowledge, wisdom, and practices around this life-sustaining element – the programme integrates questions and methods from different disciplinary and cultural perspectives.

Using methodologies of multiregional interaction, the programme aims to question the entrenched power paradigms and knowledge flow direction inherent in the sciences and the arts by disrupting the false dichotomy of centre and periphery. 

With a research and practice driven approach, the project aims to interrogate how we feel, think and act about our relationships to water, in a bid to create sustainable, equitable access.

The 23-month project brings together artists and scientists through three-month art-science residencies in research labs within the respective partner countries. This process will be informed, mentored, questioned, and supported by the local indigenous knowledge convenors and the local curators. At a later point, the international participants will come together in an intense two-week Third-Space residency in Lugano, Switzerland.

artists-in-labs at the Zurich University of the Arts (Switzerland),
IBSA Foundation for scientific research (Switzerland),
MASI Lugano (Switzerland)
Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre (VIAD) at the University of Johannesburg (South Africa),
AiRSA Artist in Residence South Africa (South Africa),
Portas Vilaseca Galeria (Brazil),
University of the Western Cape (South Africa),
Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Switzerland),
Water and Health Research Centre, University of Johannesburg (South Africa),
Department of Earth Science, University of the Western Cape (South Africa),
Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Brazil)

Pantha Rhei on the Rhine

This artistic and scientific research programme expresses the metaphor and material carried by the river Rhine. The immense scale of one of Europe’s eminent waterways is brought to the senses through three public presentations of collaborative artworks, a body of research, and custom tools. The consortium includes scientific expertise in river modelling and geographically well-positioned artistic partners at the river’s source in Switzerland and delta in Rotterdam, to address what happens in-between.

The three sound artworks will be presented publicly in form of a listening session and a workshop at two locations on the Rhine and a river research laboratory.

The artworks are informed by the archive The Library of the River, which will include artistic, historical, and scientific material on the Rhine as well as primary source material collected through custom instruments.

Museum Erwin Rehmann (Switzerland),
Studio Haseeb Ahmed (US/Belgium),
V2_ Lab for the Unstable Media (The Netherlands),
ECOSPHERE research group, University of Antwerp (Belgium)

Bodies-Machines-Publics: A ‘glocal’ network for exploring bodies in the age of computer mediated reality

Bodies-Machines-Publics unites cultural and academic research partners in Bern, Zurich, Santiago, and New Delhi to explore how emerging technologies of computer-mediated interaction shape new forms of bodily experience. The network’s partners – Kornhausforum (Bern), Immersive Arts Space (Zürich), NAVE (Santiago) and Khoj (New Delhi) – will develop cross-network experimental artist-technologist residencies, hybrid workshops for knowledge sharing and capstone ‘research encounter’ / symposia.

Consisting of organisations from Switzerland, Chile and India with cultural, scientific, and technological knowledge, the aim of this ‘glocal’ network is to conduct artistically driven experimentation across four sites. Newly emerging technologies such as sensors and mixed reality, capture, reorganise and reconfigure human bodies and their relationship to social space. At its core, the network will explore how human bodies serve as a dynamic nexus where technology converges, facilitating a profound interface between humans and the digital realm.

Kornhausforum (Switzerland),
Immersive Arts Space ZHdK (Switzerland),
NAVE (Chile),
Khoj (India)

SPATIAL AFFAIRS. Extended Reality Experiences

An international team of artists, art directors, curators, researchers, and technological experts addresses shifting knowledge processes and embodied interaction through performances that interweave body, space, and technology. The project aims to create and reflect the use of XR (extended reality) technologies for an understanding and experience of our changing existence and practices with other technological bodies in an increasingly hybrid world.

SPATIAL AFFAIRS wants to create synergies in an exchange with artistic practice, knowledge, methods, infrastructure, and tools to pursue one common goal: to develop digital narrative formats in virtual reality, hybrid experiences, space-time-narrations, spatial stories, and digital body traces by using the AIRE mixed reality platform.

The project partners will launch interdisciplinary research and creative processes that will result in new choreographic, scenographic, and performative prototypes for extended reality experiences. The resulting research and prototypes will be presented and disseminated at relevant international platforms for media and performing arts. 

HEK – Haus der Elektronischen Künste (Switzerland),
MAP – Museum of Art & Photography (India),
Tabakalera (Spain),
Tekniker (Spain),
​​metaLAB (Switzerland),
iART (Switzerland)

Future Memory Lab

Future Memory Lab is a visionary residency redefining worldbuilding and ancestral techniques with machine learning. It bridges indigenous epistemologies, ñandutí textiles, and ceramics with artificial intelligence, displaying exhibitions in Asunción and Lausanne. This venture welcomes six artists from South America and Switzerland, offering collaboration with renowned mentors.

The artistic residency reflects about worldbuilding through ancient, future, and alternate temporalities, with critical and experimental approaches that invite collaboration between humans and machines, to expand and generate new creative possibilities. The residency will have two parts; an initial in-person stage, followed by a virtual one, culminating in two exhibitions.

Six residents will explore textile and ceramic work in Asunción and its surrounding areas and learn and commute with traditional artisans and local artists. The residency will include a mentoring process by cross-disciplinary professionals in the fields of arts and technology.

The motivation for the project arises from the isolation that Paraguay has experienced in relation to historical centres of art in practices related to digital arts, and in particular, AI, which has resulted in the absence of funding and development opportunities for cultural practitioners, and consequently, biennials and other prestigious spaces. The aim is to bridge this gap by establishing a residency that fosters interdisciplinary collaboration.

Migliorisi Foundation/Art Collections (Paraguay),
Pyxis Exploration Numérique (Switzerland)

Plankton ecosystems – Shaping the narrative of climate change with art and community science practices

Plankton Ecosystems is a participatory art-science programme focusing on community science technologies, collaborative art formats and experiential learning about marine ecology, plankton diversity and ocean literacy in collaboration with the European Research Institute (Turin), Kunsthaus Pasquart (Biel) and LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura (Lugano). The programme is driven by a need to understand and mediate human impact, such as acidification, on the marine ecosystem. It asks how the oceans are affected by human-induced shifts such as climate change.

By applying an artistic research-based approach, the programme will explore the intersections between art, science, and technology. It will ask how technology can enable encounters with plankton ecosystems, acting as an intermediary that enhances engagements between humans and the microscopic world of plankton. By building on a critical engagement with artistic research, Plankton Ecosystems will address the democratisation of knowledge production, considering science as a social practice, exploring justice and care, and how the accessibility of technology intersects with these considerations.

The project will consist of three consecutive, open-ended steps. The first phase will start with the exploration, the second will focus on development and the third on dissemination.  The programme will feature a series of events open to the general public at the art institutions in Biel and Lugano as well as presentations in various scientific and artistic contexts.

EcoArtLab at Bern Academy of the Arts (Switzerland),
European Research Institute (Italy),
Kunsthaus Pasquart (Switzerland),
LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura (Switzerland)

A:Practice — collaborative practices for climate resilience

This co-creative process and research residency aim to develop a practice-led research exploration of how dance-theatre, agro-ecology, soil science, climate science and indigenous knowledge systems may be brought together to create A:Practice – an effective suite of methods that primarily cultural organisations, and additionally schools, families and communities may use to develop climate-positive resilience.

The programme is designed for deep reflection and exchange, using arts-based processes, embodied learning, story, and dramaturgy, along with ecological, science-rooted knowledge to give credence to the content. Climate-related communication is often inaccessible, unimaginable and overly technical for ordinary consumers to understand. Through this residency, they aim to overcome these barriers by letting the arts-practice be affected by empirical science.

KlimaKontor (Switzerland),
The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative (FATC) (South Africa)

Life between ebb and flow

This hybrid residency and research project invites Kenyan and Swiss creatives to explore mangrove ecologies in Lamu, Kenya. The goal is to inspire models for harmonious cohabitation between humans and their environments. The creatives will conduct research and share their insights through various creative formats informed by science and technology. The project promotes peer learning, transformative knowledge production, and collective action across continents.

The programme adopts a research and process-oriented approach, allowing participants to engage in exploratory and experimental activities throughout five distinct phases: Exploration, experimentation, amalgamation, cultivation, and pollination.

The project addresses the topic of mangroves as a metaphorical, artistic, and theoretical framework. By reimagining notions of progress and sustainability, the project seeks to challenge preconceived ideas and stimulate conversations on topics such as cohabitation, nature, protection, livelihoods, and roots. Concretely, the overarching transdisciplinary research question is: Which aesthetic, environmental, economic, and socio-political interstices, border areas and niches emerge from mangroves? And what can we learn from mangrove ecologies for alternative life forms on earth?

Planisphere (Switzerland),
Kuchanua (Switzerland),
Lamu Youth Alliance (Kenya)

River Landscapes: A new glossary for rivers as water landscapes of multicultural and multispecies relationships

The project River Landscapes tackles the capitalistic language used to describe rivers by creating a new, decolonised glossary that grasps them as more-than-human water landscapes. The project will initiate a series of locally anchored and hybrid dialogues between the core team and invited river experts from the sciences, the arts and indigenous contexts from Europe and South Asia, accompanied by a public facing programme. The glossary will be made available as a digital open-source platform.

Since the control of the rivers in the mid-nineteenth century, a continuous loss of complex biodiversity of plants, aquatic life, and human-river cultural interactions took place. The universalisation of rivers as hydraulic water flows became the language of dam engineers and water commissions in the colonies, justifying massive infrastructural interventions on rivers. Technology to aid this became universal and transported from one river system to another, from the Rhine to the Mississippi to the Ganges, to the Indus. Hence to recover the idea of rivers as entangled landscapes of nature and culture, a new language is needed to recover what has been and continues to be lost.

Distilling this research into a glossary, the project partners will build an open-source digital platform. In this way, the project aims to intersect the languages of and the research within the arts, sciences and indigenous practices and widen the view on what counts as knowledge.

The glossary and its methodologies aim to form a model project that in the future could extend to and dialogue with other art, science and policy collaborations around water bodies.

We Are AIA – Awareness in Art (Switzerland),
Toxic Links (India),
Citizens Archive of Pakistan (Pakistan),
University of Zürich (Switzerland),
Science Gallery Bengaluru (India),
ILEA – The Institute for Land and Environmental Art (Switzerland),
Prameya Art Foundation (India)

Imagining Technologies Otherwise

Imagining Technologies Otherwise challenges colonial, modernist, and solutionist views. A collaboration of think & do tank Dezentrum, feminist platform Futuress, Dreaming Beyond AI collective, and collective Materia Oscura brings 12 fellows from different disciplinary and cultural backgrounds to envision technologies beyond the dominant narratives. Through an online fellowship, a public educational programme, and an on-site festival, they will address urgent socio-political issues.

Western societies have perpetuated a myth surrounding technology, promoting the idea of an unbiased, objective tool. However, many technological advancements continue to uphold and worsen social inequalities rooted in ableism, classism, cis-hetero-patriarchy, racism, and more.

The seven-month fellowship converges diverse fields of knowledge production—spanning anthropology, design, coding, journalism, history, and beyond — to amplify interdisciplinary and transnational synergies.

When selecting the fellows, particular attention was paid to choosing insufficiently represented people in the art-technology-science discourse, foregrounding womxn, non-binary people, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities and migrants.

Fellows will explore technology concepts and counter-narratives from their backgrounds, employing anthropological and feminist storytelling methods like visual and auto-ethnography, oral history, and more. Their research will result in journalistic, fictional, or artistic works across diverse mediums, including sound, online installations, videos, interactive media, music, and visual arts. These multi-dimensional approaches will be accessible both online, through a printed publication, and as part of the two-day festival.

Dezentrum (Switzerland),
Materia Oscura (Colombia),
Dreaming Beyond AI (Germany),
Futuress (Switzerland)

Archipelago: Art and Science Investigations in Times of Unstable Knowledge

Reflecting on the possible entry in the new geological epoch of the Anthropocene, this project proposes a distributed research collaboration between Switzerland, France, and Japan around issues of resilience, circularity, and carbon transition, with a focus on macro- and micro-systems, microbial worlds, and functional and evolutionary ecology.

The 20-month Archipelago research program between art and science will kick off in Zurich with a series of public meetings and will organize knowledge-sharing sessions, laboratory visits, research trips, public events, and will culminate with creative retreats in Switzerland and France.

A first driver for critical reflection on the entry into the Anthropocene will be to consider the role played by algae and cyanobacteria on our planet, in its past, present and future. A second driver will be to consider the implications of the debate and vote at the International Geological Congress in the summer of 2024 and the choice of the “Great Acceleration” of the 1950s as the start of the Anthropocene epoch.

The arts are very accustomed to self-reflection, to questioning the methods used and to the plurality of ways of doing and knowing. This knowledge and practice are becoming increasingly valuable in an age of unstable knowledge.

Art2M (France),
Multicellular Marine Models lab – CNRS – Sorbonne Université (France),
Swiss Mechatronics Art Society (Switzerland),
We Are AIA – Awareness In Art (Switzerland),
ZHAW Institute of Natural Resource Sciences (Switzerland),
Agroscope – Swiss Confederation’s center of excellence for agricultural research (Switzerland),
FHNW Institute Experimental Design and Media Cultures (Switzerland),
Algaltek (Switzerland),
Hackteria (Switzerland),
Symbiont Art Space (Switzerland),
Teti Group (Switzerland),
Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (Japan),
metaPhorest bioart and bioaesthetics platform at Waseda University (Japan),
Bioclub Tokyo (Japan),
Sonda Studio (Japan),
Embassy of Switzerland in Japan,
Swissnex in Japan

The jury:

The jury who assessed applications for Synergies consisted of:

  • Lilian Fraiji, Curator, Head of LabVerde, Brazil
  • Ariane Koek, Initiator and former Head of Arts at CERN, independent consultant in the fields of art, science and technology, United Kingdom
  • Radha Mahendru, Curator and Arts manager, India
  • Luc Meier, Director of La Becque, Switzerland
  • Ga Zhang, Curator of media art, Professor and Vice-Dean at the Institute of Sci-Tech Arts, Central Academy of Fine Arts, China