laboratoire écologie et art pour une société en transition

Common dreams: flotation school

Common Dreams: Flotation School is a project that focuses on survival, commons, hopes and strategies for addressing climate change and the Anthropocene. The future will hold more extreme environments and urban spaces and only resilient species will be able to adapt to life. Sharing desires and inspirations enables us to envision shelters and other ways of being in an endangered world.

least and artist Maria Lucia Cruz Correia have offered to a class of 3rd-year students from Sismondi College (Geneva) to imagine this adaptation by suggesting alternatives. A “shelter island,” designed and realised by the students, will be the place to rethink ways of living together, acting in common and creating new imaginaries, dealing with themes from the most concrete to the most philosophical: community values, working together, food, resources, economy, energy, emotional resilience, place of care, governance and social life.

The “island” will be constructed jointly with the students, tradespeople, carpenters and neighbourhood inhabitants. Biologists, climatologists, engineers, activists, farmers and commons experts are invited throughout the process to participate in the design and activation of the Flotation School.

what we did

Since autumn 2022, Maria Lucia Cruz Correia and Maxime Gorbatchevsky have been meeting regularly with students from Sismondi College to reflect on new ways of living and acting together in order to address climate change. The students were introduced to these issues in workshops with experts and professionals from multiple disciplines (engineering, biology, architecture, permaculture and nutrition).

what we’re doing

The students are currently designing the project, from the models of the platform to the activities and workshops that will take place there. Together we are collecting salvaged materials for the construction of the floating structure.

what’s next

In the spring, the students will build and launch their Flotation School on Lake Geneva. The island will then be open for visitors to gather and learn thanks to tools and activities designed by the students themselves. Local actors, such as BIG (Biennale Insulaire des Espaces d’Art de Genève), will include the Flotation School in their programme. In September, the platform will be moved to Parc Rigot and transformed into an installation allowing students to share their experience with the community.

may 2023

Float with us on Lake Geneva, participate in workshops and discussions, cook and play together, attend concerts or simply chill: least proposes to rethink how we live together in an endangered world, sharing desires and envisioning places of shelter. Dates and programme TBA.


Get all the news and the programme of activities on the island on our website and via least’s newsletter from the beginning of April.

artistic team

Maria Lucia Cruz Correia – founder and artistic coordinator
Maxime Gorbatchevsky – artist-in-residence at least

Sismondi College Professors
Adrien Beck - visual arts
Nathalie Novarina - visual arts
Alexandra Sonntag - art history

Sismondi College Students
Arthur Arlaud; Dylan Burri; Timothée Castilla; Matias Chappot; Helena Delruelle; Jules Dubes-Plun; Camélya Dumitrescu; Annette Fivaz; Odelia Forster; Mathilde Grand-Guillaume-Perrenoud; Anouk Grange; Colette Heinen; Naïka Ilunga; Elya-Sirine Itsouhou; Guillem Jehouda; Fabio Mazzaferri; Mykola Protsenko; Naomé Valere; Marine Re; Emma Rigueiro Brand; Louise Schachter; Ilan Sela; Flavio Viggiani; Louis Wyss.

least would like to thank all the people that contributed to the project by sharing their time, knowledge and resources:

Maud Abbé-Decarroux (architect); Marcio Bichsel (civil engineer) / B+S Ingénieurs; Audrey Bersier (sound artist); Luc Bon (woodworker-carpenter) / Ateliers ABX; Tiphaine Bussy (landscape architect) / Canton de Genève- Office cantonal de l’agriculture et de la nature; Olga Cebalos (biologist) / Association la Libellule; Sophie Frezza; Kimberly Hirsch; Bilal Kouti (agroforestry) / Le Bois des 3 Sœurs; Adrien Mésot (artist-harvester) / Au Diable vert; Rita Natálio (artist, researcher) / Terra Batida; Carlos Tapia (videomaker); Zsolt Vecsernyes (civil engineer) / HEPIA.


Vivre le Rhône: trailer

Meet the Rhône and Natural Contract Lab

Learning from mould

Even the simplest organism can suggest new ways of thinking, acting and collaborating

Intimity Among Strangers

Lichens tell of a living world for which solitude is not a viable option

Vivre le Rhône: trailer

“What stories are already there?”

A video by Carlos Tapia featuring the Rhône river, Maria Lucia Cruz Correia, Vinny Jones, and Lode Vranken.

Learning from mould

Learning from mould

Physarum polycephalum is a bizarre organism of the slime mould type. It consists of a membrane within which several nuclei float, which is why it is considered an “acellular” being—neither monocellular nor multicellular. Despite its simple structure, it has some outstanding features: Physarum polycephalum can solve complex problems and move through space by expanding into “tentacles,” making it an exciting subject for scientific experiments.

The travelling salesman problem is the best known: it’s a computational problem that aims to optimise travel in a web of possible paths. Using a map, scientists at Hokkaido University placed a flake of oat, on which Physarum feeds, on the main junctions of Tokyo’s public transportation system. Left free to move around the map, Physarum expanded its tentacles, which, to the general amazement, quickly reproduced the actual public transport routes. The mechanism is very efficient: the tentacles stretch out in search of food; if they do not find any, they secrete a substance that will signal not to pursue that same route.

We are used to thinking of intelligence as embodied, centralised, and representation-based: Physarum teaches us that this is not always the case and that even the simplest organism can suggest new ways of thinking, acting and collaborating.

Intimity Among Strangers

Covering nearly 10% of the Earth’s surface and weighing tons—more than the entire ocean biomass—they revolutionised how we understand life and evolution. Few would probably bet on this unique yet discrete species: lichens.

Four hundred and ten million years ago, lichens were already there and seem to have contributed, through their erosive capacity, to the formation of the Earth’s soil. The earliest traces of lichens were found in the Rhynie fossil deposit in Scotland, dating back to the Lower Devonian period—that of the earliest stage of landmass colonisation by living beings. Their resilience has been tested in various experiments: they can survive space travel without harm; withstand a dose of radiation twelve thousand times greater than what would be lethal to a human being; survive immersion in liquid nitrogen at -195°C; and live in extremely hot or cold desert areas. Lichens are so resistant they can even live for millennia: an Arctic specimen of “map lichen” has been dated 8,600 years, the world’s oldest discovered living organism.

Lichens have long been considered plants, and even today many interpret them as a sort of moss, but thanks to the technical evolution of microscopes in the 19th century, a new discovery emerged. Lichen was not a single organism, but instead consisted of a system composed of two different living things, a fungus and an alga, united to the point of remaining essentially indistinguishable. Few know that the now familiar word symbiosis was coined precisely to refer to this strange structure of lichen. Today we understand that lichens are not simply formed by a fungus and an alga. There is, in fact, an internal variability of beings involved in the symbiotic mechanism, frequently including other fungi, bacteria and yeasts. We are not dealing with a single living organism but an entire biome.

Symbiosis’ theory was long opposed, as it undermined the taxonomic structure of the entire kingdom of the living as Charles Darwin had described it in On the Origin of Species: a “tree-like” system consisting of progressive branches. The idea that two “branches” (and, moreover, belonging to different kingdoms) could intersect called everything into question. Significantly, the fact that symbiosis functioned as a mutually beneficial cooperation overturned the idea of the evolutionary process as based on competition and conflict.

Symbiosis is far from being a minority condition on our planet: 90% of plants, for example, are characterised by mycorrhiza, a particular type of symbiotic association between a fungus and the roots of a plant. Of these, 80% would not survive if deprived of the association with the fungus. Many mammalian species, including humans, live in symbiosis with their microbiome: a collection of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and enable the assimilation of nutrients. This is a very ancient and specific symbiotic relationship: in humans, the genetic difference in the microbiome between one person and another is greater even than their cellular genetic difference. Yet the evolutionary success of symbiotic relationships is not limited to these incredible data: it is the basis for the emergence of life as we know it, in a process described by biologist Lynn Margulis as symbiogenesis.

Symbiogenesis posits that the first cells on Earth resulted from symbiotic relationships between bacteria, which developed into the organelles responsible for cellular functioning. Specifically, chloroplasts—the organelles capable of performing photosynthesis—originated from cyanobacteria, while mitochondria—the organelles responsible for cellular metabolism—originated from bacteria capable of metabolising oxygen. Life, it seems, evolved from a series of symbiotic encounters, and despite numerous catastrophic changes in the planet’s geology, atmosphere and ecosystems across deep time, has been flowing uninterruptedly for almost four billion years.

Several scientists tend to interpret symbiosis in lichens as a form of parasitism on the part of the fungus because it would gain more from the relationship than the other participants. To which naturalist David George Haskell, in his book The Forest Unseen, replies, “Like a farmer tending her apple trees and her field of corn, a lichen is a melding of lives. Once individuality dissolves, the scorecard of victors and victims makes little sense. Is corn oppressed? Does the farmer’s dependence on corn make her a victim? These questions are premised on a separation that does not exist.” Multi-species cooperation is the basis of life on our planet. From lichens to single-celled organisms to our daily lives, biology tells of a living world for which solitude is not a viable option. Lynn Margulis described symbiosis as a form of “intimacy among strangers”: what lies at the core of life, evolution and adaptation.