Angelo Vermeulen is currently in residency at the Aesthetic Technologies Lab in Athens, Ohio to work on his latest project. Biomodd brings together ecology, game culture and installation art.

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Inspired by the case modding scene, a custom computer is built as a form of expanded sculpture. Inside the case, excess heat of over-clocked processors is recycled by an elaborate living ecosystem. The computer hardware is used as server for a new computer game. The objective of this game is to bring some of the main themes of Biomodd into an imaginative multiplayer game experience.

Both the computer structure and the game are developed with a group of biology, game and art enthusiasts. Exhibition visitors can also modify the piece: through playing they generate heat and hence influence the interior ecosystem.

Biomodd will have its own temporary character depending on each local version of it. Only parts of previous versions are integrated in each new structure.

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Biomodd preparatory study

The first Biomodd version is developed at the Aesthetic Technologies Lab in Athens, Ohio. Collaborations are currently set up with departments of game design, electronic and computer engineering, telecommunications and biology. The objective is to compile an interdisciplinary team of 15-20 students.

All of the above intrigued me so i emailed Angelo and he was kind enough to answer my questions:

Can you give us more detail about the game itself?

Game description:

- a multiplayer environment that is graphically and/or conceptually inspired by the ecological theme of the project,
- the game can be graphically very simple and strongly conceptual (e.g. The Marriage of Rod Humble) or more sophisticated in its visual style (e.g. The Endless Forest of Tale of Tales)
- the game concept will be developed through group discussions with all involved participants (including students from departments such as Biology and Engineering)
- a more profound interaction with the ecosystem than just heat exchange can be envisioned:
(a) a feedback system in which parameters of the developing organisms are fed back into the virtual world; in this way a metaorganism could be created living in both worlds simultaneously
(b) an interactive system using simple forms of robotics to manipulate the ecosystem from within the virtual world (‘The Telegarden’ is a classic example)

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How far are you in the development of Biomodd?

The Biomodd version I am building at the Aesthetic Technologies Lab is the very first one. Several other curators across Europe and the US have already shown interest to support subsequent versions. At the moment we’re finishing a first prototype. It’s a human sized transparent structure that contains several suspended computer components and different types of plant life such as green algae and vines. The computer runs Linux (Fedora) and its monitor will be suspended downwards to illuminate a bed of fast-sprouting seeds. Basically, we’re testing how close we can bring together the biological and electronic world. At the same time we’re also exploring potential game concepts.

You use recycled parts for eco-related concerns?

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Yes, partly for that. At the end of each version the art work is completely disassembled. Participants can take what is useful for them and I will keep some elements that can be integrated in a subsequent version. All the remaining components are donated to recycling centers and thrift stores.

There’s also a conceptual motivation for using parts of previous versions in a new one. Essentially, this creates a very physical link between all the versions. It connects all the works. Apart from the re-use of electronics, every version will inevitably contain the “presence? of all previous collaborators. I function as a sort of gateway for the whole undertaking and through me ideas and concepts from participants will be passed on to each new group. The re-use of material components further strengthens that aspect.

However, not only electronic components are recycled, I am also using microscopic algae that have functioned in several former art projects of mine. In 2004 I created my last algae installation piece for the exhibition ‘This Place is Dreaming’ in Brussels. I kept the algae in a dormant stage in my studio since then. I took a dried sample to the Aesthetic Technologies Lab and currently I am reviving the cells so I can use the same algae in Biomodd. Another thread that links a sequence of art works and experiences…

The @Lab put the recorded webcast lecture online.

Photo credits: Jeff Lovett & Angelo Vermeulen.

UPDATE: on Saturday the exhibition Multispeak in de Witte Zaal in Ghent (Belgium) will open, featuring Biomodd. A live video steam will be displayed together with the first part of the Biomodd documentary made by filmmaker Morgan Riles.

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0aahancji8.jpgI think that you will never be rewarded enough for being wmmna readers. Picnic is a conference + art show + playground + eventfull... euh event that takes place in Amsterdam each year.

We have guests Picnic day passes for 3 of you. They will give you access to the Make session, FabLab workshops and anything interesting happening on September 28.
UPDATE: tickets already assigned. Thanks for your interest, it just confirmed that i should offer more free tickets for festivals and conferences in the future.

Now the tickets are valid only September 28 because it is the day of the "Body wet hacking" session. I've asked 2 guys whose work i admire a lot, artist Adam Zaretsky and designer Michael Burton to come and talk about the way our life will be intimately transformed by the advances of biotechnology. Which scenarios will emerge? What will be the ethical, cultural or even political consequences of the bio-revolution?

Send me an email at reg at wmmna dot com if you fancy to join us for free. Fyi, A day pass is € 495 (507 euro with lunch), exclusive of VAT.

Adam Zaretsky is also setting up a hands-on workshop on the 28. I'll get back with more details later. Just be sure that whether he decides to have you get your hands dirty with extraction and isolation of Hybrid DNA or lead you to some BioPorn session, it is going to be fun and brain stimulating.

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In the meantime, i'm heading to The Hague for the Mastermundo conference. Looks like it´s the city to be right now because it is also hosting Today´s Art festival.

After that i'll be in Milan and Turin to check out some yummy-sounding exhibitions.

Related: Adam Zaretsky on Future Body (part 1 and part 2); VivoArts Lab documentary.
Michael's projects: The Race and Future Farm.

0aaroncat2.jpgThe Golden Nica in the brand new Hybrid Art category went to a whole structure not just a work: SymbioticA.

The birth of the category was motivated by the fact that people attending the festival were sometimes wondering where was the interaction of some pieces shown under the Interactive Art label, a clearer set of criteria was needed which would of course disqualify some interesting art pieces. The creation of the new category was thus the most obvious solution.

Jens Hauser, art curator, writer, and member of the jury gave an insightful introduction to the category. It was one of those "Focus or take notes" talk. So i dropped my pen but here´s a few points:

The results of a search of the word "hybrid" on google demonstrates that the biological origins of the term are increasingly used metaphorically and replaced by cultural examples of hybridity (cars, clothing, etc.) He pointed and discussed Brian Stross´ essay The Hybrid Metaphor From Biology to Culture.

Hybrid Art received 470 entries for its first year of existence. The category is dedicated specifically to today’s hybrid and transdisciplinary projects and approaches to media art, focusing on the process of fusing different media and genres into new forms of artistic expression as well as the act of transcending the boundaries between art and research, art and social/political activism, art and pop culture.

0aadresfun8.jpgSince its foundation in 2000, SymbioticA has enabled dozens of artists to engage in and comment on "wet technologies" while complying strictly with scientific requirements. The collaborative structure produces new cultural experiments in the field of neurosciences, molecular biology, anatomy physics, anthropology and ethics.

Symbiotica offers undergraduate courses, postgrad programme, hosts individual short and long term research projects, workshops, "Friday Meetings. Symbiotica is also a founding partner of BEAP and pursues the research of Tissue Culture & Art Project.

Some of the projects developed with the help of SymbioticA include: a dress made of fungi by by Donna Franklin (image on the left); BioKino, the Living Screen; collaborations with Adam Zaretsky, the Critical Art Ensemble, etc.

Dr. Stuart Bunt, scientific director of SymbioticA, and Oron Catts explained how SymbioticA started as an artist in residence project and grew into a more stable structure as they were gaining recognition all over the world. They applied for more grants and had other artists come over to work with them.

Interestingly, Ionat Zurr explained that they applied both to the art school and to the science school. The art community didn't accept them, it was the science school which gave them support.

What makes their work appealing for the science world is that artists get more freedom to explore.

In science you have to work towards an end point, to "cure", it´s not about doing research anymore, scientists are "problem solvers". Therefore, explained Dr. Stuart Bunt, artists are stimulating fits in this ethos. The critical edge they bring help scientists justify and constantly evaluate the scientific process. Artists often come up with provoking pieces which reminds scientists of the unease to work with living beings.

SymbioticA is very far off the radar, it is located in Perth, "the most isolated big city in the world", which apparently provides the artists with more freedom.

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Part of the exhibition: Nigel Helyer´s Host, in which an audience of several crickets attend a lecture concerning the sex life of insects
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For the ars electronica exhibition, SymbioticA brought some artists with them (more info about these works will follow). The form of display used doesn´t go very well with the rest of the usually very "please touch and have fun" ars electronica exhibition. For example, one project was hidden behind the heavy door of an incubator. Occasionally the door would be open and visitors who happen to wander around could have a peek, this aims to be a reference to the occasional opening up of the scientific world.

One of SymbioticA´s aims is to bring scientific discussions out of the laboratories and bring the debate out in public rahter than wait for tabloids to give their own take on it.

Catts also insisted on the fact that although many the works developed within their structure might seem to be subversive, all of them comply fully with the rules and requirement of science. That makes their approach more powerful and gives them more freedom to work and exhibit without the fear of being censored for some procedural reason.

rebel.tv has a video of Ionat Zurr and Oron Catts during the gala ceremony. Images from SymbioticA´s exhibition at ars.

0aaminimi40.jpgJust received the latest issue of aminima::.

Focusing on contemporary art and in particular new media art, the magazine follows a methodology which resembles that of scientific magazines: the artists themselves write about their work. The website has recently been revamped and reflects better what the publication has achieved to become after just a few years of existence: a fantastic archives of texts written by inspiring people whose work reflects on aesthetic, technological and political issues.

So what's inside this issue?

- Dennis Dollens explains how he is applying techniques and methods from botany to develop a generative architecture that relies on biomimetics from both direct experience and software simulations;
- radioqualia'essay gives the lowdown on Radio Astronomy, a radio which uses radio telescopes throughout the world to broadcast audio from the cosmos, making thus the supposed silence of outer space audible; 0eliocaccca.jpg
- Brad Smith writes about several projects he is working on, in one of them he established protocols for using magnetic resonance imaging to track differences in embryonic development between normal animals and mutant or gentically-manipulated embryos;
- Elio Caccavale poetically reminds us how the life of Robert Pennington has probably been saved by a pig and which kind of social and ethical dilemnas such xenotransplantations might raise;
- Florian Grond reveals what is behind his audio-visual installation Hear and Now;
- Usman Haque, Bengt Sjölén and Adam Somlai-Fischer tell you all you ever wanted to know about their Wificamera, a device that captures and forms images from wifi waves rather than light waves;
- Hans Arkeveld's images and short text introduces us to the way he collaborates with scientists on projects including embryological cell development drawings, fossil reconstruction, etc;
- Kathleen Rogers gives a fascinating overview of her exploration of the way human biology can become more directly accessible in emotional and aesthetic terms;

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Still from video installation, Tremor

- there's also a presentation of Joystick --aka Andrea Gómez and Ricardo Duque-- whose ideas revolve around notion of recycling of, apparent, waste, the adaptation of technology and the use of low cost resources;
- and much much more.

You can order the bi-monthly magazine by contacting aminima at aminima dot net. The publication is so cheap it is offending and is both in english and spanish.

Last episode of the Biorama day in Huddersfield where Capsula and the Digital Research Unit had invited artists to present the way their work explores and blends notions of life, science and digital realities.

Biorama (Part 1) + Biorama (Part 2)

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France Cadet, just back from an interesting-looking conference about theatre and robotics held in the framework of the 61st Festival d'Avignon, explained how she hacked robot dogs (she used I-Cybie which doesn't come with a software like the Aibo, therefore re-programming the robot is a long and complex process) and turned them into transgenic and chimerical animals inspired by the advances of (bio)technology, in particular cloning experiments. Each robot raises questions about possible accidents, animal and human behaviour, artificialisation of life, side effects of cloning, dangers of xenotransplantation, etc.
Video

COPYCAT is half dog, half cat. It is independent and clean like a cat while being affectionate and playful like a dog. The robot was inspired by "Cc" the first kitten cloned in December 2001 at Texas A&M university. The breakthrough has made it possible to clone your favourite dying or dead pet and to produce a pet "à la carte".

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DOLLY has a more complex origin, half of it is a dog, then it is 30% ewe, 15% cow and a tiny portion of sheep. The dog is named after Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned in 1996. Both sheep and bovines specimens have encountered difficulties for their cloning: BSE: Mad Cow Disease, Progeria, premature ageing (because her donor sibling was six years old when the genetic material was taken from her, Dolly may have been genetically six years old at birth), abnormal size and various pathologies. This species aims to cure all the side effects of cloning and deterioration of DNA. However, not everything went according to plans and the dog-cow is suffering from BSE and eventually dies on its little pad of artificial grass.

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GFP PUPPY had just 1% of Green Fluorescent Protein gene transferred into its genome. GPF is present at the natural state in jellyfish, and commonly used to mark the cells. In this case, the gene gave the dog a phosphorescent coat. After the fluorescent mouse and Eduardo Kac's Alba rabbit. "GFP Puppy" marks the beginning of a new age of animal cloning, that of more evolved and complex species.

XENODOG is half dog, 45% pig and has also 5% Nude gene.
While the pig is smart and sociable enough to make the perfect pet, it is also the best species to supply organs for xenotransplantations. XENODOG has also the same genetic defect as the nude mouse that prevents him from growing hair and from immunologically rejecting human cells and tissues.

JELLYDOGGY. This genetic mutant is 90% dog with 5% jellyfish and 5% chameleon. 0aaschizof.jpgIts genome has been enhanced with the gene of a hydrozoan (jellyfish family) as well as the gene of the chameleon, well known for blending in with his environment. This peculiarly enables him to adapt to an aquatic life.

SCHIZODOG has worryingly been "enhanced" with 25% Dr. Jekyll genes and 25% of Mr. Hyde.
The cloning experiment helps increase our understanding of psychological disorders such as multiple or split personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenic disorder... it also makes us aware of genetic influence on the psychology of twins, Siamese twins and clones. The study of the two headed dog may suggest promising forms of treatment and perhaps, in the near future, may help predict the outcome of several mental illnesses.

Along with the dog genes, the FLYING PIG is 40% pig, and has 5% nude and 5% human genes.

Inspired by Stelarc's extra ear, Symbiotica's Pig Wings and the nude mouse with a human ear attached onto its back. Initialy designed to serve as a model for tissue and cartilage engineering and to replace a missing or malfunctioning part of the body, those ear-wings prosthesis, made out of muscles, soft tissue and flexible cartilage, can actually enhance the body's fonctions. From now on reconstructive surgery belongs to the past, time has come for augmented surgery.

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The last presentation of the day was from etoy agent Marcos who briefly recalled TOYWAR the most successful performance of the group. Toy retailer eToys.com sued etoy for having a similar domain name to their own (etoy.com.) They first offered incresingly big sums of money to get the domain and when they realized it wasn't to sell, they decided to launch a rather dirty legal battle. After several weeks, a market capitalization loss of $4.5 billion dollars, eToys dropped the lawsuit and the etoy website returned to operation.

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But Marcos was mostly there to talk about MISSION ETERNITY, an ultra long term project started by etoy.CORPORATION in 2005. Its theme is the cult of the dead in the digital age, its chore idea is to create a digital portrait and make it eternal it through a p2p system and its main pilar is the arcanum capsule.
Video summary.

The ARCANUM CAPSULE is reserved for charismatic pioneers of the information age: the M∞ PILOTS (the process can not be offered to the broad public yet as it is too artistically intense, expensive, and requires the participation of a whole range of trained etoy.AGENTS). So far only 2 TEST PILOTS are in the pipeline (microfilm pioneer Sepp Keiser and writer Timothy Leary).

The M∞ ARCANUM CAPSULES contain digital fragments of the life and "soul�? of the USERS and enable them to maintain a presence post mortem as data particles hosted in the shared memory of hundreds of networked computers and mobile devices such as cell phones of the so-called M∞ ANGELS, people who contribute a part of their digital storage space to the project. As long as humanity exists and people are connected, the memory will be preserved.

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M∞ BRIDGES

Now how can you make the remains eternal in a more tangible way? By having them enter some art institution through physical artefacts. They would get from the family ash once the pilot has died and incorporate it into sculptures called M∞ BRIDGES that link physical and memory spaces as well as life and death. Innovative technology and artistic quality might appeal to art collections, libraries and museums. Conservation would thus be outsourced to protected environments and experts financed by governments, foundations and private collectors. The ash of the deceased would be mixed with cement and then used as dead pixel on the big screen inside the sarcophagus.

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M∞ TERMINUS

The first series of M∞ BRIDGES are dominated by visual output (SARCOPHAGUS and MISSION CTRL) and close to traditional art forms. The second series will be based on antenna principles: broadcasting radio signals (voices of M∞ PILOTS), WLAN, Bluetooth and cell phone content. They will introduce a new generation of public interactive art.

Back to my notes from Biorama, a one day event organized by Capsula and the Digital Research Unit on July 13 in Huddersfield. The event brought together an exciting bunch of artists whose work explores notions of life, science and digital realities.

Biorama (Part 1)

Laura Cinti (who is currently doing some research on the way plants can be modified in order to be visually responsible to touch) and Howard Boland from c-lab (interviewed then a few months ago) focused mainly on their fascinating Martian Rose project.

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How would the aesthetics of the flower start to break down if exposed to the Mars environment? Would it still have petals? The project started as a very romantic idea: offering a rose to Mars. They worked with scientists from the Mars Simulation Laboratory, at the University of Aarhus in Denmark.

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The artists and the scientists put roses inside a vacuum chamber built to simulate parameters such as temperature, gas and distribution, pressure and radiation.
Bacteria can go into suspension and survive after exposure to extreme environment, they will event produce new patterns. The roses, however, were not too happy with the experiment. After several hours of exposure the flowers were significantly darker in colour. As they warmed up, they would easily collapse having been exposed to low pressure.

One of the roses is currently exhibited at BIOS 4, a show on biotechnological and environmental art at the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo in Seville, Spain.

0ameyerbarnadis.jpgAfter Laura and Howard, it was the turn of Agnes Meyer-Brandis to present her work. I had her talk about her projects a few months ago, so i decided to drop the pen and paper and just enjoy her witty talk full of iceberg drifting along the Brazilian coast, elves and other mysterious phenomena. Agnes is currently working on her latest project the Cloud Core Scanner, an artistic experiment in weighlessness within the scope of the German Aerospace Center's parabolic flight campaign.

Brandon Ballengée discussed his transdisciplinary approach towards increasing environmental awareness, how he sees his work as an interface between biological research and a much more experimental programme.0amphibbbi.jpg

Brandon has spent the past decade studying amphibians which he defined as the "environmental canaries in the coalmine." They act as bio-sensors. Studies have demonstrated that amphibians are declining even in protected environments. Reports of discovery of frogs which are born with more or sometimes less than 4 legs. With such deformities, the animals have very little chance of survival and the phenomenon might partially explain the decline in amphibian population. Such reports emerged mainly from the US. But declines and deformities of amphibians probably exists on 6 continents. The New York-based artist is currently spending several months in the UK to have a closer look into declining amphibian species, through participatory lab and field-based research investigations. The project is organised by The Arts Catalyst and enabled by residencies at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Gunpowder Park, and SPACE. He not only works together with scientists but also organizes "eco-actions�? fieldtrips that involve members of the public in his research projects.

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otadpolll.jpgOne hypothesis that might explain amphibian deformities is that some parasite inside the body of the frog might hamper its normal development. When amphibians are mutating, they are very sensible to the environment. Brandon made experiments where he would cut one limb of the frog at different stage of its transformation and see it regrow until a rather late stage. If a parasite gobbles its way into the transforming tissues of the mutating frog, it would form a cyst and impede the normal growth of the limbs. The organism of the frog would try to compensate and grow an extra tow or an extra leg coming from the same tissue. This phenomenon of extra limbs is increasing and it compromises the immune system of the amphibian.

Brandon has discovered in North Yorkshire many amphibians with just one leg or no leg at all, this phenomenon is not described yet in England. The artist documents the deformities by creating hi-res images using a flat-based scanner (he built an aquarium on top of it).

0alovemotelin.jpgAnother of Ballengée's project, the outdoor installation 'Love Motels for Insects', enables the public to study arthropod diversity in urban and natural areas. A blank canvas and ultra-violet (black) light enable the study and photography of arthropods (spiders, moths, beetles, etc.) and other nocturnal creatures. Attracted to the light, the creatures mate and feed on the sculpture. It is a "place for bugs to make more bugs." Moths release chemical pheromones to attract mates and consequently "paint" the piece, while spiders spin webs adding their own contribution to the work.

Brandon uses eco-projects to raise awareness of ecological issues and have people feel part of it. C-lab has a couple of very good images of Brandon Ballangee's work.

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