Orchid Mantis is a collaboration between Stefan Maier and Michelle Helene Mackenzie. Inspired by Benjamin Bratton’s short work of theory-fiction The Orchid Mantis of Szanzhi, it explores synthetic and natural field recordings of an imagined insect world. The work was first performed at Deep Blue Studios in Vancouver in 2020. In January 2023, it was performed at INA-GRM, Paris.

Program Note:

“Many of you are familiar, I should think, with the Sanzhi Pod City near New Taipei City in Taiwan. This future city was late for its own birth, which was in 1978. Originally planned as a vacation resort for US soldiers, the project was doomed by a series of mysterious car accidents, and abandoned in 1980. The future lasted only two years. However, when demolition work began in 2008 it was discovered that not one but five species of orchid mantis as yet unknown to science, had overtaken the ruins, and multiplied to a population of an estimated 10 million insect inhabitants, above ground, underground, in the structures, in between them. No one knows how or why. Etymologists observe that the unintended orchid mantis civilization has developed an incredibly complex division of labor, not only between species but also within species. Strict systems of food capture, nest construction, and types of stigmergic communication between individuals of different species that has never been observed anywhere before. 

The future city is not for humans. The Anthropocene, the reframing of the Earth in the image of industrial modernity, will be short lived. It will be less of a geologic era than a geopolitical instant. Humans are vanishing. Our cities are not our own. We are building the habitats for life forms other than our own. We are their tools; we are the robots for future insects. The extraordinary architecture of Sanzhi – that is the systems built by the orchid mantis on top of and in-between the UFO pods -, has become, in a short 30 years, a precious future-archeological resource. It is not a failed future, but a successful one. It is our future. We are already its present. We who are displaced by the Orchid Mantis.” 

—Benjamin Bratton The Orchid Mantis of Szanzhi (abridged)