The Casino de Luxembourg has, once again, put up an show worth a trip to the capital of the tiny Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Second Lives: Jeux masqués et autres Je raises questions about the blurring of identity in contemporary society. I'll review the whole exhibition later on this week but in the meantime i'd like to single out a work i found particularly striking.
In February of this year, Art Orienté objet (Marion Laval-Jeantet & Benoît Mangin) were at galerie Kapelica in Ljubljana to perform Que le cheval vive en moi (May the horse live in me), a bold self-experiment that aimed to blur the boundaries between species.
The French artistic duo has been exploring trans-species relationships and the questioning of scientific methods and tools for 20 years now. This time their work involved injecting Marion Laval-Jeantet with horse blood plasma. Over the course of several months, the artist prepared her body by allowing to be injected with horse immunoglobulins, the glycoproteins that circulate in the blood serum, and which, for example, can function as antibodies in immune response. The artist called the process "mithridatization", after Mithridates VI of Pontus who cultivated an immunity to poisons by regularly ingesting sub-lethal doses of the same.
In February 2011, having progressively built up her tolerance to the foreign animal bodies, she was injected with horse blood plasma containing the entire spectrum of foreign immunoglobulins, without falling into anaphylactic shock, an acute multi-system allergic reaction.
Horse immunoglobulins by-passed the defensive mechanisms of her own human immune system, entered her blood stream to bond with the proteins of her own body and, as a result of this synthesis, have an effect on all major body functions, impacting even the nervous system, so that the artist, during and in the weeks after the performance, experienced not only alterations in her physiological rhythm but also of her consciousness. "I had the feeling of being extra-human," explained the artist. "I was not in my usual body. I was hyper-powerful, hyper-sensitive, hyper-nervous and very diffident. The emotionalism of an herbivore. I could not sleep. I probably felt a bit like a horse.'
After the transfusion, Laval-Jeantet, perched on stilts, performed a communication ritual with a horse before her hybrid blood was extracted and freeze-dried.
Video documenting the performance:
As a radical experiment whose long-term effects cannot be calculated, Que le cheval vive en moi questions the anthropocentric attitude inherent to our technological understanding. Instead of trying to attain "homeostasis," a state of physiological balance, with this performance, the artists sought to initiate a process of "synthetic transi-stasis," in which the only constant is continual transformation and adaptation. The performance represents a continuation of the centaur myth, that human-horse hybrid which, as "animal in human," symbolizes the antithesis of the rider, who as human dominates the animal.
Second Lives: Jeux masqués et autres Je remains open at the Casino de Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain through September 11, 2011.
Every year, the FILE festival invites artists and other people who have a hands-on approach to new media art to share their views, works and ideas with the audience during a 4 afternoon long symposium. One of the most fascinating talks for me this year was the one that Victoria Messi, author of the fantastic blog El Pez Eléctrico, gave about media art projects from Latin America that 'look beyond anti-utopia.'
Titled Anti Anti Utopia: Arte Eletrônica na América Latina / Anti Anti Utopia: Electronic Art in Latin America, the presentation introduced us to four projects by media artists who believe that art still has the power to transform society. I was planning to write a long post that contained her whole presentation but i thought it would be more fruitful to highlight the projects one by one. First of all because each of them is so clever, quirky and fascinating that it should have its own space. Secondly because i've just started The Leopard and as much as i'd like this Jo Nesbø gem to last as long as possible i can't stay away from the book more than it is strictly necessary for my mental well-being.
Shaped like small flying saucers, the Nanodrizas are floating autonomous robots forming a network of wireless sensors, which attempt to interact with biological elements. The robotic prototypes measure, in real time, the environmental conditions (temperature, pH scale, level of humidity, turbidity, etc.) of polluted water surfaces. The data collected is then transmitted via wireless communications for interpretation and analysis. Once to the level and nature of pollution has been identified, the nanodrizas directly intervene by emitting synthesized sound and releasing bacterial and enzymatic remedies in the eco-system that, ultimately, should regulate the quality of the water.
Prototypes of the nanodrizas have been deployed in heavily polluted locations. In particular, in the river going through the city of Puebla in Mexico. Puebla hosts "La Constancia", an ex textile factory which used to be one of the most modern factories in Latin America. La Constancia relied heavily on water to function: water was used to power its turbines and water was where waste was then dispersed. As a consequence, the river is now suffering from high levels of pollution. The mission of the robots is therefore to intervene directly and revert the effect of the pollution in the water.
The Nanodrizas benefit from relatively sophisticated technologies but were made using discarded materials such as children's toys.
The work thus moves beyond other environmental tactical media interventions by making an attempt to be actively therapeutic. The work will also functions to alert and sensitise people to the situations via, in the first location, the sound emissions of the Nanodrizas and second via displays in exhibition centers and online.
The project thus exemplifies an admirably holisitic kind of art practice which is simultaneously technologically well informed and technologically inventive, while being engaged with complex social histories and activist with respect to fundamental problems of our time.
Check out this interview that El Pez Eléctrico had with Constantini about the Nanodrizas fleet. I'd recommend watching it even if you don't understand spanish because you will not only see the nanodrizas in action but you will also be able to listen to the artist's melodious Mexican accent.
Related: Nomadic Plants by Gilberto Esparza.
FILE, the Electronic Language International Festival remains open through August 21, 2011, at the FIESP Cultural Center - Ruth Cardoso, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Entrance is free.
The dream of self-sufficiency and sustainability has become true. Everyone is now able to produce goods, to communicate with anyone without being charged or tracked and to fulfill their basic needs without forgoing modern conveniences.
Cruiser Charisma intertwines extrapolations about the latest (and upcoming) advances in technologies with a series of research trips that designer Jonas Loh made into intentional communities, groups of people who attempt to establish their own society on a micro-scale. He visited Earthaven which is ruled by community consensus and divided in small villages, went to see what remained of the ethics and ideals of The Farm and even made a trip to Berlin, Ohio, to get to know the Amish lifestyle built around religious beliefs and resistance to modernity.
The project also professes faith into D.I.Y. and open source movement which could one day take technologies that are currently out of you and i -such as synthetic biology, genetic engineering, bio-printing and new form of production methods- out of the hands of venture capitalists and politicians and into everybody else's backyard.
The outcome of the project is utopian, yet credible: a caravan which will run on advanced biofuels, whose inhabitants will be able to produce all kinds of goods and organic materials thanks to a 3D printing production unit, eat synthetic protein rich meat that will be grown through a new generation of plants, recycle their poo to produce energy and experiment with new ways of community living.
Interestingly residents would communicate over long distance using the Earth-Moon-Earth, aka moon bounce, a radio communications technique developed after World War II. The system relies on the propagation of radio waves from an Earth-based transmitter directed via reflection from the surface of the Moon back to an Earth-based receiver. The residents of the caravan selected this form of long-distance communication because it is not yet privatized and because their personal data doesn't get tracked.
The project explores the possibility to reach a total state of self-sufficiency and with it a different social, political and economical system.
A few weeks ago, i was intrigued by the description of a work presented at the grow_ability exhibition in RIXC Gallery in Riga, Latvia. The art show explored sustainability in relation to our planet's ecology from a "food as energy" perspective.
One of the three works on show was Erik Sjödin's Super Meal which investigates whether an aquatic plant called Azolla could become a key ingredient of the fast food joints of the future. Azolla is cheap and easy to cultivate, it grows super fast and is rich in nutrients. Yet the possibility that this fern could become a staple of our meals has received very little interest so far. Recent research, however, are considering the potential of azolla for space agriculture, in particular in the event of a colonization of planet Mars.
Interestingly, azolla is believed to have had a significant role in reversing the greenhouse effect in the middle Eocene period, some 49 million years ago. The fern colonized the region around what was then a hot, tropical Arctic Ocean. Because of its outstanding nitrogen and carbon fixing capabilities, azolla caused the atmospheric carbon dioxide content to drop from 3500 ppm (parts per million) to just 650 ppm, eventually turning the Arctic Ocean into its present icehouse state. This biogeological event is known as the Azolla event.
Sjödin experimented with farmers, chefs and scientists to experiment with azolla in the kitchen but also to reflect on how our food is being produced today and how it can be produced in the future.
So far the artist has presented his Azolla cultivations and experimentations at Färgfabrikensin Stockholm, at Kalmar konstmuseum, RIXC Gallery in Riga, at Kultivator in rural village Dyestad, on the island Öland (Sweden) and of course on his own balcony in Stockholm.
If you can't make it to Norway or Finland, here's a short interview with Erik about Super Meal:
I'm interested in the way you try to engage the public into your research about azolla. You have already exhibited this project in several art spaces. How does the azolla project take shape? Do you change strategy each time you exhibit it? cooking at Färgfabriken for example and doing something else in Riga?
What I end up doing is shaped a lot by the circumstances. At Färgfabriken in Stockholm I exhibited in the summer and they had a courtyard so it was possible to grow azolla outside. RIXC's exhibition in Riga was too early in the spring for it to be possible to grow azolla outside and the room I exhibited in didn't have any windows so I had to grow the azolla under artificial lights. I also try to find people to collaborate with around the exhibitions. At Färgfabriken I got the chef at Färgfabriken's café to experiment with azolla cooking with me. When I exhibit in Finland in September I will collaborate with a local gardener who will be growing azolla which we will cook on the opening weekend. I exhibit Super Meal as a work in progress because I think that an ongoing process can be more interesting and engaging than the conclusion. The project has always been more about the process than the result, but it's not that I don't care about the result. I'm hoping to arrive at something, but the result is the outcome of the process and in that sense the process is everything. I guess that finding new ways of working, or living if you want, is very much what the project is about for me.
You are going to exhibit Super Meal again in end of May / June at Rogaland Kunstsenter in Stavanger. What will the work look like exactly in Stavanger? Will you be cooking, growing azolla?
I'll exhibit photo documentation of the project and I'll be making an installation inside the gallery where I'll be growing azolla. There will also be a reading corner where a draft of the Azolla Cookbook and Cultivation Manual I'm working on will be available along with some literature that relates to the project. Two texts that I'll include are Tomorrow is Our Permanent Address by John Todd from the New Alchemy Institute (NAI) and the sociologist and philosopher Bruno Latour's text An attempt at a "Compositionist Manifesto". The NAI was a research center that did
Bruno Latour takes interest in the so called nature / culture dichotomy and argues
This is what I know will happen in Stavanger. I'm also trying to involve the Norwegian Gastronomic Institute in Stavanger in the project. I'm hoping that we can make a larger outdoor azolla cultivation somewhere and experiment with azolla cooking together but nothing is set yet. Throughout the summer I will also be working with Oloph Fritzén, farmer at Hästa gård, a 180 hectare urban farm in Stockholm. We'll try to make some kind of azolla installation on the farm and grow azolla to use as mulch and as fodder for the farms animals. In September I'll exhibit Super Meal at the Halikonlahti Green Art Trilogy in Finland. For that exhibition I'm collaborating with Tiia Pau, a gardener who will be growing azolla in Salo during the Summer. During the opening weekend of the exhibition I'll be facilitating an azolla kitchen where people can drop in and experiment with azolla cooking.
Azolla has been used for biological fertilizer and as animal fodder. At some point in the booklet, you call it 'not super tasty' and you even add further on "To sum up you eat azolla on your own risk. It might be healthy and it might not." That was quite a warning! So what is your aim with the Super Meal project? To convince people that it's a valuable food resource? Or rather to enter in a broader discussion about the future of food and food production for example?
I'm trying to find out if there is any real potential in azolla as a food for humans but I haven't reached any conclusions yet and I want that to be clear. As far as I know no studies have been carried out on the effects on humans of azolla consumption so no one really knows weather it's healthy or not. But I will rewrite that sentence before the booklet is published. I don't want to overemphasize the risks either. Apart from potentially being a new foodstuff azolla has many applications, as biological fertilizer, animal fodder and for biofuels for example. I want to disseminate this information so that people can find appropriate uses for azolla but I don't want to "sell" azolla or give any illusions that it's a panacea.
I'm interested in how we produce our food today and could be producing it in the future and I try to get some insight into this by looking at how azolla can be used in agriculture. When I started to work with Super Meal I knew very little about agriculture. Now I know enough to be convinced that the industrial agriculture we have to day is a dead end and that we ought to move towards an agriculture based on a diversity of species working together in stead of ever larger monocultures dependent on fossil fuel driven machines, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The way I see it this isn't a matter of going back to a pre-modern agriculture but of putting together both old and new knowledge of how the world functions and creating something that we've never had before. Azolla has been used as an organic fertilizer in rice paddies for thousands of years in parts of China, but it isn't until recently that this practice has started to spread to other parts of the world.
Experiments with azolla in rice cultivation has for example just started in Italy where rice producers have problems with pollution and depleting soils. Using azolla as an organic fertilizer in rice paddies is great, but when it becomes really interesting is when even more species are introduced in the paddy. A farmer in Japan, where azolla commonly is regarded as a rice paddy weed, has recently shown that if rice is co-cultured with azolla, fish and ducks in the same paddy you can get greater rice yields than with conventional rice farming while at the same time getting fish, duck meat and eggs. I think that systems like these are really promising and that what we need to do is to develop an agriculture with both a a great diversity of systems and great diversity within the systems themselves.
How does the public react to your project?
Most people I've met are really curious and enthusiastic about the project. It's fun to
I'm interested in our notions of what is "natural", how these notions are connected to language and aesthetics and how they are tied to how we relate to the past, the present and the future. I think we need to look beyond appearances at how things actually function and consider both new and old practices.
The nickname of azolla is super plant. How come i read all those health magazines full of 'super food' articles and i've never heard about azolla? Could it become the new tofu one day?
I don't know why the health food industry hasn't picked up on azolla yet. My guess is that they just haven't heard of it, though it seems strange. I don't think it would be difficult to market azolla as a health supplement, like spirulina, and make a profit from it. I've been contacted by people who have been interested in growing azolla as health food and I have been asked if I have intentions of doing this myself, which I don't.
Tofu and in particular Quorn are interesting foodstuffs. Many people don't know what they are made of or how they are made but they still eat them. Quorn is also interesting because it's a newly invented foodstuff. In the 60's it was predicted that by the 80's there would be a global famine and shortage of protein-rich foods. Quorn is the result of research that was done in response to this. The fungus that Quorn is made from was discovered in 1967. After it had been evaluated for ten years the company that makes Quorn got permission to sell it for human consumption in the 80's. The global famine never happened but Quorn ended up being a great vegetarian substitute to meat. I don't find it unlikely that azolla could be turned into a foodstuff like Quorn or tofu with the right processing, but a lot more research has to be done.
In the introduction of your booklet 'Super Meal' you thank Masamichi Yamashita at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in because his work, you write, has inspired this project. What did JAXA make with azolla? Did they manage to successfully include it in a diet? What was in it in JAXA research exactly that triggered your idea to work on a project about azolla?
I was impressed that by designing systems similar to the rice-fish-azolla-duck system I mentioned earlier, and including azolla in a human diet, it would theoretically be possible to grow all the food a human needs in an area of 200 square meters. That's less than a hundredth of the area the average Americans food production occupies today. This made me curious of what azolla tasted like and since I couldn't find any azolla recipes or satisfying accounts of what azolla tasted like anywhere I decided to try to grow it and cook it myself. For many people space and the future are synonymous so I thought it would be interesting to look into how we produce our food today and could be producing it in the future using space agriculture research as a starting point. I think a lot of valuable knowledge can come out from research on space colonization but at the same time I find our fascination with it kind of peculiar. I recently watched Werner Herzogs' The Wild Blue Yonder where a researcher talks enthusiastically about how in the future we'll be living and working on asteroids and going to Earth on vacation. Why would we want to do that? Living on an asteroid and eating azolla doesn't sound that appealing to me. I'd rather see that we try to find ways of co-existing with the diversity of species that we still have left here on Earth so we can continue to have varied food.
More images of the Super Meal project.
So far, explaining children how babies were made involved quite often storks, cabbages, bees and other fantasies. Science, however, has added new modes of reproductions to the discourse. From in vitro fertilization in the 1970s to today's research into artificial gametes from stem cells or somatic cells that would allow sperm and eggs to be created from anyone's cells, regardless of age, gender or sexuality. At the time, New Scientist described the research as 'male eggs' and 'female sperm'.
How will the stories about human reproductions evolve as our methods of reproduction become increasingly more diversified?
Designer Zoe Papadopoulou collaborated with Dr Anna Smajdor, an expert in the ethical aspects of science, on a multidisciplinary project that investigates how scientific and technological developments influence historical stories and narratives, explaining 'where we come from'. By exploring new reproductive scenarios, this project aims to create the space for a broader discussion on artificial reproductive technologies (ART) that can engage people in the possibilities these advances present.
The work, called Reproductive Futures, is still very much in progress but the first results of the project are on view right now at the Science Gallery in Dublin as part of an exhibition that considers the future of our species. The final outcomes of the project will be a series of books accompanied by objects featured in the narratives.
Hello Zoe! Sorry to ask you something so basic but is "artificial reproductive technologies" a different way to say "assisted reproductive technology"? Or are they two different things?
The two terms refer to the same thing - often abbreviated to 'ART'. They incorporate currently available treatments such as IVF, and treatments in development, as well as future possibilities such as artificial gametes.
Apart from gametes which ART does Reproductive Futures take into account?
There are also a number of different scientific techniques that are being pursued. One involves the creation of gametes from embryonic stem cells; other scientists are working on making sperm from bone marrow stem cells. Another method is 'haploidisation' where a normal body cell is stimulated to become a gamete by splitting and ejecting half of its chromosomes. Work is also underway on induced pluripotential stem cells, where normal body cells are treated with chemicals that stimulate them to behave as though they were embryonic stem cells. It's not certain which if any of these is likely to succeed first, or which would be safer. One of the interesting ethical questions is about how we establish whether it's safe or not, without actually allowing it to happen in a human being. Even if it works in animals we can't be 100% sure - it will be experimental. This is what happened with the first IVF baby, scientists really had no idea what the long term implications would be, so this was very much an experimental procedure.
I read a couple of articles about the use of artificial gametes in reproduction that the text on your project page refers to. They date back to 2008 and most of their authors had their doubts about the validity and safety of the technology. Is it still the case? How far away are the "female sperm" and "male eggs" from reality?
Some scientists are very optimistic about how soon this will work. Others are more cautious. When I started researching this about 7 years ago, some scientists were claiming artificial gametes would be available in 5 years. Clearly that hasn't happened! But often in science, breakthroughs can be unexpected, so I don't think it's a question of being able to put an exact timescale on it. What is clear is that scientists in many areas are working on getting cells to change their function. Creating cells that will function as gametes is just one part of this, so it's not totally cut off from other aspects of research. The ultimate goal is to be able to understand and control all these processes so that any human cell can be reprogrammed to fulfil whatever function we want it to...
We are currently showing the work in progress at the Human+ exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin, previewing four stories of hypothesized reproductive futures: from genetics ('multiple biological mothers' - where more than two people's DNA is part of fertilization), through to more "practical" near-future scenarios like the possibility of full term gestation in artificial wombs.
We really should mention that 'Reproductive Futures' is still in its development phase. We are delighted to have just been awarded a Wellcome Trust Arts Award grant which means the next couple of months will be focus on exploring all the possible opportunities that will arise from ART.
Some ART would bring part of the reproduction into the hands of scientists. There could even be no sexual intercourse involved and therefore, i suspect less taboo or embarrassment in explaining how a baby was born. So does it mean that they will generate narratives that could be completely free from the cabbage and cork-type of "mythology"? Would parents explaining to their kids where they come from be more open about the scientific process than they would be about one that take place in a bed?
That is very possibly right, but perhaps that's all the more reason why we might need to re-imagine those "mythologies". Deliberately, the tales you refer to that were once told to children bore no resemblance to how or why conception happened. This ambiguity was embedded by the use of fantasy, and they referred to a world very different to that of children, or of their everyday lives. Fantasy in and of itself has a role to play in this project, yet as developments in science makes the descriptions of 'how' and 'where' babies come from more complicated, there must be truth and integrity in what we narrate. This project needs to be neither too factual and scientific, nor based on expedient story-telling. It must instead find a way of making understanding both accessible and enjoyable to children and adults.
Thanks Zoe and Anna!
All images courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou.
As i mentioned a few weeks ago, designers Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen are having a double exhibition at the Z33 art center in Hasselt, Belgium. The Unnatural Animal, explores progress in bioscience and biotechnology but also their impact on our norms and values. This is the last week to visit the exhibition so i'm going to try and convince you that you should take the bus/train/bike and make your way to Hasselt before Sunday evening.
Just like Tuur, Revital is presenting both finished and 'in progress' research projects at Z33. There's Life Support of course but also The Phantom Recorder and a rather fascinating Electrocyte Appendix, an artificial organ that could be implanted into the body to allow people to turn themselves into electric organisms.
While watching the interview that Jan Boelen, the artistic director at Z33, made with the designer, i got very intrigued by one of the projects she briefly discussed. Titled Ready-to-use Models, this work in progress involves a SERT Knock-out rat, a laboratory tool genetically designed to be constantly depressed. The rats, which can be ordered from online catalogues, are manipulated to not be able to absorb serotonin, the hormone responsible for feelings of contentment and happiness.
Revital designed a big play cage that attempts to bring some happiness to the morose little rodent while questioning the exchange of roles between animal and object.
Ready-to-use Models attempts to question the current definitions used to indicate living creatures. Does one denominate a manipulated organism as an object, product, animal or pet? What consequences does this choice of definition entail for our perceptions, feelings and behaviours regarding living creatures?
I asked Revital to give us more details about this particular project:
I was shocked and intrigued by that poor seratonin knock-out rat. How did you find about its existence? I'm sure my question will sound naive but is this legal to engineer a rat so that it will lead an anxious and sad existence?
This installation is the beginning of a large project I am developing around the subject of animal design. I have been researching the existence of 'living products' for years, and stumbled upon Genoway while looking into the legalities of transgenic species in Europe. Since these services/products exist it must be legal, but to my understanding within a scientific experimental environment only. I assume the design principle behind the engineering of these rodents was that it is justified to make an animal unhappy if it may lead to the abolishment of unhappiness in humans. I am not sure that I agree with this sentiment, but I find these designed creatures fascinating for raising all these bioethical questions.
Your design attempts to create an environment where the rat would be able to get some relief from its anxiety. Along you seem to be aware all along that this generous attempt to make the rat 'happy' is doomed to fail. So why did you build this entertainment park for the rat? What did you want to communicate with this project?
I am very interested in the language used around the production and trade of designed animals, which is really the language of commerce and marketing of objects. I wanted to see what might happen if I take this biological product and treat it as an animal? This has led me to the very naive attempt of trying to cheer up the rat, an empathetic sentiment which we reserve to living beings. The predictable futility of this attempt highlights the essence of this creature as a non-animal, a bio product, and opens up many questions about the nature of these species and how we are meant to perceive and relate to them. To me the installation forms the start of defining a new taxonomy of creatures which blur the boundaries between object and animal.
Each compartment in the cage is based on a subversion of a common laboratory anxiety test: forced swimming, elevated plus maze, open field, light dark tests. In this cage the maze has no dead ends, there are areas made for hiding and for gradual exposure training, the swimming pools are shallow and covered in climbing ropes and there is plenty of space, stimulation and serotonin-inducing exercise structures. The design of this object was inspired by DIY cages that people build for their pet rodents. I wanted to explore the space between treating an animal as pet and using one as a research tool, both are disconnected from nature and these contraptions are in a way a physical translation of our relationship with it.
At Z33, you are also presenting a video that shows the exact opposite of the commodification of the rat: a series of products designed to be treated like real pets, from Tamagotchi to Fur Real Friends robots. Just to get a better idea of what this is about, could you point us to some of the videos that you are using?
Find more about the exhibition in the Z33 video interview:
Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal is part of Alter Nature, an overarching project by Z33, the Hasselt Fashion Museum and CIAP in collaboration with the MAD-faculty, the University of Hasselt, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), KULeuven University and bioSCENTer. Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal is running until 1 May 2011, at Z33 - house for contemporary art in Hasselt, Belgium.
Other works by Revital Cohen: Life Support - Could animals be transformed into medical devices? and The Phantom Recorder.
Related: Cat Fancy Club..