In conversation with a bee orchid, how best to obtain its sweat? (a) Tell it you are thirsty? (b) Ask it to make you wet? (c) Tell it you want to be sucked by a mushroom? The answer, in the world of Mimosa Echard’s role-playing game Sporal, is that any of the above approaches will get you the goods. Distributed across an exhibition at Palais de Tokyo, a book, and a downloadable video game, Sporal (all works cited, 2022) featured, as its protagonist monocellular organism, a being who seeks to mutate into other life-forms using fluids it takes from other species. The character is based on Echard’s research into myxomycetes (otherwise known as slime molds), which are intelligent and have the ability to learn and adapt, and which in the past decade have inspired work by numerous artists and theorists, including Karen Barad, Lynn Margulis, and Jenna Sutela. Myxomycetes are known to have 720 possible sexual types—so far—inspiring this project’s slippery erotics of transformation and the tone of the character’s speech, which itself is a kind of hybrid form of address: Imagine a cross between talking to a secretive character in a video game such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and sexting with a plant.
The abundant imaginativeness of this new world is located in the game itself, an ambitious endeavor involving the collaboration of a software developer, musicians, and actors (Charli XCX plays a snake), among others. Such a work could only be difficult to represent in the exhibition space, though I think it’s fair to say that one got a taste of it in sporadic episodes recorded from the game. These episodes appeared every few minutes or so projected onto a huge hanging screen made of patchwork fabrics, including hippieish psychedelic prints, and laces that broke up the light of the projector. The picture could be hard to see, yet the messy chaos of the screen seemed to emulate the mulchy world that played on top of it, in which a pink seahorse told us that it got so depressed it sucked up the world.
Echard grew up on a neo-rural commune in Cévennes, in south central France, where tinctures, dyes, and medicines were made from local plants, and her aesthetic universe often includes girlish fabrics and accessories, natural dyes and juices, and plants, combined in a way that rows very close to gooey abjection. Away from the screen were a number of lumpy cushion sculptures that visitors could sit on, as well as some paintings, such as Batchat, in which hard protrusions push forward from behind thin, fleshy fabric like alternative nipples or other erogenous zones. Tall spill sculptures constructed from multiple strings of hanging colored beads were strung with lights, droplet-shaped beads, and photographs, each titled after a different sap from Sporal, such as Sap (rose oil) or Sap (butterfly tree mucus).
Reader, I cannot lie to you: At the time of writing, the video game at sporal.net was still very glitchy. I got lost in various holes. Yet the world it conjures is strange and rich, and its script imagines a seductive and humorous approach to interspecies relations. The orchid notes that it both sells real estate and fucks bees. And though every element might not have arrived at its most resolved or refined version, the strength of the project lies in its coupling of ecological thinking with the powerful forces of fantasy and desire, rather than solely with the apocalyptic terror to which we have become accustomed. In this porous, interdependent universe, gender and sexuality exist in new liquid forms, and transformation is an end in itself.