Sonae Media Art 2019: Berru Collective

The Berru Collective is a Porto based collective comprised of artists Bernardo Bordalo, Mariana Vilanova, Rui Nó and Sérgio Coutinho whose work centres around anthropological, philosophical, social and ethical concerns, looking primarily at the ever-present relationship between humanity and technology. The collective has begun to look into biological processes and their capacities within, or alongside technology. It is this perspective that is evident in their work Systems Synthesis, which sought to present an equilibrated relationship between technology and flora, advocating for a symbiosis between these worlds, for which they received the Sonae New Media Art Award this year. Here, Umbigo interviewed the Berru collective about their work and its unique conception of relations between technology and nature. Their work is on view at Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado until 2 February.


Myles Francis Browne – As we are all coming to learn, data governs so much of both our public and private spheres. The natural world, though not untouched by technology, is one that, to my knowledge, remains relatively without this digital and data intervention. What do you imagine to be the consequences of such interactions?

Berru Collective – Data and digital technology shouldn’t be a way to govern nature, but better understand it by creating and maintaining a sustainable relationship. New technologies are being developed that deviate from classical computing like storing information in plants DNA or computing with proteins. These technologies are really interesting to us because they give us news perspectives of thinking with nature. This reflects the much-needed symbioses that in an metaphorical way promotes the evolution of technology without hurting the planet.

MFB – What prompted the decision to use weeds, being naturally self-sufficient even in unfavorable conditions, versus flora that may benefit from the specificity of the technology presented?

BC – We took a biological system that already existed. In a way we did the same as Stafford Beer did in the 60’s when he was studying ways of bio-computing. He used water from a pawn, but since we were in the city we used what was more familiar to us. Also, with this we are criticizing gentrification and urbanism in Portugal, since these systems proliferate in abandoned locations where speculation/de speculation maintain or destroys them.

These systems, plants, birds, bugs, also produce our visual imaginary of wild urban fauna and flora that doesn’t really grow on parks, it grows without human intention.

MFB –  The work posits itself on this challenging relationship: the plants, though predisposed to grow within difficult environmental conditions, are seemingly dependent upon the technologically induced conditions of the drones. What did you hope to evoke with this complex, seemingly contradictory relationship between nature and technology?

BC – First we wanted to do something that was really slow in opposition to our increasingly instantaneous temporality, so we worked with living organisms that have their own natural pace. Also we wanted to decentralize the human being from our society. Everything is touched by us, and now we have our technology looking at us. This is a proposition, that we should use our incredible technology for other things other than exploring human behaviour. We wanted to build an environment for unwanted human things.

Also the idea of replicating nature itself, In order to give value to our natural environment.

We work a lot in nature using it as a support for things, and this was our first time in a museum so we felt the need to bring nature with us and have it as matter of study.

MFB –  With the intention of reaching a homeostasis between the natural and artificial, does this relationship become one of symbiosis, or, dependency? Does this speak to any relationship to/with technology beyond this singular instance? 

BC – It’s a system composed by those two, they could exist apart. this biological system is in homeostasis, is a self-regulating system, the technology in our piece simply replicates nature (light, water, wind) through an algorithm.

The real dependency we are aiming for is on purpose. The natural system is maintained by the replication of characteristics that govern the life of plants and animals in the form of technological interfaces that in turn, depend on organic life for its purpose and meaning. This to us creates a very beautiful way of perceiving technology.

MFB –  As is suggested in the essay on your piece “it is through interfaces and assemblages that knowledge can exert control of nature, but it is also through these that we have access to the natural world both as system and resource”. In what capacity do you conceive of data having the natural world as a resource, should we transmute the natural to the artificial in this way?

BC – The segment in our essay refers to the power of learning and understanding nature. This should be used to preserve, maintain this world and choose a more sustainable path. But power is a dangerous thing.

Through our installation we tried to conceive a new way to understand our relationship with nature. We felt this urge to go out of our studio and study systems otherwise neglected, waiting to be destroyed for a new hotel to be built. This kind of forgotten nature, growing in this kind of limbo in abandoned urban terrains, also speaks about this new time, the antrophocene, where human kind replaces nature and the most predominant force in the world. By now everyone detaches humans from nature, which is interesting to us, because we are nature too, but our increasingly knowledge developed artificial and augmented ways to live and interact.


Myles Francis is an arts journalist & writer, originally from London, now based in Lisbon. He has worked with such publications as Nicotine, TANK, Vogue Portugal, and now currently writes at Umbigo magazine.

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