The Tragedy of the Commons is an installation piece created by artists Ali Momeni and Robin Meier, produced in collaboration with the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Momeni and Meier, who share a background in electronic and experimental music, collaborate in this "live experiment" which visually renders mechanisms of social manipulation inspired by G. Hardin book, The Tragedy of the Commons.
The installation displays thousands of Atta ants, also known as leafcutter ants, as they react to various scents and flavors inserted into their environment. Momeni and Meier have designed a unique environment for the ants, whose collective behavior is determined by external stimuli. Adjacent microphones and cameras track the ants' movements, allowing viewers to observe their particular behaviors in a time lapse video. Hardin's 1968 text melds ecological and economic aspects to assert the great effects which living beings have on environmental factors depending on limited resources in a market system. Relating to Hardin's text, the ants are given a type of "food stock market," where varying amounts and types of leaves are provided at different times. This process gives a value to the ants' food choices which affects their behavior. These behavioral changes and patterns may be observed through the multiple media such as sound and video which are implemented in the installation.
The Atta ant colony is on generous loan from the Cleveland Botanical Garden.