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  • Other minds: Understanding how non-humans think

Octopus dreams

Other minds: Understanding how non-humans think

The multi-venue octopus-inspired exhibition explores the limits of human consciousness through performance and film.

Photo: Patricia Dominguez

Peter Godfrey-Smith’s 2016 bestselling book, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness posited the idea that cephalopods have their own distinct consciousness which is not comparable to that of mammals and birds. The tentacles of an octopus hold more nerve cells than their brains so these partly autonomous limbs merge “sensing” and “understanding” into one single gesture. These “decentralised brains” have utterly changed our understanding of how we perceive non-human minds function.

That revelatory book is the inspiration behind Screen City Biennial’s latest exhibition, Other Minds, a month-long multi-venue exhibition that explores the limits of human consciousness through the moving image. “Reading the book was scary and fascinating,” says Daniela Arriado, the co-curator of the exhibition, “afterwards I could never eat octopus again.” Featuring the work of 10 artists, including Jacob Kirkegaard and Eli Cortiñas, nearly all the performances and films featured in the exhibition have been specially commissioned for the project.

Reading the book was scary and fascinating… afterwards I could never eat octopus again.

The core exhibition takes place at the Archenhold Observatory in Treptower Park, famous for being one of the first spots where Albert Einstein introduced his theory of relativity. Other events and performances will be taking place around the city. One of these, Coffee Ground Imaginaries, is an augmented reality piece by Anna Ehrenstein that uses the traditional divination technique of tasseography (interpreting futures in coffee cups) to respond to the way algorithmic engineering predicts global futures. Starting off in Pariser Platz, beside the offices of Rheinmetall – one of Germany’s biggest arms and munitions exporters – the work takes you on an hour-long walk through to the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park. Along the way, animations on your phone bring up pertinent questions about supply chains, colonisation and migration.

With its aim to make us more aware of the liminal states of consciousness between the human mind and (non) living matter, the exhibition highlights the issues related to an anthropocentric world- view. “We started thinking about multiple consciousnesses existing in the non-human,“ says Arriado, “like plants, fungi, animals and artificial intelligence. Right now, it’s important to think about where we are in regard to nature and to find some healing and connection there. We don’t give any answers. I don’t even know if there are questions, but it’s a chance to show alternative futures.”

  • Other Minds takes place Sep 23 – Oct 20, 2022, at the Archenhold Observatory and other public spaces in Berlin. Book your ticket here.