Amplifier for Art, Science and Society

Photos: Julien Gremaud

Synchronicity (16 mm)

Robin Meier Wiratunga

In this work, a 16mm photographic film was directly exposed to the light of two captive fireflies (Pteroptyx malaccae). Without camera or optics, the insects were simply placed on the film.

Fireflies use their bioluminescent signal to communicate and create collective displays to attract mates. While light is the main ‘zeitgeber’ (time giver) for circadian rhythms, at a different scale of seconds, its pulses can also synchronise the nocturnal glow rhythms of fireflies.
The projection of the resulting patterns is modulated by two electromagnetic pendulums. The pendulums are placed close enough for their magnets to slightly influence each other’s field. Steadily synchronising, they settle on a common beat, just as fireflies synchronise in nature.

The luciferase enzyme which allows fireflies to produce their light is widely used for imaging and marking in biotechnology. The underlying mechanisms that give rise to the synchronous patterns found in nature are still largely unknown. Understanding such self-organising processes can be applied to many domains: from cardiac arrhythmia treatment to efficient coordination of computer networks.