As announced last week, i've started a programme about art and science for ResonanceFM. The second episode is broadcast today Monday 28 May at 16.30 (GMT.) There will be a repeat on Thursday at 22.30. You can catch it online if you don't live in London. And of course there will be podcasts.

Image courtesy of Richard Pell, Center for PostNatural History

The guest of today's edition of #A.I.L. (Artists in Laboratories) is Richard Pell, the founder and director of The Center for Postnatural History in Pittsburgh, the first museum that seeks to research, document and exhibit man-made biological systems. I interviewed him on the blog last year as he had just opened the museum and the radio show looks at how the center's doing right now, its challenges, its projects, the spider silk-producing goats and the english bull terrier.

Steve Rowel joins us at the end of the show to give us a super quick tour of the Center's new show: The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. That exhibition is so fascinating that i'll come back online tonight to post images and information about it. Yes! that would be 2 posts in a single day when i usually don't even manage to publish two stories in a week.

Photo on the homepage: Naval Labe Mice.

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The first episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the radio show about art & science/technology i'm recording for Resonance FM is broadcast today Monday 21 May at 16.30 (GMT.) There will be a repeat on Thursday at 22.30. You can catch it online if you don't live in London. And of course there will be podcasts.

This week i'm talking with the lovely and lively Anna Dumitriu, visual artist and respected founder and director of The Institute of Unnecessary Research. She explains how she finds herself locked inside university laboratories to collaborate with scientists on major projects. We're talking about bacteria and how the problem is not that they exist but that they keep talking to each other, we're talking panda blood transfusion ahead of the Paris edition of Trust Me, I'm an Artist and there's even a mention of the robot that steals your face.


Anna has a show opening this Wednesday at The Barn Gallery in Oxford. Normal Flora: Bioart Responses to Modernising Medical Microbiology blurs the boundaries between art, textile crafts, and science. It uses a range of digital, biological and traditional media including live bacteria, projections and textiles. I'll be going on Wednesday, expect blurry images on my flickr stream.


Yesterday i was in Manchester for the FutureEverything festival. Mostly to see the art exhibition. The festival is up until Saturday but the exhibition remains open until June 10. It's a good show. Small but smart and with a sharp focus on artistic and political potential of new participatory technologies. I'll come back to it over the weekend.

0Ant Ballet testing, Barcelona, August 2011. Image Ollie Palmer 3.jpg

Right now i wanted to have a look at Ollie Palmer's Ant Ballet.

Because of their decentralized organization (swarm intelligence), ants are a good model for the kind of participatory projects the exhibition is exploring this year. In the designer's work however, the behaviour and navigation of the insects are manipulated for artistic purposes. Palmer has spent 2 years observing the Argentine ant, aka Linepithema humile to build the Ant Ballet Machine, a system that enables him to direct ants and make them move in a choreographed fashion.

Using synthesised pheromones and computer vision system, a robotic arm sprays out pheromone powder trails that cause the ants to follow artificial trails in preference to the route they would normally take in search of food.

Ant Ballet

The project is separated into four phases referencing the 1974 scifi movie Phase IV. In the film, scientists are puzzled by the complex designs that ants have started building in the desert. The ant colony have in fact undergone rapid evolution as a result of a mysterious cosmic event.

Phase I of the Ant Ballet (2010-2012) is the one documented at the FutureEverything exhibition, it covers thorough research into ants and control systems, synthesis of ant pheromones and testing of systems with live ants in Barcelona. Phases II-IV (2012-2015) will develop further technologies, chemicals and mechanisms. In 2013 the first public ant ballet performance will be presented at Pestival Sao Paolo.

The designer has tested the system in Barcelona because the UK regards the Argentine ant as highly invasive species (which they are) and wouldn't allow him to bring live ones with him. So what you can see in Manchester are computer-simulated ants laying pheromone trails on a round table, only to be disrupted by the robotic arm spraying synthetic pheromones.


Views in the exhibition space


Check out the documentation of the Ant Ballet at the 1830 warehouse, the world's first railway warehouse, part of the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry), Liverpool Rd, Manchester. Entrance to FutureEverybody art exhibition is free. The show remains open until 10 June 2012.
The project is also on view at Pestival @ ZSL London Zoo, until June 2012.

On Friday at 4pm, set your radio to 104.4fm if you live in London and your browser to if you don't. That's when the pilot for programme i've recently recorded for Resonance104.4fm, London's edgy, radical, art radio is going to be aired. The focus of the programme is art & science/technology.

Revital Cohen, Guilt Adjuster from the project Genetic Heirloom

Tuur Van Balen live hacking of yoghurt on stage at the NEXT NATURE Powershow

Critical designers Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen were kind and kamikaze enough to join me in the studio for the first episode. We've discussed topics as diverse as the beauty of life support machines, pigeons that poop soap, using design to infiltrate synthetic biology, collaborating with scientists and communicating the complexities of a projects that explore the impact of science on society.

The last part of the broadcast takes the form of a quick agenda of exhibitions to see in and around London if you're interested in art&tech/science. I'll update this post with a podcast of the show if you can't catch it on Friday afternoon.

Futures episodes won't be aired before next month. A new one will be broadcast every week, last 30 minutes and focus on an artist or collective whose work i admire such as London Fieldworks, Anna Dumitriu, Zoe Papadopoulou, Ruairi Glynn, Thomas Thwaites, Tom Keene, c-lab, Semiconductor, etc. I've also been sent on a mission to get Bruno Latour.

The ten last minutes of each programme will be dedicated to the agenda, and once in a while i'll add audio snippets from the festivals i attend as a speaker or blogger.


So if you are curating, organizing or participating to an art&tech/science event in the UK in the coming months, do get in touch and i might plug it in the agenda.

The same goes for anyone who'd have a great idea for a title, i'm far from happy with the current one, Artists in Laboratories.

Finally, i'd like to thank Tom Besley and Richard Thomas of ResonanceFM for trusting me with a microphone. I know i wouldn't want to listen to my silly voice and silly accent on the radio.

Helen Pynor, Head Ache (detail), 2008

Featuring over 150 artefacts including real brains, artworks, manuscripts, artefacts, videos and photography,Brains: The Mind as Matter follows the long quest to manipulate and decipher the most unique and mysterious of human organs, whose secrets continue to confound and inspire.

Examination of the skull and brain: method of removing the brain after it is severed from the body. Henry W. Cattell, 1903. Wellcome Library, London

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Katharine Dowson, Memory of a Brain Malformation, 2006

As the intro to the exhibition says, the works displayed include real brains. Complete brains, bits of brains, brains that have been freeze-dried, dessicated or galvanized. The slices of Albert Einstein's brain seem to gather much attention from the press and visitors alike. I doubt the fascination would have filled its original owner with euphoria. He had indeed expressed the wish to be cremated intact.

The remains of the physicist are in awkward company. They are shown next to a phial of tissue allegedly coming from William Burke's brain. With his accomplice William Hare, Burke made a living from murdering poor people and selling their bodies to Dr Knox's anatomy school. He was hung on 28 January 1829. Ironically, Burke's body was dissected, exhibited to the public in the Edinburgh University Museum and souvenirs were made and sold from his skin.

Other brains on show includes the one of suffragette Helen H Gardener, the left hemisphere of mathematician Charles Babbage's brain, and the segment of a suicide victim, with a bullet lodged in it. This one came with a text explaining that bullet wasn't "the fatal one".

Installation view of 'Brains: The mind as matter'. Courtesy: Wellcome Library, London

Unlike previous exhibitions such as Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life,High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture or War and Medicine, Brains: The Mind as Matter has a seemingly very specific, very narrow focus: the brain. Not even the mind, just the physical organ. Yet, the exhibition branches out into issues of ethics, history, and reminds us that while some of the moments in the history of neuroscience are glorious, others are downright disgraceful. The exhibition displays a number of instruments designed to measure the brain. The one below was developed by Sir Francis Galton, the 'father of eugenics'. Using a variety of 'anthropometric' devices, Galton sought evidence of links between physical appearance and the supposed evolutionary progress of different population groups.

Headspanner, c.1896. The Galton Collection, University College London

This kind of discourse was particularly well received during the Nazi period. A series of photos and letters document the case of 3 brothers, Alfred, Gunther and Herbert K. aged 3, 7 years old and 15 months. They suffered from a rare hereditary neural disease and were likely murdered in 1942 and 1944. Their mother was told that they had died of pneumonia. Like many other people suffering from neural disease, they have probably been gassed or drugged, their brains harvested and examined by neuropathologists who went on to continue eminent careers long after the war. As for the specimens taken from the victims, they were used by researchers until recent decades.

Daniel Alexander, Children's cemetery: the grave of Alfred, Günther and Herbert K (2003)

The quest to understand the functioning of the brain is as grandiose and challenging as the one to send men in outer space. Brains: The Mind as Matter can keep you in the rooms of the Wellcome Collection for hours on end. It's an absorbing, educational and at times disturbing exhibition.

I was particularly fascinated by the photos amassed by American neurosurgeon Harvey Williams Cushing. Taking pre- and post-operative photographs were part of his practice. Two examples below:

Pre-operative photograph of female patient with craniopharyngioma, 1919. Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University

Many of the patients in these photographs presented with much more advanced tumours than would normally go unchecked today. The 15-year-old subject of this photograph suffered years of headaches, nausea, convulsions, restricted development and impaired vision before being referred to American neurosurgeon and pioneer of brain surgery Dr Harvey Cushing. She was in and out of hospital for the next 12 years, although the final letter in her file, from her father in 1931, strikes an optimistic note and thanks Cushing for his care.

Pre-operative photograph of male patient with pituitary adenoma, 1914. Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University

An excess of growth hormone caused by a tumour of the pituitary gland in the brain can result in acromegaly and gigantism, where the person grows very tall and suffers a coarsening of the facial features, enlarged hands and feet, and thickening and wrinkling of the scalp. Unfortunately, this patient died after his second operation; his skeleton was preserved and photographed in comparison with a normal specimen.

More images from the show:

Electrode head board, Bristol, England, 1958. Courtesy: Science Museum

Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Parasagittal section of the cerebellum, 1894. Image courtesy of Cajal Legacy, Instituto Cajal (CSIC), Madrid

Spanish Nobel Prize-winner Santiago Ramón y Cajal, whose pioneering research at the turn of the 20th century gave us an understanding of the microscopic structure of the brain. Cajal had aspired to be an artist, but his father had insisted he follow the family tradition into medicine. He nevertheless made hundreds of drawing to illustrate brain structure.

Corrosion cast of blood vessels in the brain, 1980s. Gordon Museum, King's College London

Daniel Alexander, 'Haus 40, interior', Brandenburg State Hospital, 2011

Installation view of 'Brains: The mind as matter'. Courtesy: Wellcome Library, London

Left hemisphere of the brain of Charles Babbage. Wet specimen (human tissue), 1871. Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons, London

English mathematician Charles Babbage donated his brain to be analyzed. He is regarded as a "father of the computer", having invented in 1822 the 'Difference Engine', a mechanical computer complete with printer. One of his assistants was Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace.

Trephination set. Sirhenry, Paris, 1771-1830. Science Museum, London

Trephines are the surgical devices used for trephination, or trepanning. The basic practices and tools have remained largely unchanged for centuries. Among the trephines themselves, with their cylindrical blades, are a large brace to hold the trephines during drilling, two rugines to remove connective tissue from bones, two lenticulars to depress brain material during surgery and a brush to remove fine fragments of bone.

Installation view of 'Brains: The mind as matter'. Courtesy: Wellcome Library, London

Brains: The Mind as Matter remains on show at Wellcome Collection in London until 17 June.

Previously at the Wellcome Collection: Mind Over Matter, Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life, Art, bricks, domestic dust, High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture, Exquisite Bodies at the Wellcome Collection, War and Medicine exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London.

There's only one week left to head to Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and Middlesbrough and visit AV Festival, a biennial of contemporary art, music and film which main theme this year is As Slow As Possible.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Film stills courtesy the artist

The astronauts: Neil, Svetlana, Gonzales, Valentina, Friede, Juri, Buzz, Kaguya-Anousheh, Irena, Rakesh, Konstantin-Hermann

One of the works on show is the extremely long-term project that sees Agnes Meyer-Brandis training a flock of young geese to fly to the moon. The whole training started last Spring and according to her schedule, the birds will go on their first unmanned flight to the satellite in 2024. However, the artist plans to accompany them on a later flight, most probably in 2027.

Meyer-Brandis' scientific experiment is inspired by The Man in the Moone, a story written in the early 17th century by English bishop Francis Godwin, a believer in the Copernican heliocentric system and of the latest theories in magnetism and astronomy. The book tells how Domingo Gonsales flies to the moon and gets to meet an advanced lunar civilization. The adventurer managed to escape the 'magnetic attraction of the earth' by harnessing a flock of birds called gansas, specifically trained for the purpose. Some critics regard the story as the first work of science fiction in English.

Frontispiece and cover of the first edition of The Man in the Moone, 1638

Since it has become so difficult to locate moon geese, Meyer-Brandis breeds her own moon geese. She acquired the eggs last April, named each of them after an astronaut, placed them in an incubator, watched over them, witnessed the hatching and imprinted herself on to them as their stand-in mother, just like Konrad Lorenz did with greylag geese.

Goslings following Konrad Lorenz as if he were their mother

The surrogate mother had to spend the weeks following the hatching in close contact with the eleven geese. The astronaut training started almost immediately, the young birds were encouraged to walk in a V-shape --the formation used to tow Godwin's chariot-- taken on expeditions into the mountains for high altitude training, taught how to use morse code devices for improved interspecies communication, and given lectures about astronomy and navigation.

Moon geese sending morse code to the exhibition space. The Moon Goose Analogue (MGA) / Lunar Migration Bird Facility, Italy , 2011/12 @ the artist


The birds are currently continuing their training at Pollinaria (Italy), in an analogue that simulates the conditions of the Moon. Visitors of the show The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility in Newcastle can see a scaled model of the remote analogue site, admire the portraits of the astronauts, watch a documentary of the experiment and follow the birds daily life through the screens in the control room at the back of the gallery.

Antenna mast of the moon analogue in Italy, The Moon Goose Analogue (MGA) / Lunar Migration Bird Facility, Italy , 2011/12 @ the artist

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Courtesy AV Festival. Photo Colin Davison

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Courtesy AV Festival. Photo Colin Davison

Documentation of the project and installation The Moon Goose Analogue:

Agnes Meyer-Brandis: The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility is part of the AV Festival and you can see the film and installation at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle through 31 March, 2012.

The Lunar Migration Bird Facility was commissioned by The Arts Catalyst and FACT Liverpool. In partnership with: Pollinaria.

0a1Aagnesgnes and moon geese.jpg
Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Film stills courtesy the artist

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Film stills courtesy the artist

Also on view at the AV Festival: Slow Motion Car Crash.
Previously: Cloud Core Scanner - an artistic experiment in zero gravity and Biorama 2: the Moon Goose Experiment.

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