Therme Art Program

Growing Gaia I & II – Transforming a Hypothesis into Action

This talk acted as the launch of “Growing Gaia”, a series within the Wellbeing Culture Forum dedicated to the Gaia Hypothesis. In times of COVID-19 and widespread separation, these focused discussions aim to explore and develop ideas of symbiosis.

The Gaia Hypothesis was proposed by Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock in the 1970s. Margulis, a world renown biologist who died in 2011, is regarded as a modern-day Copernicus of biology who fought tirelessly to replace the Neo-Darwinist gene-centric view of evolution with an evolutionary theory that emphasises symbiosis and symbiogenesis––the merging of two different life forms to create a new species––as its core principle. Integrating her microscopic focus with the large-scale research of atmospheric chemist James Lovelock, together they developed the Gaia Hypothesis as a scientific proposal that conceptualises the surface of the Earth as a single ecosystem that––from a physiological point of view––acts like a living entity. As such, Gaia contrasts the idiomatic ‘Survival of the Fittest’ with a worldview that stresses networking, co-evolution and co-presence.

What has provoked radical discussions in scientific circles since the 1970s has become ubiquitous outside theoretical space. In the Anthropocene era, humanity is becoming more aware of the ways in which it is decisively influencing and accelerating the planet’s processes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most recently, it is becoming inescapably clear how closely biological, social, medical, and cultural processes are interwoven. COVID-19 calls on us to simplify the structure of our lives and to rethink standardised and scalable monocultures.

This talk asked how we can turn this hypothesis into concrete action. Actors from different disciplines spoke on the possibilities both within their fields and from interactions with others. Precisely in the latter, despite the long periods of scientific failure to think outside the box, techniques have been preserved and developed to reflect on symbiotic connections between nature and culture. Thus, the question of culture tied the talk together.  If we want to act in the spirit of Gaia, we must rethink our culture, taking inspiration from observing nature and actively nurturing our symbiosis with the environment. This would involve city planning, agriculture, and medicine just as much as issues of global networking and production. Considering Gaia, the talk strove to address a new art of action and to reimagine practical forms of design and examples from architecture, urban planning, technology, and health policy.

The work of professor and pioneer of plant neurobiology, Stefano Mancuso, for example, examines symbiotic and communicative relationships in nature. Providing evidence of plant intelligence that opposes the superiority of humans, his research help us to understand why examining these relationships are key to preparing humanity for the future.

If we believe that we must connect to the complex systems of nature in order to create a new balance, then we probably can’t build anymore––we should learn to grow! This is precisely why “Growing Gaia” was founded as a series. In the coming months, it will consider symbiotic possibilities with other sessions including: “Culture of Materials”, “City of Trees”, “Culture and Extinction”, and “Molecular Culture”.

To learn more about this topic, read Therme Art’s position paper Growing Gaia here.

Key Questions

1. How does our viewpoint and scope of action change when we replace the principle of cause-and-effect with the Gaia hypothesis in various fields?
2. Lynn Margulis sees symbiosis, not the misunderstood idea of “survival of the fittest”, as the main factor in evolution. How could this standpoint change the ethics and form of our planning for the future?
3. Our economic system, too, is shaped by the idea of competition. How is a symbiotic approach to economics imaginable, beyond social-romantic utopias?
4. Can art play a central role in how we rethink our activity in the world? How could aesthetics learn from natural forms without betraying its freedom and anarchy?
5. How can nature be the basis for both culture and technology?


Mikolaj Sekutowicz, CEO and Curator, Therme Art (Co-moderator)
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries (Co-moderator)
Tomás Saraceno, Artist and Founder of the interdisciplinary communities Aerocene and Arachnophilia
Francis Kéré, Founder and Principal Architect of Kéré Architecture
Cyrill Gutsch, Founder/CEO, Parley for the Oceans
Egill Sæbjörnsson, Artist
Lucia Pietroiusti, Curator, General Ecology, Serpentine Galleries and Curator, Lithuanian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019
Stefano Mancuso, Author and Professor of Botany at the University of Florence
Tue Greenfort, Artist
Abuelo Antonio Oxté, Mayan Shaman
Salome Rodeck, Cultural Theorist
James Lovelock *Represented by video clips

In partnership with



Hans Ulrich Obrist

Tue Greenfort

Cyrill Gutsch

Salome Rodeck

Mikolaj Sekutowicz, Tue Greenfort


Photo Credits: Therme Art © Jendrick Schröder