Brachiation on the Phylogenetic Tree


This interactive speculative fiction work adapts automated Call Centre technologies to explore the entanglements between humans and microorganisms.

A feature of contemporary life is the labyrinthine-like automated Call Centre services we navigate when making enquiries to businesses or government departments. Brachiation on the Phylogenetic Tree adapts this pervasive technology to playfully create an interactive work of speculative fiction about the entanglements between humans and the world of microorganisms.

The title of the work points to a more poetic, personalised experience than is usually felt when navigating these systems. A ‘phylogenetic tree’ or ‘evolutionary tree’ is a branching diagram that reveals the evolutionary relationships among various biological species, and ‘brachiation’ describes the swinging motion used by primates to move from tree limb to tree limb.

The Brachiation on the Phylogenetic Tree journey begins in the gallery with a call-to-action: using your mobile to phone the toll-free number stenciled across the gallery wall. The conspicuously displayed phone number is a reference to the cost-effective advertising campaigns often found on the hoardings of building sites in many Indian cities. When audiences call the toll-free number, they are greeted by a welcome message that leads them into an imaginary space, quite unlike the false service promises of a typical automated Call Centre system. As the caller selects options, each choice made forks the narrative path. The caller takes on the role of a writer entering his own archive, invited to explore the worlds of twelve species of microorganisms ranging from fungi to Tardigrades. In the archive fragments of narrative material are scattered; fragments about microorganisms that shine like stars in petri dishes, and those that stink like the rotten depths of our worst imagined hell. Dialling into Brachiation on the Phylogenetic Tree is an invitation to twist together delicate narrative strands weaving your own story.

At the conclusion of the gallery-based encounter, over the following weeks visitors are invited to discover more stories. These opportunities arrive as part of an automated call back service. Audience engage with the work at their own pace, long after leaving the gallery. The call back service delves deeper into the story threads, forming narratives that draw on a combination of scientific fact and poetic fiction.

Conceptualised and written by: Agat Sharma
Technology and Production management:
Ambika Joshi, Nanditi Khilnani and Shailendra Paliwal.

Media: Interactive voice response system
Dimensions: Variable
Duration: 3:00-12:00 mins


  • Nanditi Khilnani
  • Ambika Joshi
  • Shailendra Paliwal
  • Agat Sharma