Imagine a speculative world, 200 years in the future, where humans, nature and technology have co-evolved into hybrid, symbiotic life forms. This post-human biotope is teeming with new forms of biochemical life: genetically altered beings, (chemical) robots, hybrid technologies, and autonomous intelligent systems.

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Symbiosis landscape

This is the setting for Symbiosis, a multisensory extended reality (XR) storytelling experience from Dutch experience design collective Polymorf, in coproduction with Studio Biarritz.

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The project is an exploration of a hybridized human body, and the questions that these new life forms might raise. Using individualized haptic suits and soft robotics, as well as taste and smell-based story elements, Symbiosis experientially redesigns the human body to merge with technology and nature.

“On a biological level, technology is merging with nature and with the processes in the body. So, for me, this idea of the hybrid future is very important,” Marcel van Brakel, founder and lead designer at Polymorf and Symbiosis codirector, tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. “Our human-centric position—only thinking from a human perspective—is toxic and we can’t sustain that in the current crisis with nature.”

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Symbiosis Camilla

Symbiosis imagines what life would look like if humans started “to genetically merge with endangered species to restore biodiversity and heal the planet—incorporating these endangered species into your family tree.”

Participants can inhabit one of six story lines: a Colorado river toad, a slime mold, a flowering camellia plant, an anglerfish, a disembodied artificial intelligence consciousness, and Camilla, a member of a new race of ‘symbiogenetically’ joined humans and monarch butterflies. In this virtual future world, the participant becomes a symbiont: a human-animal, and human-machine hybrid.

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Symbiosis. Photography by Luciano Pinna

“I thought it was such a beautiful, interesting solution [to climate change] to have the body completely hybrid, and able to change and adapt,” van Brakel says. But “if you have a different body, you also have a different sensory apparatus,” which can offer “new perspectives on reality.” For example: “If a shark could be a philosopher, what kind of philosophy would that spark?”

The project may be anchored in eco activism, but it reaches far beyond that. “We really want to give the first little incentive to rethink what it means to be a human and what it means to be a body.”

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