So far it has been considered bad style to step on a stage and greet those present with “Dear Swarm”.

On social networks, this is a normal form of address for a large group of readers.

Those who start like this usually want to tap into the intelligence of complete strangers.

The metaphor of the swarming swarm of insects is not limited to this one situation.

The swarm is a versatile model for human societies that has changed its meaning several times over the centuries, but has only become more and more relevant since ancient times - first thanks to industrialization, then thanks to the Internet.

Now the model of the swarm is put to the test again when the artist Maximilian Prüfer breaks up a social experiment in his gallery.

Life among swarms

Prüfer lives with several swarms in Augsburg.

He also says hello to them regularly.

In the meadow behind his studio, he lifts a tarpaulin and lifts the lid of a box.

Underneath is an unfinished painting buried like a treasure.

What later looks like minimalist etchings showing galaxies or nerve cords in the frame is the work of an ant colony.

The animals are creatively active in the box. In years of tinkering, Prüfer has developed a paper coating that is so sensitive that the footsteps or flapping of the wings of insects leave high-contrast traces on it. “Even a single hair of mine would change the picture,” says Prüfer. It is precisely the illegibility of the traces that is decisive. They are documentary impressions of a nature performance and at the same time unfathomable abstractions.

Although Prüfer influences the path of the insects - he uses food, light or gravity - his art addresses something else. The ants, which are so small that their footsteps condense into clouds, make "emergence" tangible for every observer. The lone ant may be inefficient and haphazard. Without a plan view, however, it cannot even know about the contribution it is making to the collective intelligence of its state. Only the final work gives an idea of ​​it. With the help of their fragrances, ants add and average the paths they have traveled.

Despite sometimes nonsensical wrong turns, they form a decentralized consensus and keep accumulating their knowledge.

This is only stored in a pattern that is emergent, i.e. new and larger than herself, and which here becomes the painterly design principle.

Figuratively speaking, many ants work together as one larger living being.

Prüfer makes this picture explicit: he had your terrarium blown out of glass, it resembles a brain, and the ants regulate the temperature and humidity in it.

Differences in the family

Anyone who goes to Prüfer's exhibitions should recognize an agonizing absence in the natural prints. Examiner accuses humanity of losing its collective intelligence. He and his siblings grew up in a working class family. His brother was active in the “wing” of the AfD. His sister works as a women's representative and is committed to helping refugees. The differences between the two can no longer be democratically averaged. For others, meanwhile, there is still hope. That is why Prüfer lets total strangers estimate the number of grains of sand in a glass vessel on his website, which is shown there in high resolution and from all sides. He wants to create awareness of the capabilities of human swarm intelligence and of the opportunities offered by the Internet as an extended brain.

So far, the answers he has received range from three-digit to fourteen-digit, thus revealing a great deal of ignorance about sand. If Prüfer then counts the grains individually in his Viennese gallery, which will require at least seven days and strong nerves, he still expects the participants to have a sense of achievement. According to Francis Galton, they should, on average, get closer to the true number of grains than sand experts could. The analogy to the ants is pretty well done by Prüfer. The comparison with the democratic system lags a bit. First, ants are a questionable role model, as some species also owe their efficiency to stolen slaves. Second, Twitter users would reply that the number of grains is a hard fact that doesn't care much about opinions.But before the count in Vienna, there can be very different estimates - even those in which Maximilian Prüfer touches his head and closes his eyes.