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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Robots are transforming surgery. The Da Vinci Surgical System, for example, allows long and complicated procedures to be performed with super human precision and dexterity. All while decreasing patient trauma and providing a more comfortable experience for the surgeon.

Costing up to $2.000.000 however, a surgical robot represents large capital investments and only becomes cost effective after intensive use and thus fits into a more "market driven" concept of healthcare that indirectly contributes to the overall rising medical expenditures.

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A surgeon sitting in an ergonomic control console, a few meters removed from the operating table, uses specialized joysticks to control a variety of tiny surgical instruments attached to robotic arms

One of the corollaries of expensive professional healthcare is the rise of communities of uninsured Americans who share videos on Youtube to demonstrate how they performed medical hacks on themselves.


Henry Knoll, How to make your own dental fillings to performing minor amateur surgery, $5 DIY Cosmetic Dentistry, 2009

Designer Frank Kolkman, a new graduate of the Design Interactions course at the Royal College of Art in London, wondered if a compromise could be found. His OpenSurgery project investigates whether building DIY surgical robots, outside the scope of healthcare regulations, could provide an accessible alternative to the costly professional healthcare services worldwide.

There have been several attempts within the robotics community to come up with cheaper and more portable surgical robots. The RAVEN II Surgical robot, for example, was initially developed with funding from the US military to create a portable telesurgery device for battlefield operations. The machine is valued at $200.000 and all of the software used to control the RAVEN II has been made open source. However, The Raven doesn't have the (often costly) safety and quality control systems in place, required by regulation to allow it to be used on humans meaning that it might take a while before the RAVEN II will be fully embraced by regulatory and commercial worlds. In any case, most medical hacker communities would still be unable to afford its $200.000 price tag.

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

For the past five months, Kolkman has thus been trying to build a DIY surgical robot for around $5000, by using accessible prototyping techniques like laser cutting and 3d printing and by sourcing as many ready-made parts as he could find.

Designing a surgical robot that could perform laparoscopic surgery (a surgery so minimally invasive that it is also called keyhole surgery) presents a number of challenges. The designer found an answer to each of them:

- the many laporoscopic tools that the robot would have to handle can be ordered directly from their Chinese manufacturers using Alibaba.
- these tools are usually sterilized in an autoclave, a machine that uses high pressure and hot steam that is not very likely to be accessible to many people. The bulky machine could be replaced by a domestic oven (for stainless steel instruments) or a microwave (for plastic parts.)
- Kolkman also replaced the trocar, a medical device that functions as a portal for the subsequent placement of other instruments, with a design that uses 3d printed parts controlled by DC servo motors that rotate around a central pivotal point.

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery (domestic sterilization), 2015

The electronics to control the robots were copied from designs used in 3d printer communities, while the software was build with Processing.

The main challenge the designer encountered however was intellectual property. In a bid to make the project open source, Kolkman tried to develop his own mechanisms. Unfortunately, it appeared that most of the fundamental concepts that allow robotic surgery have already been patented. Fortunately, he also found out that as long as you make parts protected by intellectual property in private and for non commercial purposes they are theoretically exempted from patent infringement.


Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

After five months of iteration, the robot does move. The designer concludes:

And based on my experiences the concept of a DIY surgical robot is surprisingly plausible. If you would be able to build a community of makers who bring the same amount of attention and dedication to building surgical tools as they do to designing 3d printers and cnc machines these days, I believe accessible DIY surgery equipment would be within reach.

And of course you still need a trained surgeon to operate the machine.

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Fundación Telefonica

For a number of years, artist Gilberto Esparza has been using recycled electronics, alternative forms of energy and other modern technologies to investigate the action of human beings on the environment. His Urban Parasites are small robotic insects made of recycled consumer goods. They climb, crawl and hang over the urban space in search of any source of energy they can feed on. In 2010, he developed Nomadic Plants, a robot hosting living plants and microorganisms. Whenever its 'guests' need to be fed, the autonomous robot will move towards a contaminated river and drink water from it. Through a process of microbial fuel cells, the elements contained in the water are transformed into energy that powers its circuits. The cleaned up water is then sprayed onto the plants.

Like Nomadic Plants, but on a larger scale, Esparza's new research project makes use of microbial fuel cells technology to produce electricity and improve the quality of water.

Autophotosynthetic Plants takes the form a hybrid, self-regulating organism. Part machine, part organic ecosystem, it feeds on organisms found into the sewage water of Lima, Peru, in order to create its own light, energy and be self-sufficient.

As any living organism, Autophotosynthetic Plants features a central system where microorganisms, crustaceans and algae live; a digestive system where bacteria feed on polluted water and transform it into cleaner water that can be used for photosynthesis; and a nervous system made of an electronic network that monitors the activities of the organic parts.

The process is probably better explained in the video below:

The modules create hydraulic network that administers bio-filtered water to the central container, creating an optimal environment where producer species and consumer species from different trophic levels (protzoans, crustaceans, micro algae and aquatic plants) can achieve homeostatic equilibrium. The electricity produced by the bacteria is released as intervals of luminous energy, enabling photosynthesis by the plants that inhabit the central container which thereby complete their metabolic processes. When the organic material present in the microbial cells has been entirely consumed, an electronic monitoring networks pumps out the byproducts generated by the species that inhabit the nuclear ecosystem to the modular cells, restoring the cycle.

The ambitious project not only suggests that polluted water can be used as a source of energy but it also stands as a model that could potentially be applied to other cities, communities and industries.

I contacted the artist to know more about the project (Scroll down if you prefer to read the interview in Spanish):

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Fundación Telefonica

Hi Gilberto! Where do the electricity-bacteria come from? Did you find them existing already in the contaminated water? Or were there introduced from another source? Are they the same bacterias as in Plantas nomadas?

The bacteria come from the rivers where the samples are taken. One of the bacteria commonly found in organic waste is the Geobacter which has been used in various studies to generate energy by microbial fuel cells. It is the same system that Nomadic Plants is using.

The obvious question is: could the system be implemented on a large scale? Going thus from the scale of an art installation in an exhibition room to a fully functional system used for a whole area of the city?

Yes, all the research centers that are working with this technology have that possibility in mind. The idea is to implement the use of microbial cells in wastewater treatment plants to reduce the power consumption that the plant requires.

Does the system require a lot of maintenance and attention? Or does it pretty much manage itself without any help from you or from scientists?

The installation has analog electronics and multiple sensors that auto-regulate the functioning of the installation. The only maintenance consists in aliment it with wastewater each time a biodegradation cycle ends.

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Christian Sánchez

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Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Christian Sánchez

In the video, you explain that you took water from various parts of the city and that each zone of the city had its own level and type of pollution. Could you explain a bit more? How does that translate in the installation? Do the various types of polluted water require different bacteria? produce different intensity or types of energy?

It depends on the area where the samples were taken. In industrial areas, for example, you can find a higher amount of toxic waste that sometimes inhibit bacteria. In other sectors of the city, household waste generate more organic matter. In those waters bacteria feed on this waste and produce more energy and this energy is reflected in the installation in the form in flashes of light that are more intense and that make aquatic plants perform their photosynthetic processes better.

In the video, we see visitors entering the room of Plantas autofotosintéticas wearing a mask. Is it because the installation has a bad smell? Or is dangerous to breathe in? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wyL4jRlqbY

The installation emits bad smells and presents a source of infection for visitors, so we decided to protect them. I find this approach to the work interesting because those same conditions are found in the urban area bordering polluted rivers and their inhabitants are exposed to them all the time.

Thanks Gilberto!

And now for the spanish version of the interview:

¿De dónde provienen las bacterias que se alimentan de electricidad? Ya existían en el agua contaminada? O lo habías introducido desde otra parte? ¿Son las mismas bacterias en Plantas nómadas?

Las bacterias provienen de los ríos de donde sacan las muestras, una de las bacterias que es muy común en donde se presentan desechos orgánicos es la Geobacter con las que se han estado haciendo diversos estudios para la generación de energía a través de celdas de combustible microbianas. Es el mismo sistema que utiliza Plantas Nómadas.

¿Se podría llevar a gran escala el sistema? Yendo solo así de la escala de una instalación de arte en una sala de exposiciones a un sistema totalmente funcional utilizada para toda una zona de la ciudad?

Sí, todos los centros de investigación que están trabajando con esta tecnología tienen presente esa posibilidad. La idea es implementar el uso de las celdas microbianas en las plantas de tratamiento de aguas residuales para disminuir el consumo de energía que la planta requiere.

¿El sistema requiere mucha atención, mantenimiento? ¿O más o menos se maneja por sí mismo sin ninguna ayuda de usted o de los científicos?

La instalación tiene una electrónica análoga y múltiples censores que autorregulan el funcionamiento de la instalación, el único mantenimiento es proveerle de aguas residuales cada que termine el ciclo de biodegradación.

En el vídeo, se explica que le "tomó agua de diversas partes de la ciudad y que cada zona de la ciudad tiene su propio nivel y tipo de contaminación. ¿Podría explicar un poco más? ¿Cómo se traduce en la instalación? ¿Los distintos tipos de aguas contaminadas requieren diferentes bacterias? produce diferentes tipos de energía o la intensidad?

Depende de la zona en donde se tomaron las muestras, se presentas distintos contaminantes por ejemplo en las zonas industriales se presentan mas desechos tóxicos que algunas veces inhiben a las bacterias. En otros sectores de la cuidad, se presentan más materia orgánica por desechos domésticos, en esas aguas las bacterias se alimentas de estos desechos y producen más energía y esta energía se manifiesta en la instalación como destellos de luz más intensos que hacen que las plantas acuáticas que habitan en el núcleo realicen mejor sus procesos fotosintéticos.

En el video, vemos a los visitantes que entran en la habitación de las Plantas autofotosintéticas con una máscara. ¿Es porque la instalación tiene un mal olor? ¿O es peligroso para respirar?

La instalación despide malos olores y representa un foco de infección para los espectadores, por eso se decidió protegerlos. Esta aproximación a la obra me interesa porque esas mismas condiciones se encuentran en las zona urbanas que colindan con los ríos contaminados y que sus habitantes están expuestos todo el tiempo.

¡Muchas gracias Gilberto!

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring. Photo: Carina-Hesper

In the South of Spain runs a river so red and soalien-looking that the Spain tourism board is marketing it as Mars on Earth. NASA scientists even came to the area to investigate the ecosystem for its similarities to the planet Mars.

Due (mostly) to the intense mining for copper, silver, gold, and other mineral in the area, the Rio Tinto is highly acidic, its water has a low oxygen content and it is made dense by the metals it carries in suspension. Its deep reddish hue is caused by the iron dissolved in the water.

Cecilia Jonsson visited the region to collect some of the wild grass that grows on the borders of the Rio Tinto. The name of that grass is Imperata cylindrica. It is a highly invasive weed and its other particularity is that it is an iron hyperaccumulater, which means that the plant literally drinks up the metal in the soil and stores high levels of it in its leaves, stems and roots.

The artist harvested 24kg of Imperata cylindrica and worked with smiths, scientists, technicians and farmers in order to extract the iron ore from the plants and use it to make an iron ring. The innovative experiment brought together the biological, the industrial, the technological and even craft to create a piece of jewellery that weights 2 grams. The project also suggests a way to reverse the contamination process while at the same time mining iron ore from the damaged environment.

While "green mining" aims for a more ecological approach to mining metals, The Iron Ring explores how contaminated mining grounds may benefit from the mining of metals.

Cecilia Jonsson's mining adventures are detailed in the e-book of the project but i found her investigation into the overlaps between nature and technology so fascinating that i contacted her in the hope that she'd agree to an interview. And lucky me, she did!

Hi Cecilia! I am very curious to know more about the way you, as someone who was primarily trained to be an artist, approach the science/technology side of your projects. Do you typically work with experts to assist you in your research? Or do you just learn the skills and work on your own? Or maybe a bit of both?

My constructions are a combination of hypothesizing outcomes plus trial and error, especially within parameters of biology, physics and technology. Informed by methods used in the natural sciences and empirical material in a site-related context. Mostly they take the form as installation which are the result of intense field work.

The Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier claimed that the great error of the Surrealists was their own lack of faith: they tried to create the marvelous without really believing in it. "Objects" are often a living metaphor of their own history, their formation. To follow their trace through a wide flow of informative perspectives captures a reverberant relation of objective and subjective distinctions in a sort of intermingled morphology. Built on this quantitative data, the cluster eventually starts to web. When the notion of reality shifts into real it has become a concrete term. Which directs me to sites, material, methods and technologies including disseminated collaborations within other disciplines.

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring. Photo: Carina-Hesper

The Iron Ring is an incredible project. You extracted iron from plants and made a ring from what you collected. How did you discover the existence of those iron-containing plants?

Since iron is not the most toxic pollutant, has a low economical and symbolic value and can be virtually scooped up from everywhere, it was tricky to apply the idea to the knowledge base of present-day remediation processes. The research started around five years ago, from my interest for iron in its intrinsic qualities and paradoxical changes. I was looking into experiments of electro-culture, plant communication and how plants can be applied as analytical filters, as a mirroring of their own environment. I found some plants that are more tolerant to iron and are able to grow on this type of contaminated soils. But, most coherent plant studies about efficient iron uptake mostly targeted the human perspective in relation to high organic iron content as an effective adjunct in the treatment of iron deficiency and anemia.

The research was conducted for the project The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra from 2012. The installation shows an ambiguous process of an iron hyperaccumulating plant taking up magnetized iron particles that have been scraped of from a reel-to-reel tape of Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. On a later stage the iron was extracted again, glued back to the tape and played, resulting in a reinterpretation of The Four Seasons. This work is a predecessor to The Iron Ring were I was interested in taking a more straight functional and site-specific approach to the grass unique ability to extract and encapsulate iron.

The defined iron hyperaccumulating plant with a minimum required amount of 10000 mg/kg Fe revealed in research articles on plant physiology and biochemistry from the university in Madrid. The constructive study had been conducted on the naturalized weed Imperata cylindrica. Collected from the highly acidic (pH 1.6-2) riverbanks of the Rio Tinto in the mining district Rio Tinto in South-western Spain. That model presented me results and a first equation for the calculations of the Iron Ring.

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The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra

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The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra

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The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra

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The original arrangement was for a solo violin and a string orchestra. Iron absorption: I. cylindrica, root - Spring concert. Scanning electron microscope: 5.00 KX-10 ?m. Collaboration with; Irene Heggstad and Egil Erichsen at the University of Bergen, Laboratory for Electron Microscopy

What was the most challenging aspect in the project? Were there moments you thought it was a mad idea and you'd better give up on it? Or did you know right from the start that everything would go according to plans?

I had actual figures on an expected iron content from the grass in Spain. I knew how to extract iron from organic material and had read about iron reduction and deoxidization processes. It was possible. The next step was to figure out the practical weight of how much bio-ore was actually needed for the process of making a ring of 2 grams. I made some calls to traditionally trained smiths to discuss my idea and I got suggestions on possible processes and an "about" quantity.

The greatest challenge was always the restricted iron quantity to create one ring. The problem isn't the metal but its proportion of mass (quote). The thin ring is a complex form to cast even with industrial produced iron. Cast iron is very susceptible to loss of metallization at high temperatures, such as the melt temperature required for the cast. A consequence of this is that with each new attempt we made there was a continuous formation of slag and an equal loss of iron. The inclusion of even small amounts of some elements can have profound effects. Because of the impurities in cast iron and its crystalline structure, it is a strong material in compression but weak in tension and very brittle. As a result, when it fails, it does so in an explosive manner, with little warning.

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Cecilia Jonsson, The Iron Ring

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Exhibition of The Iron RIng at V2_ Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Photo; Jan Sprij

The project starts with humble plants and end up with a tiny little ring. But what I found amazing was the amount of craft, heavy industrial processes and knowledge required to go from plant to ring. What have you learnt about the flow of organic matter while working on the project?

From working with iron as material, the matter itself as well as on its interaction with the living. The Iron Ring has really broadened my understanding of the complexity of ecosystems. From the field to the laboratory-scale to craftsmanship and industry, I have had a proper opportunity to build collaborations with proficiency on a wide scale. Their engagement to think out of the box and the connectedness to sort of re-invent and re-discover iron production in our industrial age, has really made a strong impression.

The Iron Ring also highlights the toxic impact of mineral exploitation on the environment. However, you write in the description of the project: "The result is a scenario for iron mining that, instead of furthering destruction, could actually contribute to the environmental rehabilitation of abandoned metal mines." Could you elaborate on this rehabilitation of the abandoned mines? How would that work? What would it be like?

The abandoned mines in Rio Tinto are a no man's land. Apart from tourists who come to visit the unworldly sites, the area continues its forgotten glory to slump and erode. Rio Tinto has a dark, long history of being exploited for ferrous and non-ferrous minerals, copper, gold, silver and lead and due to its historical perspective the rightful ownership of the excavated mess is undefined and beyond present laws of remediation. To stabilize or reduce contamination of sites like Rio Tinto, you first need to analyse the soil and from that result, plant several different types of hyperaccumulating and tolerant green plants.

The project elaborates on this possibility to utilize the cleansing process of the naturalized grass, which overlooked ability is left unutilized. The project proposes to harvest the grass for the purpose of extracting the ore that is inside them. The idea of the ring is to complete the circle, to maintain the clean-up commitment. So that when the soil is stabilized, other native plants can be introduced to restore the biodiversity and help bring back the heritage of flora that was lost through the human activity.

There are many layers behind the "rehabilitation" statement. Which under controlled conditions could include the naturalized grass: Imperata cylindrica in a remediation process where its biomass is utilized for iron production. A larger harvest would also contribute to less complications and a more refined iron production with less slag and more iron in just two steps. Going back to the complexity of ecosystems and my second connotation of the "rehabilitation". Which is to utilize the already inhabited weed to be able to control its spread in the environment. Imperata cylindrica is an aggressive fast-growing perennial grass that can and has become an ecological threat. It's listed as one of the ten worst weeds in the world and is placed on the U.S. Federal Noxious Weed list, which prohibits new plantings. The grass does not survive in cultivated areas but establishes along roadways, in forests and mining areas, where it forms dense mats of thatch that shade and outcompete native plants.

The enigma of use- and exchange-value enchants me as well as the perspectives on precious matter and how it earns its cultural weight. Something that I think Ralph W. Emerson beautifully formulates in What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. A metal is deemed to be precious if it is rare and on account of its material nature and rarity, the high value is linked to its cost of extraction.

How long did the whole process take? From the moment you found the plants to the final realization of the ring?

From when the first plant community was found in Spain to the ring had become one continuous solid, 5 weeks of intensive work.

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Stratigrafi

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Stratigrafi

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Stratigrafi

Could you explain what we can see in the photos of the installation Stratigrafi? What is the strange metallic sculpture?

Stratigrafi is a work developed in collaboration with colleague Signe Lidén. Thematically, we were exploring cavities, man-made places and fundamental changes of the landscape. Exploring the mine as an in-between space a geographical cavity between nature, ideas and technologies and how history works way through its forms. Signe had been in Kakanj in central Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bytom in Poland to explore coal mines. I had gathered material in relation to iron from re-vegetation institutes and large-scale surface mining in the region of the Iron Quadrangle, southeast Brazil. The installation intertwined our works where one was taken inside and introduced to impressions from these places. Representations, imitations, scent, recordings, objects and photographs from the sites.

The metal sculpture is a propane driven apparatus, a citrus distiller. The steam was forced through the citrus material and transported onward through the condenser where the temperature is lowered and consistently forms refined acidic drops and erosion. In the windows scorched wood were piled up and filling the room with intense scent. A video without sound projected an exotic landscape in one meeting with passing carts filled with iron ore. The light table consisted of oscillating reversal film, archive material, seeds, a small projection and an exhibition text written by Roar Sletteland. The visitor obtained an auditory access to these sceneries by putting their heads into listening boxes.

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Water extraction, Geneva - Rhône: 02.11.2009 / Rain: 02.11.2009 / Arve: 02.11.2009

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Water extraction, Geneva - Rhône: 02.11.2009 / Rain: 02.11.2009 / Arve: 02.11.2009

I'm also fascinated by the work Water extraction, Geneva. The work seems to be about global warming. Could you explain the installation?

Water extraction, Geneva - Rhône: 02.11.2009 / Rain: 02.11.2009 / Arve: 02.11.2009 was a site specific work consisted of three water extracts, three modified found light bulbs and one light sourced bulb. For the installation, the wooden planks in the floor of the exhibition space were removed, uplifted and were then used to create a platform and a bridged island to the work.

The work looks at the impact that climate change is having on the glaciers and the changes it brings with it. A glacier is important for freshwater storage, while glaciers also can be regarded as reservoirs for the production of electricity through their seasonal water flow. The project focuses on the melting of the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland, which over the past ten years has lost 6% of its mass. The raising temperatures in the region have a strong influence on the seasonal runoff regime of the alpine streams. Where the Rhone glacier runoff with the residues it brings with it, is the main water source for the largest freshwater reservoir in Europe, Lake Geneva.

You are currently in Venice for a residency at the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa. What are you working on over there? What is the residency about?

It's a three months residency from February to mid May supported by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway. I'm here to develop a new work, a hydrodynamic analogy that acoustically transcribes an interdependent exchange between external forces and internal positive feedback. The Venice lagoon is a delicately balanced natural system that combines to produce one of the largest wetlands in the Mediterranean. Land and water are intermingled. An urban Lagoon, a natural Venice as Marcel Proust captures the reverberant paradox relationship. The project explores the Venice Lagoon's sedimentary environment, its dynamics and composition and is developed in collaboration with the University of Padova at the Hydrobiological Station in Chioggia in the Veneto region.

Any other upcoming exhibition, research or project you could share with us?

After Venice, I will be in Helsinki for a collaborative project on magnetotactic bacteria as part of my participation in a research platform for Art and Synthetic Biology at Biofilia, Alto University. In the fall I will undertake a three-month's residency in Marseille at Triangle France. Let's say there are a few larger research projects under development and works that are more in the making for planned venues.

Thanks Cecilia!

The Iron Ring was made possible through the support of Production Network for Electronic Art, V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media and the Arts Council Norway.

DIYsect is s documentary series 'about the DIY Biology & Biology-Art intersection' and it is rather good.

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Baltimore's Underground Science Space (BUGSS), Nurit Bar-Shai's bacteria sculpture (top middle), and Nikki Romanello in her studio in Red Hook (bottom right)

In Summer 2013, filmmaker Benjamin Welmond and artist-biologist Mary Maggic Tsang traveled across the U.S. and Canada to meet the biohackers, artists, synthetic biologists, writers and curators and talk with them about the possibilities, challenges and dilemmas brought forward by biotechnology. The result is a portrait of DIY biotech hack and biotech art by the very people who are directly involved in it.

The authors of the series write:
Our goal is to discuss the way biotechnology is changing our society: What are its political, social, and even philosophical implications? What happens when manipulating life becomes as simple as writing a line of code? And more importantly, what does this mean for average citizens and their future?

I only discovered the existence of the episodes a few days ago (thanks Adam Zaretsky!) The films are short and sharp. They are released as soon as they have been edited. For free. On vimeo. Let's go!

The first episode of the web-series, Learning in Public is of course the introductory one. The directors interview members of the DIY biology movement as well as artists such as Steve Kurtz from the Critical Art Ensemble, Claire Pentecost, and subRosa.
The image/sound synchro is a bit wonky (at least when i watched it) but don't let that discourage you from watching the episode.


DIYSECT Episode 1: Learning in Public

Episode 2: Bioterror & Bioerror gets political. It starts with the FBI bioterrorism case against Steve Kurtz and then goes on to reflect the FBI's change of tactics. Realizing its errors, the FBI is now reaching out to the DIY BIO community 'for mutual education.'

DIYSECT Episode 2: Bioterror & Bioerror

Things are gettng tricky with episode 3. Fear of the Unknown which should be out on vimeo today!

The episode delves into the discussions surrounding synthetic biology. On the one hand, a project like the Kickstarter-funded Glowing Plant is creating controversy by bringing synthetic biology to the consumer market in the form of a plant that glows in the dark. Its developers' rhetoric is fairly unconvincing (at least as far as i am concerned.) On the other hand, the technology watchdog group ETC. Its members fear the lack of regulation (the plant doesn't require any form of approval in the U.S. since it is not food) and the potentially damaging impact that the release of the plant might have on the environment. Somewhere in the middle is artist Adam Zaretsky who has long used his provocative performances to try and raise a broader debate about what is ethical or not in the field of synthetic biology. There's this great moment in the film when he explains that we don't really know what we are doing and that we need to stop and think before we 'fuck up our world' beyond human control.

On a side note, i believe we need to see more of Zaretsky's provocations and reflections here in Europe, so let's help him fund his next trip to the old continent.

Image on the homepage: Critical Art Ensemble in Halle/Saale, Germany performing "Radiation Burn: A Temporary Monument to Public Safety", October 15th 2010.

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FATBERG. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Špela Petrič, Naval Gazing. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

A bio art exhibition is a rare occurrence. A good bioart exhibition -one that makes you marvel at the art, question the science, ponders upon where all this means for society- is even more extraordinary. So if you're in, near or not ridiculously far away from Eindhoven, do go and visit Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design at MU. There's only a couple of weeks left to see the show but if i were you, i'd try and pop by on the 1st of March for the Matter of Life closing party. The subtitle of the event is Food Phreaking which sounds exciting enough.

MU and guest curator William Myers have selected nine projects 'at the intersection of life sciences, art and design.' Three of them are the winning projects of the Bio Art & Design Award 2014 (previously Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award), a competition for young artists and designers hoping to collaborate with research institutes in order to develop works that use biotechnology in critical and compelling ways. A couple more projects in the show are authored by artists who have worked with the competition in the past. But what matters more to me is that there is a good balance of speculative scenarios and very down-to-earth experiments in this exhibition. One moment you're dipping carrot sticks into a barbecue sauce made from 'supermarket mutants'. Next, you're wondering about the impact that commercial interests might have on natural selection.

Here's a quick overview of the works i haven't written about over the past few weeks. Starting with a work that took me by surprise:

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Charlotte Jarvis, Et in Arcadia Ego. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Charlotte Jarvis, Et in Arcadia Ego. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

Charlotte Jarvis is collaborating with Prof. Hans Cleavers and Dr Jarno Drost at the Hubrecht Institute to grow her own cancer tumour outside her body.

Jarvis first has to undertake a rectoscopy. The colon tissue collected will be grown in vitro and then submitted to a series of mutations that will make it cancerous.

The project is about being able to look at cancer as we would look at other parts of ourselves. I am interested in actually seeing cancer 'in the flesh' - in making tangible something that is usually discussed in metaphors and in doing this exploring (evaluating?) the function of these metaphors when faced with the actual material.

ET IN ARCADIA EGO also echoes one of Jarvis' previous works ERGO SUM in which she used stem cell technology to create a kind of 'back-up' self. While ERGO SUM explored how personalised medicine might enable us to extend our lives, the new work is using similar technology to explore the mechanisms of mortality.

The sample will also be used in professor Hans Clevers' scientific research to study how cancer occurs in the body. The cells are of particular interest to him as they are the first he will have access to coming from a healthy patient sample.

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Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible

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Invisible at MU. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible

Heather Dewey-Hagborg's most famous work, Stranger Visions, made her realize that genetic surveillance is a real threat. "It just struck me that we were having a national dialogue about electronic surveillance, but this form of biological surveillance isn't being discussed," she told The Verge.

Invisble, which she is showing as part of Matter of Life, claims to be the answer to any fear of DNA profiling we might have. Citizens eager to avoid DNA surveillance can either buy the Invisible sprays or follow the recipe and make their own. To become genetically untraceable, you need to first spray Erase to any surface where you might have left some DNA evidence. You then follow with Replace, a spray containing a blend of genes that will 'confuse' any remaining trace of DNA.

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Špela Petrič, Naval Gazing. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Špela Petrič, Naval Gazing

Špela Petrič worked with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research to build a windmill-like structure that serves as a habitat for sea life. Once released into the North Sea, the tetrahedron form would gently drift in unpredictable path, collecting sea plants, bivalves and other small creatures along the way. At some point though, the weight of the organisms accumulated will sink the whole colony.

The research, design and building of this work in the context of a research institute investigating aquaculture also challenges us with a question the artist poses "can the human fathom an investment into structures and processes that are non-utilitarian for the human?"

Naval Gazing was one of the winning projects of the BioArt & Design award. I think it was by far the strongest of the three. Unexpected, strangely alluring and challenging the audience to think differently about our relationship to nature.

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Studio PSK, The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Studio PSK, The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Studio PSK, The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Studio PSK, The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann


The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon

The use of homing pigeons as messengers can be traced to thousands of years ago. Ancient Romans used them to spread news within their Empire. And the Greeks sent pigeons to communicate the results of the Olympic Games to other cities. Studio PSK, another winner of the Bio Art & Design Award, teamed up with the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies at the University of Groningen to explore how economic pressures might one day shape the species' genetics, replacing thus natural selection. In PSK scenario, the bird becomes a tamper-proof biological courier used by biotech companies to protect their intellectual property.

Increasing competition between the Biotech and Pharma giants has sparked the 'Cold War' of the drug industry, with Genetic theft and piracy costing the industry billions, pressurising companies to take ever more inventive steps to protect their intellectual property.

In order to protect the most sensitive data from falling into the hands of competitors, Genicom Lifesciences, one of the smaller enterprises based in Hyderabad's Genome Valley, is using pigeons as a kind of 'offline data transfer' in an attempt to securely deliver genetic data to its research partner Nayat Pharma.

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Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger, Fungi Mutarium - (Growing Food From Toxic Waste). Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger, Fungi Mutarium - (Growing Food From Toxic Waste). Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

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Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger, Fungi Mutarium - (Growing Food From Toxic Waste). Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann



As the title of their work suggests, Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger have explored how to grow food from toxic plastic waste. The process involves fungi. The result in the plate is even more discouraging than anything i might have imagined.

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Opening night with talks at MU. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

Also part of the exhibition: Cobalt 60 Sauce, a barbecue sauce made from 'supermarket mutants' and FATBERG: Building An Island of Fat and A Simple Line. A zebra finch ponders upon abstraction.

Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design is at MU in Eindhoven until 1 March 2015.

Experimental Eating, edited by Thomas Howells. With introductory essay by Zach Denfeld, Cathrine Kramer and Emma Conley from The Center for Genomic Gastronomy.

Available on amazon UK and US.

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(Image via @allieartbooks)

Black Dog Publishing writes: Experimental Eating is the first international survey of contemporary experimental and experiential food-based creative practices across art, design, catering, science and theatre. Deliciously detailed and good enough to eat, this book combines luscious images with text that questions the assumptions behind how we make, eat and perceive food.

Experimental Eating demonstrates how current creative collaborations are pushing the boundaries of how we understand, experience and relate to food and the rituals of dining. The book encompasses unusual and cutting-edge foods, radical dining events, "kitchen laboratory" experiments, food sculptures and other documentation of the transient moments that make up this field of experimentation.

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Paul McCarthy, Chocolate version of Santa with Tree. Photo: Svetlana Bachevanova via Paris Photo

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Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Smog Tasting

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Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Vegan Ortolan

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Erwin Wurm, Self-Portrait of Cucumbers, 2008

Experimental Eating is a merry and fascinating survey of artworks that bring the political, the unusual or the technological into the ritual of food consumption. From the moment the ingredients are planted or bred to the moments they are combined into dishes, consumed or discarded.

The book comes at a good time. A time when cooking shows pullulate on tv screens while concerns are raised about the ethics (or rather lack thereof) of our food production.

The artists whose work is featured in the book remind us that a meal is far more than the insertion of edible material into our mouth. It is the result of farming practices, cultural standards, biological manipulations, technological innovations, international trade law and often also ethical choices. Some of the artists and designers working with food speculate on the impact that tissue engineering will have on our plates, others create a permanent fast food joint that offers cuisine from countries the United States is currently in conflict with, others uncover and denounce aspects of our food systems we might not be aware of, etc. What these practitioners have in common is that they use food as a vehicle to get our full attention and spark conversations over broader themes. Preferably outside of the contrived environment of museums and galleries.

Experimental Eating closes on a series of art&food related reprint. They are masterfully chosen. There's Romy Golan's Anti-Pasta which informed me someone once had the idea of founding PIPA, the International Association Against Pasta; there's an introduction to The Starving Artists' Cookbook; and there's The Culinary Triangle, Claude Lévi-Strauss essay on the semantic field of cooking meat.

There might be other publications on the topic but Experimental Eating is the first one that falls into my hands and it is an entertaining, thought-provoking and thrilling one.

Some of the many artworks i discovered in the book:

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Van Brummelen & De Haan, Monument of Sugar, Argos Brussels, 2007

Following the discovery that European sugar costs far less when sold outside of Europe, Van Brummelen & De Haan embarked on an investigation of the European subsidised sugar trade. They bought European surplus sugar in Nigeria and then shipped it back home. To elude the European trade barrier for sugar imports they transformed the sugar into a monument. The import application was thus filled under the Uniform Commercial Code Law 9703, which applies to all monuments and original artworks regardless of the material in which they are produced. In the end, however, they had to contend with more tariff barriers then they succeeded in avoiding and the sugar proved more expensive than at home.

The sugar sculpture is accompanied by a film essay which charts the artists' research into the sugar trade.

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Condiment Junkie, Bittersweet Symphony, 2014

Condiment Junkie experimented with modifying the perception of taste, making it bitter or sweeter, using sound only.

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Waag Society, The Other Dinner. Photo Chloé Rutzerveld, 2013

The Other Dinner investigated the meat culture of the past, present and future. One of the chapters of the event looked at the parts of the pig, cow, chicken or sheep that are usually disdained and used only for export or animal feed.

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Michael Rakowitz, Enemy Kitchen. Photo: Smart Museum of Art

Collaborating with his Iraqi-Jewish mother, Michael Rakowitz compiles Baghdadi recipes and teaches them to different audiences. He also serves the food in a ice cream truck with the help American veterans of the Iraq War. Preparing and consuming the food gives the artist and the public a chance to approach the topic of Iraq in a more open, less CNN-report way.


Bompas & Parr, Cooking with Lava, 2014. Video by Robert Wysocki

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Harry Parr of Bompas and Parr gets volcanic on 10-ounce rib-eye steaks and ears of corn. Photo Bompas and Parr

Bompas & Parr collaborated with Professor Robert Wysocki , an artist who works with artificial volcanoes and streams of man-made lava, for artistic and scientific purposes. The artistic duo harnessed his expertise and bronze furnace to cook meat and fish.

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Henry Hargreaves, Deep Fried Gadgets

The title says it all. This is also one of the most stomach-churning works i've ever read about.

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Klaus Pichler, Strawberries, One Third - a project on food waste
Place of production: San Giovanni Lupatoto, Verona, Italy
Cultivation method: Foil green house * Time of harvest: June - October
Transporting distance: 741 km * Means of transportation: Truck
Carbon footprint (total) per kg: 0,35 kg * Water requirement (total) per kg: 348 l
Price: 7,96 € / kg

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Klaus Pichler, Tomatoes, One Third - a project on food waste
Place of production: Albenga, Italy
Cultivation method: Foil green house * Time of harvest: All- season
Transporting distance: 1.035 km * Means of transportation: Truck
Carbon footprint (total) per kg: 0,31 kg * Water requirement (total) per kg: 215 l
Price: 0,89 € / kg

According to a UN study one third of the world's food goes to waste (mostly in the industrialized nations of the global north) while 925 million people around the world are threatened by starvation. Klaus Pichler's series 'One Third' explores the connection between individual wastage of food and globalized food production. Over a period of nine months, the photographer used his apartment bathroom as a storage space for rotting food items. He then arranged the abominable result of the fermentation into elaborate still lifes and accompanied the images with texts that take an in depth look at the food production and distribution.

Related stories: Prison Gourmet, Data Cuisine, food as data expression, The Meat Licence Proposal, interview with John O'Shea, Super Meal, Cobalt 60 Sauce, a barbecue sauce made from 'supermarket mutants', Cook Me - Black Bile, Conflict Kitchen, Herbologies/Foraging Networks at Pixelache Helsinki, Interview with Kultivator, an experimental cooperation of organic farming and visual art practice, Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (Fusing Cooking and Solar Tech with Design), The Spice Trade Expedition - In pursuit of artificial flavoring, Book Review - Cooking Science: Condensed Matter, etc.

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