The correspondence presented to you here emerged during the rehearsals for the performance Rewritable Creatures.1 Originally, it was meant to be a testimony to different conceptual approaches. Later on, parts of this document became part of the production. Its publication now becomes an act of recalling, of remembering and rewriting the irreplaceable: life.

The performer, choreographer, director and curator Daniel Aschwanden died before he could go public with the results of the project presented here. Rewritable Creatures was performed in its unfinished form, posthumously and in his memory, in October 2021.

The project addressed transitions where human and non-human bodies and aspects – animal, plant and machine – encounter and reconstitute each other by mimicking or “rewriting” each other. We explored the activities of these different categories of beingness: “building a shelter”, “living in a pack”, “growing”, “photosynthesising”, “performing”, “calculating”, “sounding”, and “becoming and perishing”. We also tried to understand whether hybridisation between beings of different species presupposes their mutual ability to describe each other in different media while themselves remaining rewritable as bearers of new qualities.

The title emerged late in the process. “Rewrite” describes an algorithmic procedure: A standard sequence of several symbolic links is newly or differently replaced following fixed rules so that a dynamically changing, self-rewriting structure emerges.

This principle also applied to the operating modes of neuronal networks that we employed. Measured data of visual events and choreographic or textual notations were recognised and remembered by an AI. This allowed deriving a network of probabilities. Once this network of probabilities began to generate data in the live performances on its own, the diversions were partly identical but also different from the original choreography. Some sequences were related, but no longer identical. ‘Rewrite’ in the sense of technological terminology, therefore, denotes actively writing anew or rewriting, which is concerned with a transformation of medial (data) bodies.

Today, on 18 August 2022, briefly before the publication of this text, the title implies something else. Rewriting is an attempt to approach our lost friend by transcending the realm of this world, to accompany his crossing over to the very threshold at which we encounter ourselves, our own mortality and the mortality of all beings. In this assemblage of letters, much remains unsaid, breaks off or stays incomplete. The same way our collaborative work on this project finds no end but takes its course in the incomprehensible and the unavailable.



What happens while reading the ever-so-passing?

we met a few years ago back then, you were conducting choreographic research on the behaviour and movement repertoire of dogs and the dynamics of packs. A dog trainer even trained you together with other dogs. For this purpose, you approached the animals mimetically, on all fours, barking, and growling. Together with Klaus Spiess, we later explored biotechnical and hybridising interventions in organisms as part of the performance The Hour of the Analyst Dog (Spiess/Strecker 2016, p.78f.). The transformations were no longer visible to the naked eye here, and they were not mimetic either. Other actors were performing. Cells, molecules, apparatuses. A gene sequence from Sigmund Freud’s dog was cloned in vitro into the blood cell of a Lacanian psychoanalyst. The three of us indeed found this genetic material in the Sigmund Freud Archive in London – hairs of the dog ‘Jofi’, woven into a rug by his daughter Anna. “Nothing is more amazing than the simple truth, nothing more exotic than the world around us, nothing more fantastic than actuality.” (Segel 1997, p. 79; german original in Kisch 1924, p. 659). The activation of this bio-designed cell by the audience’s body heat then became a ‘molecular timer’ that later clocked the rhythm of the choreography. Jens Hauser called invisible processes of this kind ‘microperformative’ (Hauser 2021, p. 12ff.). Are any of those represented in our new project? 

The agenda of Cynic transformation has indeed been with me since as a process in different contexts – the perspectives on it are evolving. It has definitely been expanded in our project through new ways of thinking, such as those negotiated under the term “microperformativity” or also in the article by Brian Stross The Hybrid Metaphor: From Biology to Culture (Stross 1999, p. 254ff.). The focus here lies on the relativity and cyclicality of hybridisation processes. Consequently, the hybrid is also always a culturally prescribed intermediate state, a strongly socially defined construction that soon changes into a new “normal state”, which is then, in turn, open to new hybridisations. We can interpret these hybridisation cycles and their narratives as social developmental processes.

Our project Rewritable Creatures is, among other things, a movement experiment based on machine learning. A neuronal network is trained in how organisms transform themselves into hybrids through the mimicking of movement sequences. For this purpose, we use video material of hybridisation processes from biology, architecture and robotics, as well as Vera Sebert’s literary text fragments that describe such processes. A depth-sensing camera is employed to record how we interpret the textual description of hybridisations through movement. 50 sequences of these motions are then digitally coupled with 50 video sequences. An algorithm thereby learns how we derive our movement repertoire from hybrid formations between biology, robotics and architecture. Later on, the algorithm will be able to make suggestions for new movement sequences that lead to unknown mimetic hybridisations. They become visible through surprising links between the video sources in interaction with our movements. We would like to expand the choreographic material through a live improvisation with AI. We understand our bodies as Rewritable Creatures and (model) organisms of this experiment. In this experimental set-up, we try to approach processes of transformation through embodiment and imitation – a procedure that contrasts strongly with “pure” scientific approaches, although they should be seen relationally.

Until recently, you pursued foundational research and artistically sought solutions that invasively engage the body, that draw their radicality from penetrating the body, from permeating physical boundaries, a momentum that has acquired a strong dominance in the history of performance. How do you now assess the procedures that we are trying to establish?

I am concerned with the bodily boundaries of the performer. I am concerned with how technologies, social norms, scientific narratives or even art become invasive and change what we understand as a human entity. Biology is not to be taken for granted – neither is culture. Both terms are vague and can only be apprehended in relation to each other. What we constantly encounter, however, are zones of transition, overlap and transformation.


– Seine flüssigen Wesenszüge sickern in die Hohlräume zwischen den Begriffen.




What happens to us in spaces that we, as artists, design so that we can probe ourselves as transitory beings? To me, this project does not revolve around an intervention into the organism but instead around the fundamental interconnectedness of organisms with their environment. Movement in space and imitation works “biomimetically” in my view: If we imitate, this rebounds on our organism and can even change it genetically. This is illustrated by biological mimicry: a butterfly develops patterns on its wings that resemble the eyes of its enemy. How is this possible? The writer and mimicry researcher Vladimir Nabokov called this the “incredible artistic wit of mimetic disguise” (Nabokov 1973, p. 110), also to counter a utilitarian Darwinism. Nabokov’s explicit rejection of natural selection is largely based on his conviction that this theory cannot fully explain the observed complexity and sophistication of the natural world. In this context, Nabokov emphasises above all the phenomenon of animal imitation and the extreme degree of its refinement: “‘Natural selection’, in the Darwinian sense, could not explain the miraculous coincidence of imitative aspect and imitative behavior, nor could one appeal to the theory of ‘the struggle for life’ when a protective device was carried to a point of mimetic subtlety, exuberance, and luxury far in excess of a predator’s power of appreciation.” (Nabokov, ibid.). Nabokov doubts that selection pressure has to work on such a meticulous scale to produce, for example, “markings mimicking grub-bored holes” on the leaf-like wings of a butterfly. On a scientific level, Nabokov argues that Darwin’s model of evolutionary selection falls short since the postulated mechanism is too rudimentary to produce all the fantastic twists and turns of nature (cf. Nabokov 1989, p. 154).





Exposing our bodies to a changing environment through technology and responding through mimetic movement is admittedly non-invasive but speculates with an evolutionary and aesthetic dimension: the surroundings and counterparts shape the organism, just as the organism shapes its specific environment and acts on its counterparts. What do you feel, for example, when you immerse yourself so intensively in the environment of dog packs and mimetically approach them?

I begin to feel more intensely, shifts in perception are taking place:


The apprehensible branches out along the Z-axis.

Feeling feelings. Smelling becomes more important, and with it, odours: the ground inches closer and thereby my inner conflict to overcome a certain revulsion, the desire to detach myself from the ground, to remove myself olfactorily from it. It is thus not only a shift of sensual perception, but I also encounter therein the civilisational formatting of such perception. Admittedly, certain rituals of doghood related to other dogs, such as sniffing genitals, sniffing urine-marked areas on the ground, or marking by peeing, I have not practised, or at least not consistently – in this sense not as radically as the ancient Cynic philosophers in classical Greece – but certainly attempted to as a naked dog-human in the gallery context. You recall and have followed some of these actions. In the process, I encountered both the most diverse forms of smells but also the resistance to my curiosity that had become physical, sometimes even massive resistance from male companions of a woman I was sniffing. I was shoved or beaten. I also noticed that I was creating irritation about how to deal with myself. And I also discovered this irritation among the dogs, who, I felt, understood very well that I was not a real dog, but also realised that I belonged to the pack in a different way than the other humans. The biggest dog in my pack, for example, regularly jostled me, pushed me aside as if to prove his dominance, and I was glad that he conducted these body checks in a relatively good-natured way and without using his teeth.

The other day I was out walking and saw a pack of dogs: remarkably, they were wearing some kind of colourful overalls, a fast-moving horde on all fours, almost as if they were dressed for a Benetton advert. From a distance, one of the dogs’ clothing resembled a spotted leopard skin, but on closer inspection, the black dots proved to be printed paws. These dogs were strongly anthropomorphised by their owners; I, in turn, felt clumsy walking on all fours compared to the agility, mobility, speed of the animals. The sensitivity of my hands and feet also changed when I “worked” barefoot and with bare hands in summer, I felt the texture of the ground. And just as some of the dogs nowadays are clad in “dog shoes” to protect them against extreme cold and salt on the asphalted, sealed roads, i.e. the human, civilised environment, I later protected my hands with gloves, as I had often pulled splinters. It is always a matter of approximation – such as when I practise growling for hours and almost faint from the onset of hyperventilation symptoms. Yet, my controlled humanness indeed dissolves at times in this experience, I am present and growling, and in that growling, I exist. In Dietmar Dath’s novel The Abolition of Species, a portrait is drawn of a cultivated wolf fighting an unfortunate surviving human, ultimately biting his throat as an expression of his philosophical-cultural, as well as physical-combative superiority and contempt towards this creature reminiscent of ‘white trash’ in a “bestial” culture war. The attempts at transformation are thus always also an attempt to become ‘an Other’ – or to experience contact with otherness. They are also an attempt (even if failingly) to enter into a different relationship with nature. In her book Staying with the Trouble, Donna Haraway speaks of the search for true stories that are simultaneously fabulations and speculative realisms (Haraway 2016, p. 10ff.). What do you think about this in relation to our project? How does it navigate between fabulation and scientificity?

the biosemiotician Johann von Uexküll wrote in his book Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere [Environment and Inner World of the Animals] about how stimuli from the outside world – chemical, visual, mechanical – become signs that are either interpreted differently or similarly by organisms. He argues that animal species differ in their environmental perception according to how their neural pathways are arranged (v. Uexküll 1921, p. 166ff.). This arrangement reflects the objects and stimuli of the environment and is a sort of counter-world or mirror world. He goes on to say that there should be “nothing more graceful and interesting than such a view of the world through the medium of various counter-worlds” (v. Uexküll 1921, p. 169). I think this sentence also applies to your practice, but possibly also to your question to me. What does this sentence mean? Does he mean: when I engage with the world of another organism, seeking to expand my senses to explore the ‘opposite world’ and look at my human world in an altered way, is that then graceful and beautiful?




Imagining – fabulating – how other beings perceive the outside world turns into empathy. Your imagination becomes a body, the pattern of a neural pathway. The sign becomes ‘flesh’ and vice versa. We also refer to the concept of rite in our project.

In a ritual, thresholds of transition are marked by actions, objects, sound and gestures to consciously move from one reading of the world to the next, i.e. to change perspectives and thereby become ‘an Other’. Many examples exist of rituals in different cultures and epochs that accompany the transitions from human to animal, from child to adult, from life to death.

Rewritable Creatures addresses the tension between language and body, between notation and performance. In anthropology, negotiations take place as to whether the myth that has been passed on existed first as a narrative, or whether it was the performed rite, i.e. the action itself (Fischer-Lichte 2012, p. 16ff.). In our work, we follow both paths: we fabulate, invent transitions between beings and times, we describe and imitate. This turns ‘doing-as-if’ into empathy, which only becomes possible for us through embodiment. Conversely, we move like other creatures, dance with robots, animals, plants and architectures, and then describe what we have experienced through this. In this pendular movement we experience ourselves as hybrids.

the counter-worlds seem to multiply in the mirror of technological medialities and modalities – thus, we face the endeavour of placing ourselves in relation to ‘neural pathways’, which are arranged, for example, mathematically as clusters of neurons in networks,




attempting to approximate realities in alignment procedures based on Deep Learning, but simulating new realities in these procedures as well. With our thinking of transformations in relation to three structural categories (plantimal/2 architecture / cyborg), we approximate theorist Jeanette Zwingenberger’s reflection on the question of the constructional character of landscape, in her introduction to the exhibition L’homme Paysage, that is, whether humans still perceive themselves (only) in their anthropomorphic projection or agree to be part of the ‘realms’ of the animal, plant and mineral (Zwingenberger 2006, p. 12ff.). I recall in this context a description of a Miao ritual, a minority in southern China: the locals worship trees. Especially camphor trees. When a baby is born, one plants a tree. A deceased person does not receive a grave nor a gravestone but is laid into the ground, planting a tree there as well. It is strictly forbidden to cut down a tree. The Miao of this clan believe that a holy god and the spirits of their ancestors live inside the trees. The planting, growing and tending of the tree and its spirits reminds us that we ourselves are “liminal entities” (Turner 1977, p. 95ff.)

I don’t necessarily think of grace and beauty, but I suspect that the latter might shine in the lively communication between us, in the attempt to find practices and take different perspectives in space and time in assemblages that we create for this purpose together with our colleagues: as manifestations of fluid territories between post-humanist, technoid and natural worlds. Vera, as the author of the text elements of our performance, describes these. Her poetic linkages serve as an impulse for movement improvisations. On the other hand, they are a framework for us that newly arranges the various conceptual and material elements of our choreography. We noticed that we were applying a language to ourselves through the learning algorithm and, at the same time, asking an author to re-relate the building blocks of our material through her text. This gave rise to further cycles of hybridity. The fundamental mimetic approach was owed to the attempt to approximate hybrids by imitating posture and language. We have attempted declination in different categories: Choreography, improvisation, design and architecture, artificial intelligence, biology and literary text. What was your approach, Vera?

while writing, I create images: to draw closer to you, I collect close-ups of human, animal and botanical bodies, of hardware and software and of architecture, which are collaged into short descriptive sentences.




Abstract conglomerates without clear visual contours emerge. These linguistic reversals offer impulses for new movement patterns in the fabric of the performance.

Simultaneously, they are also subjected to a transformative process: with the help of algorithmic tools, the architecture of their grammatical scaffolding and their semantics splinter.

Zerspendigende Geste träste Wänen.



These meaningless fragments expose the constructed nature of meanings and open new spaces for thinking about our physique as a fluid construct that is always subject to interactions with its surrounding and, at the same time, functions as an environment itself. What happens when reading this very text? How can language become an actor in the transformations you both describe? Where runs the boundary between coded tools and an actor?

Your questions prompt us to talk about the performance itself. As I write to you, however, I think of only one fact: Daniel no longer lives. The artistic engagement with ‘zones of transition’ was caught up in a reality indescribable to me. A speechlessness spread through me after his death. How can I articulate the common without his voice? His wish was for us to continue the project after his passing. Thus I grapple with whatever remains: Videos, soundtracks, photographs and this correspondence here. In the enactment, these documents are made to speak. Recorded sequences in which Daniel and I derived movement impulses from your sentences became the source of an AI-generated video that interacted with my remarks and corporeal expression. Your sentences were inscribed in Daniel’s and my bodily dynamics. I repeated actions, gestures, postures that Daniel had performed. They evoked his moving image and made it generate new patterns of movement despite his painful absence. Our dramaturg Philippe Riera later called the production a requiem. Working on it gave shape to our grief. All building blocks of the project have received this signature of loss. Your texts, too, changed their meaning. Every transformation seemed to point to the ephemeral, which we keep describing in order to understand it. Your sentences, the algorithms of the AI, the fragmentary records of the samples – they all became signifiers of a gap that cannot be closed.

Das Ergebnis bleibt instabil.



Dietmar Dath, The Abolition of Species, Los Angeles, CA: Doppelhaus Press 2018.

Erika Fischer-Lichte, Performativität. Eine Einführung, Bielefeld: transcript 2012.

Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2016.

Jens Hauser, “Microperformativity and Biomediality”, Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts 25 (3)/2020, pp. 12-22.

Egon Erwin Kisch, Der rasende Reporter. Collected works in individual editions. Volume V, Berlin: Aufbau 1924.

Vladimir Nabokov, The Gift, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973.

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, New York: Vintage International 1989.

Harold Segel (ed.), Egon Erwin Kisch, the Raging Reporter: A Bio-Anthology, West Lafayette: Purdue University Press 1997.

Klaus Spiess/ Lucie Strecker , “Transmaterial Becoming”, Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts 21(5)/2016, pp. 78-80.

Brian Stross, “The Hybrid Metaphor: From Biology to Culture”, The Journal of American Folklore 112(4)/1999, pp. 254-267.

Victor Turner, The Ritual. Structure and Anti-Structure. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press 1977.

Jakob v. Uexküll, Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere, Berlin: Springer 1921.

Jeanette Zwingenberger (ed.), L’homme-paysage: Visions artistiques du paysage anthropomorphe entre le XVIe et le XXIe siècle, Paris: Somogy Éditions d’Art 2006.

Fig. nr. 1: Video documentation of the performance, QR Code. Or see 


© Daniel Aschwanden, Vera Sebert, Lucie Strecker 2023. All rights reserved, including the reproduction of extracts or figures.