Synchronicity (2015)

Robin Meier and Andre Gwerder
during ArtBasel 2015 at Volkshaus Basel, Switzerland
Curated by Marc-Olivier Wahler // Commissioned and Produced by Audemars Piguet Art Commission 2015

Synchronicity is an installation exploring the emergence of natural cycles and synchrony inside an artificial biosphere. Live fireflies and crickets are made to flash and chirp in unison with two synchronising pendulums by manipulating the insect’s behaviour through lights and sounds. Inspired by this synchrony an array of electronic devices join the chorus and start to flicker, buzz or move in sync.

// Photos and Video Stills
// Timelapse
// ArtPress news article

Making Of


Architecture: Ivan Mata
Electronics: Cyrille Henry
Camera: Nikolai Zheludovich
Research: Anne Becker, Katsura Ishikawa, Hiroko Myokam, Manuel Speck
Scientific Advisors: Nobuyoshi Ohba (Ohba Firefly Institute, Yokosuka), Anchana Thancharoen (Kasetsart University, Bangkok), Michael Greenfield (Insect Biology Research Institute, Tours), Manfred Hartbauer (Institute of Zoology at Karl Franzens University, Graz), Manuela Nowotny (Institute for Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Frankfurt), Nishiyama Kazuich (Earth Co. Firefly Breedery, Hyogo), Minoru Yajima (Tama Zoo, Tokyo), Ilya Kolmanovsky (Polytech Museum, Moscow), Tal Danino (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Camebridge), Brice Bathellier (Unit of Neuroscience, Information and Complexity, Gif-sur-Yvette), Gabriella Gibson (Natural Resources Institute at University of Greenwich, Kent)

Special Thanks: Winka Angelrath and Stefano Maddalena (Audemars Piguet), Caspar Bijleveld (Papiliorama Foundation), Jean-Marc LeCoq (Parti Pris), Stephane Chameron (LEEC Université Paris 13), Augustin Soulard, Mariko Montpetit, Daisuke Harada, Bastien Gallet, Kanta Horio, Namrata Pamnami, Bard Ermentrout, Xavier Chantalat


The visitor passing through a double-door entry into Robin Meier’s work is immersed in a greenhouse overflowing with lush nature, which houses a deserted laboratory and an array of abandoned measurement devices (oscilloscopes, computers, and seismographs), as well as other research instruments. What was the subject of the research for which these instruments had been used ?

The audial and visual pulses flooding the greenhouse with a rhythmic beat reveal that a very specific form of life has emerged here. The sounds of cricket chirps, metronome beats, and fan breezes, as well as water pumps and various other electronic materials seem to harmonise with the light emitted by hundreds of fireflies, which are themselves flashing in unison, like a single pulse regulated by an invisible source of energy.

synchronicity - robin meier & andre gwerder - video: nikolai zheludovich

Like all fireflies, the ones here produce a bioluminescent light. But they also have a unique characteristic: their light is diffused in a sporadic manner. Not only do they “flash,” but they all flash at the same time, as if ruled by some kind of collective rhythm of synchronicity. For years, the phenomena of synchronisation and emergence have fascinated researches in various fields, including molecular biology, chemistry, philosophy, physics, psychology, economics, artificial intelligence, and contemporary art. How do these systems organise themselves separately from all defined regulating structures ? How can a system become more important than the sum of its parts?

Supported and facilitated by the Audemars Piguet Art Commission, Robin Meier and his team have collaborated for more than a year with entomological laboratories around the globe to create the necessary conditions for bringing fireflies that may synchronise to Europe. The synchronised flashes of the fireflies have created a puzzle for researchers. What sort of mimetic mechanism — visual, olfactory, or audial— and what form of social organisation allows these particular fireflies to synchronise their light emissions?

Interrogating the phenomena of synchronicity and emergence — in order to understand the principles of coherence in computer networks, mathematical models, schools of fish, and flocks of birds, for example — make us pay particular attention to two types of relationships: the maintenance of parts within a whole and the effects of a system on its environment.

synchronicity - robin meier & andre gwerder - video: nikolai zheludovich

During the course of his research, the artist has learned that by distributing light sources (specifically, LED lights) throughout the swarm of fireflies, it was possible to guide and control their flashes. The light sources in Robin Meier’s work blink in concert with the ticking metronomes grouped in the middle of the installation. The metronomes tick in unison, synchronised by the vibrations they create and transmit through the floor. These metronomes echo the sounds produced by computers installed in the space. In addition, crickets chirp in unison with the metronomes and the firefly flashes. Together, they function as a single organism: an auto-regulated orchestra that generates its own structures, half cybernetic and half entomological.

This unique ensemble is accompanied by images of luminescent bacteria in a phase of synchronisation, projected by oscilloscopes and other electronic devices. It feels like something out of a laboratory in Blade Runner that was then transplanted into a jungle with a Fitzcarraldo, who is here more of a scientist than an explorer. Artists have long understood that an artwork is much more than the sum of its parts.

A successful painting is more than an ensemble of pigments arranged on a canvas. For some time, the public has been encouraged to appreciate a work by isolating it from its context and perceiving it through the window of its gilded frame. However contemporary art has tried tirelessly to break this “window-vision.” Many works integrate systems that allow for both the multiplication of relationships between parts and the formation of constantly changing surroundings. Robin Meier’s artwork offers an essential contribution to this thought process. The artist harnesses the phenomenon of synchronicity at work in the organisational systems of fireflies and crickets, links these systems to communication signals emitted by metronomes and other electronic devices, and therefore creates a veritable ecosystem, based not on his own subjectivity, but on various communities that work to construct a world – an ensemble of cogs and gears – in perpetual movement.


Observing the world from his own vantage point as an artist, Robin Meier creates works of art that explore the mechanics of nature, bringing to light astounding occurrences of synchrony and harmony that have evolved in the natural environment, while juxtaposing them with current technology. Like an orchestra conductor – or watchmaker – Robin Meier demonstrates a virtuosic mastery of connecting systems of vastly varied scope and origin. Organized by the annual commission’s first guest curator, Marc-Olivier Wahler, developed with the help of international experts and researchers and in collaboration with the artist André Gwerder, the work brings to life an uncanny self-contained universe while raising scientific and philosophical questions with far-reaching implications. Meier’s blend of artistic vision and scientific inquiry manages to both look ahead to the future and hark back to earlier moments in history, when artists were at once humanists and technologists, thinkers and inventors. (excerpt from text by Andras Szanto)

Photos / Video stills