If you're an artist or designer interested in applying your creative skills to life sciences, chances are that you've heard about Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Awards, an international competition that invites artists and designers to submit proposals to a jury of experts and develop them in close collaboration with The Netherlands most prestigious Life Sciences research institutes. The outcome of the competition range from the outrageously bold (the now famous bulletproof skin) to the ambitiously eco-friendly.
The winners of this year's edition of the competition are Charlotte Jarvis who recently talked to me about her Ergo Sum project, Howard Boland and Laura Cinti with The Living Mirror (more about this one soon, i hope) and Haseeb Ahmed who is planning to digitally fabricate a Fish Bone Chapel.
The artist is teaming up with the Netherlands Toxico-Genomics Center and Prof. Jos Kleinjans to build an architectural structure which, as its name suggests, will be made of fish bones. The vertebrae vaults, scaled walls and beating circulation systems of this architecture are derived from enlarged 3D prints and the skeletal structure of fish exposed to mutagenic toxins. Haseeb is working with the zebra fish, an animal often used for genetic testing as it is technically not considered to be animals for the first 5 days of their life
Ultimately however, the work also asks whether we can see past the dangerous connotations of mutation and regard it as a medium to generate new forms.
The more i read about the project, the more curious i grew so i contacted Hasseb Ahmed who patiently answered my many questions:
The Fish Bone Chapel draws a historical connection with the Capuchin Crypt located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome. The crypt is decorated with the skeletal remains of 4,000 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order, as a silent reminder of our own mortality.
Hi Haseeb! Your project, The Fish Bone Chapel, 'is a hybrid building, existing of fish bones.' I'm sorry but i'll have to start with the most mundane question because i imagine a chapel to be rather big and i suspect your final prototype might not rise to ambitious heights. So how tall, how big can the chapel be? And will it adopt a shape that people associate with the one of a chapel?
The Fish Bone Chapel is indeed the scale of a building. The goal has always been to create a spatial experience in which one can literally inhabit genomics research and in particular the mutations in Zebra Fish skeletons induced by exposure to toxins from embryo to adult.
My work will be sited in the atrium of the the current depot of the Naturalis Museum and former Royal Museum for Natural History built in the early 1900's. This atrium already has a kind of pseudo-Dutch Protestant religious architecture complete with niches, vaulted ceilings, and chandeliers. However, instead of religious iconography it features iguanas, snails, and fish. My aim is to create works that build onto this architecture with arches of my own, ornaments, and chandeliers so that the space appears as though it was made to host the Fish Bone Chapel all along. My reference is the Capucine Bone Chapels of Southern Italy which use the bones of former Monks to construct architectural features. In my case it's Fish not Brothers. That was one concept of Life and Death given by Catholocism and I want to address the new intermediate stages of life and death brought about by Genomics research and its legal apparatus.
Interesting enough the central 'altar piece' is at the base of a stairwell often drawn by M.C. Escher in his labyrinthine works and I will play up on this as well.
The description of the project also mentions beating circulation systems which makes me think that the work will have some kind of life in it. Is that so?
I am exploring this idea right now. Reading some scientific reports on testing on Zebra Fish hearts I have found that scientists can create alternative beats with them. It was the names that they give the beat that inspired me like 'Chiller' or 'Be-Boy' and I've started to track them down. There is the possibility that things will move but this is still something I am experimenting with. There are many ways of creating movement, a building itself is a kind of organism. This is the linkage I am trying to draw out. The work will include some Zebra Fish i myself have been raising- I call these the Chapel Fish- many of the forms are based from these particular fish. I think the fish is important for scale as well. In the end however, my project is also interested in the dead or 'not yet alive' rather then the living.
So now that we've roughly established what visitors of the exhibition will be able to see in June, how are you going to make this chapel exactly?
It is commonly thought by geneticists and society in general that mutation is dangerous or deadly- however, I would like to look at mutation as a way of generating new forms- and quite literally so.
I am working with Embryos that have been exposed to toxins which create particular malformations often visible in the skeletal structure. It is possible that the toxins themselves may alter the genetics of the animals as well.
The embryos I am working with are only millimeters big. Using CT scans I am creating a 3D virtual models of the embryos. In the virtual world scale is relative. It is a cartesian space of x, y, and z, however, a space on the ground or 'C-Plane' can be one millimeter or one kilometer. It is relative. From here I isolate, scale up, and modify elements of the fish skeletons so they can be used as building blocks for the architectural artwork. I am printing out these pieces using a 3D printer custom made by MaukCC for this project.
Because the printer builds up a piece one .125 mm at a time it will take an eternity to 3D print the entire work- so I am making molds of these elements or printing out the molds themselves and casting multiples in ceramic-like plasters. I've come up with a kind of 'poem' to describe the process:
"Bones as Bits
If i understood correctly from what you said to an interview you did a few weeks ago with Georgius Papadakis your project will use the zebra-fish because you are legally able to make tests on the animal for 5 days. Can you explain us in details the law it is submitted to? And how you want to explore this loop-hole?
I am interested in Zebra Fish because the bio-tech industry and geneticists in academia have become increasingly interested on them. I am also interested in how the bio-tech industry and academia are becoming more and more indistinguishable and how law and capital is shaping research itself.
Zebra Fish are an ideal test case for genetics research for a few reasons. Firstly they are relatively see-through, they breed in multitudes, and last but most importantly for the first 5 days of their life they are not considered animals at all- allowing scientists any freedom in experimentation during this time without the costly procedures of ethics committees. For the first 5 days of their life the Zebra Fish still holds onto the yolk of its egg for nutrients as it develops from embryo to adult. However, the definition of a living animal is that it must be free moving and able to sustain itself independently by eating. So the Zebra fish is considered 'Organic Material' rather than an Animal.
This is protected under the 15th amendment of the EU constitution. Interestingly enough, this amendment protects against animal testing in rodents and apes and also ensures abortion rights. Bound up in this is the definition of what we consider to be life itself.
The forms which I am using from the Zebra Fish are the outcomes of the genetics research itself- in this way I hope to bring this emergent situation as the general framework for my artwork.
For the project, you are teaming up with the Netherlands Toxigenomics Centre. What form does the collaboration take exactly? Is it you dictating what needs to be done and they execute your instructions or is the experience more hands-on from your part?
My collaboration with the NTC takes a few different forms. I do most of the work hands on- visiting the labs, collecting samples, attending the CT scanning, and this all informs my own production when I bring the materials into the studio which becomes a kind of extension of the Lab. Even the act of looking through the microscope at embryos is an important experience and there is a difference at looking through the mirrored micro scope of the scientific illustrators at Naturalis. Naturalis has also become a good collaborator in this work.
Since I am not trained as a geneticist each conversation I have informs my work and I am often in a crash course on genetics research which adds new complexities to my project. Often times these details are mundane to the scientist themselves however, they occupy a specialized place that very few people see or experience and yet affects us all and increasingly so as biotechnology and synthetic biology develops in the coming years. Close collaboration with the director Dr. Jos Kleinjans is key in getting things done and getting informed.
The NTC is primarily concerned with the way that long-term exposure to toxins may affect the very genetic composition of humans and animals alike. For example in the Netherlands people drink a long of milk and consume a lot of dairy products. Accepting the milk of another animal itself is a relatively new feature of human biology- however cows eat quite a lot of pesticides which we in turn take in. How will this alter our physiology at the level of DNA and cell replication? There are high stakes for example with Thalidomide- a sleeping agent prescribed to pregnant women in the 1970's resulting in severe birth deformations.
I am working with materials that the NTC is already generating and specifically at their Zebra Fish Lab at the RIVM run by Dr. Aldert Piersma and research conducted by soon-to-be-Dr. Sanne Hermsen. A range of toxins are tested on Zebra Fish embryos and from here certain bio-markers in the fish are measured to see what has been altered. Is it longer or shorter, is its spine curved or straight? Does it have big eyes, small eyes, or no eyes? and so on.
To me it is important to work within the bounds of the research conducted towards making a kind of critical mirror of it and I believe that more can be done with these resulting forms than the particular results sought by the researchers.
More generally, are there existing examples of use of genomics in architecture?
As far as I can see there is very little carry over from genomics to architecture. There are a few categories where they meet- for example the category of Morphology is used both in design and in genetics. It allows one to see change over time. So the chair 'evolves' as a species of bird might- or might now. this is a way of looking at the world in terms of form and shape grammars. In the 19th century there was a more explicit relationship between biology art, and architecture for example in the canonical tests of Karl Blossfeldt: Art Forms in Nature, Owen Jones' The Grammar of Ornament, or Ernst Haeckel's Sea Life drawings in Art Forms in Nature. This expressed itself in ornament much fundamentally- as we see in Rococo and its tendrils and shells.
I am currently advised by Nimish Biloria at the HyperBody Studio in TU Delft who are kind of successors of this tendency after the introduction of the computers to produce dynamic architecture and with a purely functionalist bent. Though the movement of the Blobject (Greg Lynn, Xefirotarch, the whole architecture school of SciArch in LA) has been much discredited I find this futurism fascinating in the idea that one's body might become co-extensive with the architecture however I still prefer the alienation from a space brought by brutalist architecture. Why do we want a building to react to us?
Today there are some novel ideas that imagine utopian futures where one might Grow their own homes like that of Mitchell Joachim or Rachel Armstrong's vision. I think my work is situated in this scenario however within the field of computational architecture I see my role as making a critique of eco-tech ideology. I make this explicit in using the same tools as they do i.e. digital fabrication. That being said I do think that developments in the field of synthetic biology should be redirected for use in art if not architecture. Art must address the status of technology that defines our world- if art hopes to address that world at all. Function of architecture often gets in the way. The fish bone chapel is at the scale of architecture but it is an artwork if this distinction is important. In my mind artwork allows for a wastage that is visible for all to see without any clear legitimations.
All images courtesy Haseeb Ahmed.
I'm just back from a few days in Madrid where i visited the jaw-dropping vast new headquarters of Medialab Prado. More about that soon. I did however find some time to visit a couple of exhibitions in town. Including Anonymization at La Casa Encendida.
In this photo series, Robert Harding Pittman acutely documents the exportation of the Los Angeles-style model of urban development to other countries such as Spain, France, Germany, Greece, United Arab Emirates and South Korea.
Anonymization presents under an implacable light a landscape of anonymity made of shopping malls, vast parking lots, arrays of unfinished houses that look exactly the same, green golf courses in the middle of desert areas, etc.
The photos highlight that urban sprawl has no soul, character nor regard for the cultural, social, ecological or even meteorological context. The absence of any human figure in the photos render the alienation even more striking.
In all of places that I photographed, developers almost always feel that they need to build a golf course in their development in order to attract homebuyers, the photographer told Fototazo. Even though many residents do not play golf, it provides them with a feeling of luxury, leisure and well-being, just as does the palm tree. Not only is the green golf course crucial, but so is the green lawn around one's house, even if one lives in a desert. Obviously water problems are thus also universal in sprawl built in sunny, arid climates, where much of the building has occurred in the recent future.
The other common element to sprawl all over the world is the dependency on the car and the pollution, the lack of social interaction and the alienation that this creates. Also it results in that those who cannot drive, the youth and many elderly, become immobile.
The exhibition is accompanied by a series of facts and figures related to the issue of urban sprawl and mass construction. Bear with me, the texts exhibited were in spanish. Often translated from english. I couldn't always find the original so i did a reverse translation back to english:
- Dubai is the fastest growing city in the world. Some 20% of the cranes in the world are working there.
- Dubai 2009: " At the airport, hundreds of cars have apparently been abandoned in recent weeks. Keys are left in the ignition and maxed out credit cards and apology letters in the glove box."
United Kingdom, 2006:
Fototazo has an interview with the photographer.
Anonymization is at La Casa Encendida in Madrid through May 26, 2013.
Available on Amazon USA. Sorry, I couldn't find it on amazon UK.
Book Description: The "Unpleasant Design" book is a collection of different research approaches to a phenomenon experienced by all of us. Unpleasant design is a global fashion with many examples to be found across cities worldwide, manifested in the form of "silent agents" that take care of behaviour in public space, without the explicit presence of authorities. Photographs, essays and case studies of unpleasant urban spaces, urban furniture and communication strategies reveal this pervasive phenomenon. With contributions by Adam Rothstein, Francesco Morace and Heather Stewart Feldman, Vladan Jeremic, Dan Lockton, Yasmine Abbas, Gilles Paté, Adam Harvey and many others, the book is in an attempt to recognise this nascent discipline within contemporary design taxonomies.
Unpleasant Design landed on my doorsteps a few days ago. I opened the envelope, grabbed the book and uttered a loud "Who's the idiot who designed this?!?" because the sleeve around the cover was made of sandpaper. Sandpaper!
I then read the title of the book and had to admit that it was a very clever idea.
Each of us has met examples of unpleasant design as we go through the city. The bench that is uncomfortable to sit on for more than 10 minutes, the trash can specially designed so that you can't sit on it nor stuff big bag of garbage inside, the anti-sticker coating on lamp posts, etc. I guess most of us don't really pay attention but they do coerce us to use the city in a prescribed, restricted way. And then there's unpleasant design for the unhappy few: benches with armrests in the middle so that the homeless can't lay down and sleep on it, blue lights in bathrooms and tunnels preventing drug users to spot their veins, an aluminium bar with spikes on it found in corners of buildings and alleys that is angled so that pee would end on your feet (a popular design in The Netherlands apparently), structures to remind pigeons that they are not welcome in town, or CCTV cameras that target specific race and age groups. And of course, there's that notorious mosquito device.
Unpleasant Design dresses the portraits of bullying urban furniture, looks at the specific strategies behind its design, comments on the use and control of public and semi-public spaces. After having had the book in your sandpapered hands, you won't look at your city with the same eyes, i'm sure.
The book documents and casts a critical eye on design motivated by policies of exclusion but, and that's what makes the book such an inspiring lecture, it also looks at how individuals, artists, activists are responding to urban unpleasantness.
Authors Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic have spent over a year researching forms of social unpleasantness, taking photos wherever they went, writing down ideas and talking with people who are also denouncing and resisting unpleasant design. The resulting essays and interviews are enclosed in the book. Among my favourite are: Survival Group's photos and comments about Anti-Sites (the spaces designed to prevent homeless people or simply weary passersby to sit down and have a rest), Vladan Jeremic's look at the hidden politics of garbage removal in Belgrade, an interview with the insightful and witty urban hacktivist Florian Rivière, a discussion with 'neo-nomad' Yasmine Abbas, another one with Dan Lockton of Design with Intent, the interview with Gilles Paté, the 'fakir' of urban spaces, etc. Add to that, plenty of case studies, examples of artistic devices and ideas that create and fight unpleasant design but also the outcome of a competition about unpleasant design.
Two of the winning projects of the Unpleasant Design competition:
A maze lock for public toilets, bars and restaurants to avoid drunkards entering the toilet and passing out or damaging the property.
SI8DO is a social-integration urban furniture designed to improve the working conditions of immigrants who work at the traffic lights selling tissues.
The programme of Project Space, the quiet gallery by the side entrance of Tate Modern, almost in front of the gadget shop, is often bolder, brainier and more socially-engaged than Tate's more blockbuster offerings (the Lichtenstein retrospective is a joy, btw.) Project Space is now showing Ruins in Reverse, a small-ish exhibition that takes its title from a a paragraph from an essay that land artist Robert Smithson wrote in 1967 while he was visiting industrial ruins in New Jersey: That zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is -all the new construction that would eventually be built. This is the opposite of the 'romantic ruin' because the buildings don't fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built. This anti-romantic mise-en-scène suggests the discredited idea of time and many other 'out of date' things. (...)'
Six artists were invited to show existing or specially commissioned work that consider the -sometimes fictitious- relationship between historical monuments and urban ruins.
No More Stars (Star Wars) is perhaps the series that most clearly embodies the idea behind the show. Rä di Martino photographed the quietly decaying Star Wars movie sets in the deserts of Tunisia, which now look like an undusted archaeological site. I like the fact that her photos intrigue and attract the eye even if at first, you have no idea that they show the dissolving remains of a cult sc-ifi movie.
Pablo Hare's Monuments series documents the proliferation of public statuary on public squares and in the landscape of the young Republic of Peru. These dolphins, dinosaurs, Ancient Greece-style statues and other sculptures are sad rather than majestic and are often at odds with the spirit of a place they are supposed to epitomize.
Eliana Otta's Archaeology as Fiction surveys and maps the decline of Lima's (analogical) record industry since its 1960s and 70s heyday, and the concurrent construction boom taking place in Lima.
The artist wrote down the addresses she could find printed on the records she owns and hunted for their location in the city. Most have disappeared and the buildings are either crumbling or have been replaced by offices of the Opus Dei.
The installation at Tate shows cassettes, photos, CDs, vinyls, lyrics written by hands or printed, etc. Each artefact has a material relationship to music and to an era that might now look like fiction to people who grew up with digital culture.
Haroon Mirza's sound installation Cross Section of a Revolution combines turntables, radio set and computer keyboards, fragments of technological obsolescence that form part of our domestic archaeology, with intangible fragments of the fast-paced Internet era. A TV monitor is repurposed to deliver a YouTube clip of a public speaking competition in Lahore. The turntable assemblage emits a repetitive electronic sound. It sounds like cacophony, i've no clue what the guy on the screen is talking about but the result is rather engrossing.
This way for the video.
Other works include Amalia Pica's video On Education showing a man painting an equestrian statue and a commission by José Carlos Martinat which explores the idea of the neglected urban ruin. The artist hung resin skins peeled from Lima's city walls by the windows of Tate Modern. They show ads and graffiti and they assume a whole new meaning when hanging inside the museum space.
Center for the Aesthetic Revolution has more photos and info.
Project Space: Ruins in Reverse is curated by Flavia Frigeri at Tate Modern and Sharon Lerner Museo de Arte de Lima. The exhibition is at Tate Modern, Project Space, Level 1 until 24 June 2013.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired tonight.
This week we'll be talking to Liam Young, a speculative architect whose work use fictional near-future scenarios in order to make us reflect upon the social, architectural and political consequences of emerging biological and technological futures.
Liam is a founder of Tomorrows Thoughts Today, a think tank that explores the possibilities of fantastic, imaginary and even perverse urbanisms.
Liam also runs the rather fascinating Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic workshop that travels to the most intriguing places on this planet in order to investigate forgotten landscapes, alien terrains and industrial ecologies. The Unknown Fields Division have traveled to locations as different from each other (and from our own daily environment) as the Amazon, the Alaska, the mining landscapes of the Australia Outback, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and more recently the Roswell Crash Site.
If that were not enough, Liam is also one of the curators of this year's Lisbon Architecture Triennale.
My conversation with Liam today is going to focus on Under Tomorrows Sky, a project that will be shown at the Triennale. The first bricks of 'Under Tomorrows Sky' were laid last Summer, at the MU Foundation in Eindhoven, where Liam was joined by a group of scientists, technologists, futurists, science fiction writers and even special effects artists to collectively imagine and build a room sized miniature model of a fictional, future city.
The show will be aired today Thursday 21st February at 17:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
Image on the homepage: Under Tomorrows Sky concept art by Daniel Dociu.
A couple of weeks ago, i attended the Performing Architecture evening at Tate Britain. The event attempted to answer the questions 'What does performance have to do with architecture?' and 'How can a building perform, and how can we perform a building?' Call me an ignorant but i had never heard about Performance Architecture so i'm gathering here a few notes i wrote down during the Late at Tate night. I hope to get a chance to explore performance architecture with more details in the near future.
The most enlightening introduction to the practice was probably the discussion that Tate Curator Marianne Mulvey had with performance architect Alex Schweder and Lamis Bayar , Associate Editor of Le Journal Spéciale'Z.
Performance architecture is an emerging term but it comes from a long history of performance art. Emblematic examples would be Yves Klein's Air Architecture and his iconic Leap into the Void in 1960. Performance architecture also builds upon the works of avant garde architecture studios such as Haus-Rucker-Co, Archigram and Superstudio.
While architecture is usually prescriptive, performance architecture has to do with permission. It gives more agency to the people who occupy or pass through a building, urging them to explore and open up a building.
For the Late at Tate event, Schweder and Bayar scattered instructions inviting visitors to 'perform' Tate's Duveen Galleries. The examples of performance architecture taken from Schweder's portfolio might explain the concept with more clarity:
For 5 days, Schweder and Ward Shelley lived in Counterweight Roommate, a twiglike building made for two occupants of the same weight. Movement in the house depends on using the body mass of one's roommate as a counter weight to aid ascent or slow descent. When one occupant wishes to go up to the kitchen at the top level, the other must go down to the bathroom at the bottom. Between these two rooms are two private sleep / work rooms on levels two and four, and a common room at level three where the ends of the rope meet.
The same pair spent a whole week living inside Stability, a wooden seesaw with two beds, a kitchen and a bathroom. The structure moved up and down whenever either of the occupants decided to move from one room to another. The work was about the negotiations and moments of cooperation that take place when several people share a living space as the position of one of the dweller immediately affects the comfort of the other occupant.
Other projects that the architect mentioned in his talk included giving instructions to people to 'paint this floor until it touches the ceiling' and asking people to breathe warm air as soon as they entered an adjacent room where the temperature is always lower (the room was used to store meat in the past.) Imperceptibly and over time, the breath of the visitors raised the temperature of the second room.
The rest of the evening included more talks, a couple of performances, a workshop, and a series of famous and less famous short films such as Gordon Matta-Clark's spiralling 'cut' that breathed light and air into two derelict 17th century buildings in Paris.
Two films that document Absalon living within his experimental Cellules, 1:1 architectural propositions for idealised living-pods scaled to, and designed to condition, the sculptor's body and mind.
A film by Thomas Lock that deconstructs northern France's abandoned WW2 bunkers and Atlantic Wall into a time-based collage of fractured imagery and sound.
As well as Sean Snyder's Dallas Southfork in Hermes Land that follows a Romanian oligarch's re-creation of the ranch from the TV show Dallas - one of the few American TV programmes broadcast under Ceausescu's Cold War rule.