The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired this afternoon at 4pm (London time.)
Today we will be talking with the flamboyant Adam Zaretsky, a Doctor of Philosophy in Electronic Arts, a researcher and art theorist whose work focuses on Biology and Art Wet Lab Practice. He has been lecturing and doing research in some of the most prestigious institutes around the world. If you've been following this blog for a while you probably know that i LOVE Adam Zaretsky.
Zarestsky has co-habited during one week in a terrarium with E. Coli bacteria, worms, plant, fish, frogs, mice, flies and yeast. He has dedicated part of his research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to playing Engelbert Humperdinck's Greatest Hits to fermenting E.Coli continuously for 48 hours and observing the impact that the rather camp music had on the bacteria. More recently, the artist has worked with materials that include surgically manipulated pheasant embryos and a preserved turd of the deceased writer William S. Burroughs.
So that's what we are going to discuss in this episode of #A.I.L., turds from a famous writer but also eyeballs in armpits. And ethics, biotechnological materials and ''Full Breadth Genetic Alterity.
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.
My guest at Resonance will be Ulla Taipale, a curator and creative producer whose main role in the art world is to act as a bridge with the scientific community, enhancing and facilitating collaborations between artists, creators and scientists.
Ulla is one of the founders of Capsula which since 2005 has been organizing workshops, talks and events related to art, science and nature. She also initiated the Capsula Curated Expeditions which periodically invite artists to embark on artistic exploration and research linked to natural phenomena.
Today, however, we are going to talk about Ulla's latest endeavor: her work as a Project Manager of Biofilia - Base for Biological Arts. This brand new a biological art unit interweaving artistic and bio-scientific explorations opened at Aalto University, Finland in January of this year and i've been looking forward to hearing more about Biofilia ever since.
Aalto Biofilia is unique in the world as it has the only fully equipped biological lab that is operated by an art school and based in an electrical engineering building. It offers unparalled reseach capacity for the growing field of biological art. The programme consist of research projects and a series of courses, lectures and hands-on workshops in the laboratory and natural environments exploring the interfaces between biosciences and art.
Biofilia was set up as a collaboration between the University of Western Australia, Perth, and Aalto University. Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr from SymbioticA -The Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts are consulting and contributing to the development of this new learning and research environment.
The show will be aired today Thursday 28 March 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.
I should add that if you're curious about Biofilia and the projects developed there, you might want to follow the live streaming of the lecture that artist, researcher Dr. Ionat Zurr from Symbiotica will be giving about Semi Living Muscle actuators as evocative "matter"
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.
My guests at Resonance today are creative technologists Asa Calow and Rachael Turner, the founders of the MadLab. Madlab is the short name for Manchester Digital Laboratory, a remarkably active community space for science, technology and art located in Manchester Northern Quarters. Luckily for me, Rachael and Asa are currently in London, where they are heading a series of workshops and events as part of their residency at The Arts Catalyst.
The events explore in a hands-on way the world of DIY Biology. Participants learn how to build their own labs using LEGO and affordable materials, create microbe-powered LED lights using local mud, go on a hunt for water bears and participate to a feast of cellular gastronomy. Yesterday night, i participated to the workshop on genetic modification for beginners. It was eye-opening and fun (although scientific protocols tend to be a bit repetitive.) Many of the events are already sold out but some have bigger capacity and there's still a few spots to grab. So have a look at the website of artscatalyst.org for more details.
Another project from the Design Interactions work in progress show!
This one is smart and thought-provoking and i'm looking forward to seeing how it will shape up for the graduation show.
Michail Vanis's project suggests that our romantic ideas and ideals regarding nature - a nature that has to be preserved exactly as it is- are holding us back from finding new ways to interact with the world surrounding us. Vanis' Neo-nature project invites us to reconsider our relationship to nature and adopt a more rational but also more daring and more techno-mediated approach to ecological thinking and to conservation.
The first chapter of the work, Animalia, deals with the animal kingdom and proposes three alternative ways to conserve coral reefs. In all three alternatives, the humans speed up the coral's evolution by genetically modifying it to adapt to the new environmental conditions that put the species in danger. The motivation behind why each coral is created illustrates how humans can donate, protect, or exploit.
The first scenario envisions a coral colony, a Stonehenge-like monument, that conservationists have generously financed and donated in order to save the species from extinction. The corals pass plankton efficiently between each other, creating a temple of nature, a celebration of marine life, and a spectacle for visitors to witness.
The second scenario sees a coral species seeded in areas where tsunamis might hit. In case of tsunami, the coral takes 70% of the impact. Most of the colony would die in the process but the humans would be saved.
The third scenario sees coral being exploited for the benefit of corporations. A hydrodynamic coral would be bio engineered to efficiently slipstream and merge water currents into powerful single streams. At the end of the coral colony, a convenient jet of water is exploited by the creators of the coral to harvest electricity.
I asked Michail (who, i should add, means the pandas no harm whatsoever) if he could tell us more about Neo-Nature:
Hi Michail! You wrote an essay that bears the cruel title of "Let the Pandas Die" to accompany or rather introduce the Neo-Nature project. In this text, you suggest that we might have to adopt alternative thinking in ecology and conservation. Could you briefly explain why traditionalist view of ecology and conservation might not be enough to save ourselves and the environment?
There is a lot of paradoxical thinking in ecology and conservation at the moment. Large sums of funding go towards programmes which aim to sustain organisms that are arguably at the end of their lifetime. We accept evolution and the cyclical nature of ecology, yet we try to halt nature from changing, from progressing. In a way, the nature that we are experiencing now is the perfect nature. Any other alternative seems to spoil the romantic, pure nature that we have created in our heads. Slavoj Zizek puts it very nicely: "[Ecology] is a balanced world which is disturbed through human hubris".
The ideology that we have created to define nature as human beings actually stops us ethically from experimenting with new technologies. For example, if we collectively agreed to save a species from extinction, maybe we could genetically modify it to survive the new conditions that we have introduced. This seems far from possible at the moment because you have two parallel schools of thought: the scientists and the romanticists. The scientists are prepared to take risks and talk openly about modifying organisms, the climate, the natural world. On the other hand, the romanticists protect the ideological, paradoxical nature that they believe in truly on ethical, emotional and guilt-driven grounds. This disagreement is a huge problem in conservation.
Has your research been inspired by existing scientific or commercial projects?
One big influence of mine is the Weather Modification Office in China. What I find fascinating is that China provides a cocoon of moral freedom in which scientists can experiment with controlling the weather. Officials regularly seed clouds to combat the draught in Beijing without worrying about the influence that their actions might have on the natural world. A lot of the time they get it right. But sometimes, they get it really really wrong. Recently they accidentally caused a snowstorm that covered Beijing in snow. And in a way, that's okay. They get it right 90% of the time, but when they get it wrong, it doesn't stop them from trying again. This is the kind of experimental practice that has inspired my project.
Another interesting scientific project is the modification of male mosquitoes to combat insect-borne diseases. When these newly modified mosquitoes try to reproduce, their offspring dies immediately. Doing this to insects is acceptable, but try to imagine if you had the same scenario with a more loved animal. It would be completely unethical! Deciding what is okay to modify and what isn't is completely subjective.
And more generally, have you talked to bioengineers and other scientists about the Neo-Nature scenarios?
I've been working with a fluids mechanic to actually shape the corals. He's been very interesting to work with because he doesn't treat the corals as an animal, but he treats it as a material. For the next chapter of Neo-Nature, I'm working with a climate scientist and a mechanical engineer to explore the domestication of weather control. I am also going to an interesting discussion in April, which is titled "The Future of Nature" and is organised by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Half of the audience are synthetic biologists and the other half are conservation scientists and policy makers. I think this project generates its full potential of discussion when it is debated with scientists as well as romanticists. I'm trying to make that collision happen with a series of debates and talks in the coming months.
Why did you chose to illustrate the project with corals? Is it because these marine animals are easier to manage and modify? Or because they are not 'cute' so we might be less concerned by their fate than by the one of the pandas?
The coral is a very fragile animal that is dying quickly, but there is a lot of opportunity to manipulate it. Corals are more important than other endangered animals because they provide a living environment for a plethora of marine life, yet they receive less funding. I also chose the coral because it's not as sacred as the panda. It's an animal that is usually compared to plants, not to other animals. This emotional distance makes it easier for people to consider the possibilities of modifying coral to fulfill human desire, but to also conserve it in a more artificial way.
You showed 3 models of modified corals at the WIP show. Are you planning to push the project further?
This chapter of Neo-Nature is almost complete. I wanted to suggest three new alternative strategies for saving the coral. I'm putting it in the background for now until the other chapters of the project are complete. I will be testing the coral models at the Imperial College wave tanks to test their shapes and record some videos of the water flowing through them. I'm now working on the next two chapters, which are arguably more megalomaniac! I don't want to reveal too much though...
Thank you Michail!
A couple of weeks ago, i took the bus with the Arts Catalyst in the direction of Southampton to see Transformism, an exhibition and symposium that explore the new forms and systems of life that men have devised in the past and even more dramatically in present days, using the latest advances in science and technology.
The exhibition space is occupied by 2 new pieces commissioned by the Arts Catalyst to Melanie Jackson and Revital Cohen. The works investigate with radically different results how cultural archetypes and ideas interweave with science and technology to create new shapes, visual forms and structures.
The most moving work in the show is Kingyo Kingdom which continues Revital Cohen's research into animal design and more explicitly the reasons why some animals are regarded by men as being more of an object or a 'living product' than a pet. Two years ago, Revital looked at the SERT Knock-out rat, a laboratory rat genetically designed to be constantly depressed. This new work investigates the culture surrounding the Ranchu fish, an exotic goldfish developed over centuries in Japan to present strict aesthetic criteria. Bred with meticulous attention as if they were Bonsai, the fish are designed to be viewed from above. For that reason, they were cultured to have kimono-like tails and no dorsal fins. Any fish that does not correspond to the strict aesthetic criteria (the vast majority of the fish) are simply thrown away.
The project questions the definitions used to indicate living creatures. Does one denominate a manipulated organism as an object, product, animal or pet? What consequences does this entail for our feelings and behaviours?
The documentary Kingyo Kingdom shows the first stage of the research, it depicts the economy, ceremonials and culture that turn Japanese goldfish into ornamental and prized objects. The most striking images (at least for me) show goldfish being bagged, packed and sent away to be shipped and sold.
The other work in the exhibition is Urpflanze (Part 2), part of Melanie Jackson's investigation into mutability and transformation that takes its lead from Goethe's concept of an imaginary primal plant, the Urpflanze, that contained coiled up within it the potential to unfurl all possible future forms.
The Crafting Life - Materiality, Science and Technology symposium accompanied the opening of the exhibition. And hurray! the talks have been uploaded on vimeo.
The first speaker was social scientist Dr Emma Roe whose research explores 'how things become food.' You'll never look at a piece of pork in your plate the same way after you've heard what her talk.
Prof Susanne Kuechler gave a brilliant brilliant talk about immanence, societies living in the Pacific, textures of the landscape and other topics i don't usually get to hear about.
Finally, Prof Raymond Oliver talked about materials that become intelligent and damn! that went fast and furious. I was particularly surprised by the slide that brings side by side the year in which a new technology was conceived and the year in which it was effectively realized.
You can download the catalogue of Transformism.
The exhibition is at John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton until 9 March 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.
My guest in the studio is artist and film maker Charlotte Jarvis.
Over the past few years, Charlotte has worked with scientists to bio-engineer a bacteria with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights encoded into its DNA sequence, she developed performances that showed the public what could happen if one day, synthetic biology was used to eradicate greed, lust and anger from a group of children.
But today, Charlotte is going to dispel a few myths about stem cells and discuss her award-winning project: Ergo Sum.
A couple of weeks ago, Charlotte donated parts of her body to stem cell research. Her tissue and blood samples are now in a lab where they will be transformed - medically metamorphosed - into induced pluripotent stem cells and from there into a range of completely different substances. A second self will be created, a self-portrait, a dopplegänger, made from a collage of in vitro body parts. Brain, heart and blood vessel all biologically 'Charlotte', yet distinctly alien to her.
The show will be aired today Thursday 7st February at 19:30. 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.
Photos by James Read and Arne Kuilman.