One of the rules of this blog is never to make announcements of events. Every rule comes with its exceptions... The November programme of the VASTAL workshops and lectures is out!
The VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics Ltd. is Adam Zaretsky and Waag Society's temporary research and education institute on Art and Life Sciences. It's free, open to the public and i hope you'll allow me to remind you how much we enjoy them:
Day 1 at the VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics: Seed broadcasting workshop
Wednesday 11 November
Body Art Lecture with performance artists: Kira O'Reilly, WARBEAR, Jeanette Groenendaal and Boryana Rossa.
Thursday 12 November and Saturday 14 November
Body Art Lab which, i'm told, will involve blood and sex performances in the Glove Box. "Various performance artists will be ritually cleansed and enter the glove box one or two at a time. Various performance artists take turns in the box interacting with the public or other actors reaching into them with the gloves. This is experimental Body Art with a biological theme that references experiments, lab animals, the pure and the impure as well as the distance (or presumed distance) that objectivity implies. "
Tuesday 17 November
Animal Personality Art and Science Lecture and Lab with Dr. Kees van Oers or one of his colleagues and Koen Van Mechelen.
Dr. Kees van Oers studies the genetic background, physiology and fitness consequences of variation in avian personality. In 2005 he obtained a personal VENI-grant to study the evolutionary genetics of personality using a linkage study in a natural population. This work is currently extended in collaboration with the Animal Breeding and Genomics Center in an NGI-grant on songbird genomics.
Koen Vanmechelen is a Belgian conceptual artist whose work engages with issues of genetic manipulation, cloning, globalisation and multiculturalness. The artist is currently working on The Cosmopolitan Chicken project, an experiment to develop a super-hybrid chicken.
Koen Vanmechelen's The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project chickens will be installed from Nov 5 to Dec 6 at the Muziekgebouw aan het IJ in Amsterdam. Vanmechelen is also having his first solo exhibition in a U.S. gallery at Conner Contemporary Art in Washington.
Featuring live chickens, the exhibition also includes taxidermy and blown-glass sculptures, video, and photography, as well as drawings and paintings in tempera made from eggs laid by chickens bred by the artist.
I never do event announcements on this blog. I guess that would make some people happy but i can't find the time to blog about every single event i'd like to share with you. I'm not even sure my blog is the best place for that so i'd rather make exceptions to my "no call no announcement" rule once in a blue moon. Here's this semester's exception.
The VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics Ltd. comes back to town in September and this time the focus will be biology and bacterial transformation. VASTAL is a temporary research and education institute that Zaretsky has created in Amsterdam following an invitation by the Waag Society. The lectures and workshops aim to show the public what it means to work both artistically and scientifically with living organisms and materials. VASTAL also aims to make this form of art-science accessible for a broader audience and invite them to discuss the ethical and aesthetic issues at stake.
Sadly i can only attend the September 15 sessions but i hope you'll overcrowd the school. Here's some details that Adam Zaretsky kindly forwarded to me:
Friday 11 September - Alt-Biology: Solar Transgenics, Synthetic Biology, Nanotech Biomimicry, Post-Natural History and Green Biofuel
Huub de Groot is a Professor of Biophysical Organic Chemistry at Gorlaeus Laboratories, Leiden University. His research on producing Solar Biofuels from Microorganisms has consistently been focused on appropriate and sustainable hi-tech replacement of fossil fuels. By engineering green bacteria whom can collect sunlight with high efficiency conversion to chemical energy, we may have a source of cheap, clean and ubiquitous energy. While working with plants and algae Huub is also interested in engineering carbon nanotube latticeworks of super bio-solar battery structures which mimic the very efficient light harvesting 'antennas in disarray' found in green bacteria. As a possible infection/effect of Huub's continued collaborations with Rob Zwijnenberg (art-philosopher) of The Arts and Genomic Centre and the artists in residence, which his lab welcomes, Huub has proposed a Genetically Modified Solar Transgenic Art-Sci fish project intended for collaboration and future research.
Richard Pell, a professor of art at Carnegie Mellon is one of the founding members of the Center for PostNatural History. Rich will speak about the Center's investigations into the geographic placement of transgenic plants and animals and the cultural and ecological effect on their cartographic areas through such museum displays as Transgenic Organisms of New York State and Strategies in Genetic Copy Prevention. Rich will also speak about Synthetic Biology and his role as a iGEM Judge.
Tuesday 15 September - Tissue Culture Lab
What does it mean to grow disembodied cells from a former organism? Why do people want to keep samples and parts of beings well fed and free from contamination? How is a cell line kept alive and healthy after isolation from the living or the dead? This is a hands-on wet lab for public practical and experiential tissue culture technique. We will isolate primary tissues (bone marrow, scar tissue, muscle and, possibly, embryonic stems cells) in a sterile hood and then incubate them separately from their original corporeal context. The emphasis is on zombie fetish rites versus the general living rights of the undead vampiric matrix.
Growing Politics: Tissue Culture and Art meets Urbanibalism
Oron Catts is co-founder and director of SymbioticA will speak about the politics of tissue cultured artworks also known as semi-living extended body artworks. With such challenging projects as Victimless Leather, Semi-Living Worry Dolls and Disembodied Cuisine, Oron continues to challenge conventional readings of tissue culture as well as the general culture of eating, using and explaining life politics.
Matteo Pasquinelli is a writer, curator and researcher at Queen Mary University of London. He wrote the book Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons (2008) and edited the collections Media Activism (2002) and C'Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader (2007). He writes frequently at the cross of French philosophy, media culture and Italian post-operaismo. His current project is a book about the history of the notion of surplus from biology to knowledge economy and the environmental discourse. In Amsterdam, together with Katrien Jacobs and the Institute of Network Cultures, he organized the Art and Politics of Netporn conference (2005) and the C'Lick Me festival (2007).
Matteo will be presenting "Parasitic life, fermenting yeasts and cybernetic DNA: The art of living matter versus biodigitalism." Before the discovery of DNA, chromosomes were considered containers for an obscure fermentation activity. Today biotech hobbyists have reduced 'life' to a predictable copy-and-paste of numeric codes. How does the so-called bioart cover the parasitic and decaying process at the basis of life and the negative entropy of the cell that was discussed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1944 together with his prophetic hypothesis of a genetic code? Matteo Pasquinelli shows how there is more know-how in the most ancient practice of fermenting ambrosia than in contemporary bioart.
Saturday 19 September - (De)Mystified DNA: Sequencing Lab
Join us for the random creation of a sequence of DNA. This lab is about understanding the Genetic code and the online freeware available to 'read' DNA. Our sequence is arrived at through chance. We will then creatively explore software options like BLAST for finding where the random sequence is already embedded in the genomes of sequenced nature. We will also explore the online tools of plasmid design including DNA text to flesh online ordering and the anatomy of a DNA sequencing machine. As a group we will arrive at a symbolic reading of our chance strand of potential life alteration. Discussion in risk assessment in both chance based and knowledge based systems of hereditary difference production.
(This is not a Wet Lab)
Registration is possible via info at vastal dot eu. There are limited number of places available, so be in time! All courses and lectures will be in English.
More notes from the second edition of Biorama, a symposium and workshop that invited artists and experts to share their views, works and discoveries about the biology of the underground. Andy Gracie kicked off the artists presentations with a compelling introduction to the mythological theories about the structure of the Earth and the civilization, often called the Agharta, that live inside it.
Let's get this straight first: the Earth is hollow and other societies live in there. Andy brought us to the cave in order to be closer to them. Modern science doesn't pay much attention to the theory of the Hollow Earth, or Agharta, but this has not always been the case:
Astronomer Edmund Halley (he of the comet) was fascinated by the earth's magnetic field. He noticed the direction of the field varied slightly over time and his theory was that there existed not one, but several, magnetic fields. In 1692, he put forth the idea of a hollow Earth with inner concentric spheres nested into each other and rotating at different speeds. According to Halley, the spheres were separated by different atmospheres separated these spheres, and each had its own magnetic poles. These inner regions were luminous and probably hosted other civilizations. He speculated that escaping gas caused the Aurora Borealis.
Mathematician and physicist Leonhard Paul Euler believed that there were two entrances to the Hollow Earth. One was in the North Pole, the other in the South Pole.
In 1947 Admiral Byrd would have given the first scientific evidence of a Hollow Earth. A "lost" diary reports that the explorer went on a mission to fly over the North Pole. It was not his first trip there. Actually, Byrd was the first person to fly over the North Pole in 1926. This second time, however, he discovered the entrance at the north poles and flew through the hollow earth where he observed other civilizations and enormous herds of giant mammoths.
Another expedition in 1956 would have located the second entrance in the South Pole. The U.S. government kept the discovery secret and didn't allow anyone to cross the pole anymore which, obviously increased rumors of a conspiracy.
Back in 1942, the Nazi sent their own expedition to find these openings that, according to them, would have lead to the land of the original Aryans and make alliance with them.
A photo from the NASA would be proof:
Satellite images do not display any existence of a hole in the Earth. What you get sometimes however is a black dot over the pole that only reveal an absence of information.
On November 25, 1912, the United States granted the patent number 1096102 to Marshall B. Gardner for "The Hollow Earth Theory".
Others "proofs" that this hollow Earth life exist have been put forward: certain birds migrate to the North, aurora borealis, anomalous compass readings in high latitudes, north and south, etc.
Andy invited us to participate to the symposium inside a cave so that we would be closer to the only creatures we know of that live below the earth's surface and are so completely independently from the sun that they die when exposed to light. These organisms are called troglobites. There are fish, shrimp, crayfish, bacteria, molluscs and insects.
The most intriguing of the troglobitesis is perhaps the proteus anguinus, or the olm. In Slovenia, a tourism industry exists for those who want to cathc a glimpse of the cave-dwelling creature. The olms are blind, yet have barely visible, regressed eyes covered by skin. Their body is covered by a translucent skin with two pink gills at the back of the head. Unlike other amphibians that metamorphose into an adult form, the olm retains its larval features, a phenomenon known as neotony (via).
Andy then explained us briefly Jakob von Uexküll's theory of 'umwelt', an organism's self-centered perception of the environment. Uexküll theorised that organisms can have different umwelten, even though they share the same environment. In order to be able to make sense of the world around, a creature would look in other organisms for a series of elements that carry some significance.
For example the tick's umwelt is reduced to only three (biosemiotic) carriers of significance: The odor of butyric acid, which emanates from the sebaceous follicles of all mammals + The temperature of 37 degrees celsius (corresponding to the blood of all mammals) + The hairy typology of mammals. That's how they recognize if they are in front of a mammal they can parasite.
While looking for online information about the phenomenon, i stumbled upon this hair-raising video that explains how spores from a parasitic fungus come to infect the brain and changes in behaviour of a jungle ant.
This is going to put me off mushrooms for some time. But back to the Umwelt. Jakob von Uexküll's theory of the Umwelt made him a pioneer of semiotic biology, or biosemiotics, a field that addresses the complexities of biological processes by studying the production, action and interpretation of signs in the biological realm. Some researchers have put forward the question "Do Does a robot have an Umwelt?" There doesn't seem to be any agreement on the answer.
Giambattista della Porta was an Italian polymath who lived in Naples at the time of the Scientific Revolution. In 1560, Della Porta founded a scientific society called the Academia Secretorum Naturae, one of the first scientific societies in Europe and their aim was to study natural sciences. The Academia Secretorum Naturae was compelled to disband when its members were suspected of dealing with the Occult as, at the time, it was regarded as blasphemous to reveal the secrets of nature. Della Porta was summoned to Rome by Pope Paul V.
Andy Gracie drew a parallel between the Academia Secretorum Naturae and bioartists today who start their research in a DIY fashion. People like Garnet Hertz and Anthony Hall are amateur scientists who like to learn for themselves and uncover nature. Is it art? Is it science? Does it really matter?
Image on the homepage PBS.
Biorama 2 was a sequel of the one that saw us hike through rain and wind in Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire. This edition still explored new directions in art, science and technology but with a focus on the biology of the underground through the notion of umwelt developed by biologist Jakob von Uexküll and its influence on the development of biosemiotics by Thomas Sebeok.
The event, organised last month by Derek Hales from the University of Huddersfield and Andy Gracie, was described as follows: Using the underground of caves and mines and the organic life they contain as a form of parallel terrestrial biology, we develop a 'parallel science' through the study of extreme and/or 'removed lifeforms' and through the science of astrobiology. Biorama II will explore a rich contextual and conceptual background against which to investigate some of the outer (or inner) limits of terrestrial biology and strategies for life. Framing itself as a platform for exploring these and related imaginaries - via literary luminaries, various heretics and other visionaries of the underworld and the potential of life (immanent, alien, emergent and other) Biorama2 will stage a series of discussions, workshops and expeditions which will serve to examine how organisms living independently of sunlight develop a sensory and informatic relationship with their strange environments.
I couldn't attend the workshop but i greatly enjoyed the symposium. This time, Biorama's quest for exoticism brought us for a series of talk inside a cave. The programme was exceptional: Microbiologist Dr Paul Humphreys gave a fascinating talk about bacteria (all i knew about bacteria came from acne and toothpaste commercials so i was amazed to learn that bacteria can be grown to repair concrete cracking and marble monuments, it can also block pollution or indicate the industrial past of a landscape that today might look pristine, etc.), Andy Gracie gave a wonderful talk about the Hollow Earth and biotech artists as science amateurs (all the juicy details are coming soon), Agnes Meyer-Brandis was her usual quirki/awesomness, Oron Catts showed a new project likely to surprise those who would enclose Symbiotica in a biotech art box, Ulla Taipale told us about Capsula's adventure towards a total solar eclipse in Siberia and Anthony Hall gave us the lowdown on fish-human communication. The day finished with a truly moving sound performance by Joe Gilmore in a deep cavern.
I'll blog in detail some of the presentations over the next few days. But first, allow me to set the tone.
People there bake lovely cakes:
And cook other delicacies:
Now the cave was The Peak Cavern, which also bears the exquisite name of "Devil's Arse". Until 1915 it was home to Britain's last troglodytes, who lived in houses built inside the cave mouth, and made a living from rope making, while the depths of the cave had the reputation of being a haven for bandits.
Read also The Arts Catalyst's account of Biorama cave trip.
Haarlem is just a 20 minute train ride from Amsterdam. I was there a couple of weeks ago to see an exhibition called Green Revolution at Nieuwe Vide, a new art space located in an old industrial area turned into a hotspot for all kinds of creative practices.
Green revolution is an agricultural revolution of the 50's that encouraged the use of industrial and biological technology in agriculture. Not in order to create alluring black flowers but to feed nations. Today, some agronomists state that the Green Revolution has allowed food production to keep pace with worldwide population growth while others believe that it caused the great population increases seen today. What is sure is that the Green Revolution has had major social and ecological impacts, making it a popular topic of study among sociologists.
The exhibition Green revolution, which invaded the walls of the Nieuwe Vide art space until last June 13th, offers a broader, contemporary and decidedly darker take on the idea of a green revolution. The show brought together artists whose work investigates and comments on the current, complex and often hard to fully grasp mutations in our environment, whether it's the environment in its green and eco sense or more generally the new political climate. Some of the artists selected use or comment on man-made disasters, others bring about distressing scenarios of a future life, others investigate the field of biotechnology, opening up new perspectives and questioning the world we live in. That was a lot to take in in one go.
You make a simple phone call and leave a message. Your audio recording is automatically uploaded to an open online terror database, thanks to BIT's uphone system which enables any phone to act like a distributed microphone. The audio files can also be monitored, syndicated or remixed for your purposes. An audio accumulation of micro- incidents which individually may be inactionable but en masse could provide evidence for a definitive response.
The project is inspired by GFPixel, a static display made of fluorescent and non-fluorescent bacteria and created by Reinhard Nestelbacher and Gerfried Stocker. Unlike its precursor, bio.display would change its contents with time.
The display used using E-Coli bacteria that has TorA-Green Fluorescent Protein mutant 3* (TorA-GFPmut3*) added to it. The pixel of E-Coli can be turned 'on' and 'off' by changing the pH value of its surroundings.
Other works in the exhibition include Jon Ardern's project Design Solutions for Post-Crash civilization that stems from the discrepancy between the mounting body of scientific evidence that reveal the dangers inherent in continuing with our current lifestyle and the fear of impeding the current economic paradigm. His project is echoed in drama and aesthetic by Alice Miceli's photographies of Chernobyl's exclusion zone (check also the interview with Miceli, Chernobyl Project - Images of the Invisible).
I was also glad to see again Immolation, a video installation concerned with the use of incendiary weapons on civilians after the Geneva Convention and the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons of 1980. The U.S. have refused to sign the convention and make regular use of firebombs in the Middle East.
This video highlights the major war crimes of the United States involving these weapons on a ( macro) landscape level, and contrasts it with the damage done to the body on the (micro) cellular level. To reach the cellular level, the Critical Art Ensemble grew human tissue at SymbioticA, and using high-end microscopy shot the micro footage of skin cells dying by either exploding or imploding. In parallel, CAE shows film footage of present and past wars that have used immolation against civilian targets as a strategic choice for the sole purpose of terrorizing entire populations.
Green Revolution, curated by Emilie Oursel, closed on June 13th, 2009.
VASTAL, VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics Ltd., is a temporary research and education institute that Adam Zaretsky has created in Amsterdam following an invitation by the Waag Society. Zaretsky, currently artist in residency at Waag, will give lectures and workshops on Art and Life Sciences. The School was born with the objective of showing the public what it means to work both artistically and scientifically with living organisms and materials. VASTAL also aims to make this form of art-science accessible for a broader audience and invite them to discuss the ethical and aesthetic issues at stake.
The May session are dedicated to EcoArt. September will focus on biology and bacterial transformation in particular. November will tackle embryology, zoology and body art. There will be labs and courses on hybrid DNA isolation, discussions on ethical issues, non-human relation explorations, but also radical food preparations and field trips to the slaughterhouse, the pet store and the zoo.
People tend to divide the world into separate categories: ecology, food, non-human species, body, etc. If you try and mix them together (in practice or theory, for example by asking questions such as "Do plants have feelings? Conscousness?") , people get nervous. Yet the workshop is going to study these five topics one after the other and then mix blend together in the final session of the classes. I could only participate to the first day of the Eco Art session but i do intend to come back in September for the lectures and workshops on bio-ethic, bioart and DNA sequencing.
Tomorrow Tuesday 26, Andy Gracie and Brandon Ballengée are going to give EcoArt lectures at 20.00 at Waag. This is going to be good, take my word for it.
Adam started the workshop by a lecture, reminding briefly a few points:
Adam recommended the reading of an essay he wrote back in for the CIAC's magazine dedicated to Bioart. See also the Live skype talk he gave at the Retool the Earth conference in Brussels on October 2008.
That's it for the quick intro on bioart. Then came a few words about the topic of this month at VASTAL: EcoArt. EcoArt is just another name for a series of practices that exist for decades. They have also be known as ecovention, land art, earthworks, environmental art, ecological art, etc. A great place to get an idea of the breath of projects that can be labeled as Ecoart is greenmuseum.org. Adam named a few of his favourite projects. One of them is Buster Simpson's Hudson River Purge. The performance addresses the problem of acid rain with giant limestone antacid tablets which neutralize the pH of the Hudson River. The river is like a gigantic human organism suffering acid indigestion, only a big pill will alleviate its pain. However, no matter the size of the pill, the source of the problem persists.
According to the book, the biggest ecological threat of our time is mass extinction of animal species caused by humans. Recent discoveries in conservation biology call for wildlands networks instead of isolated protected areas. The final section describes specific approaches for designing such networks (based on the work of the Wildlands Project.) A first step would be to re-introduce African and Asian megafauna in western North America - that includes lions, elephants, cheetahs, and camels- to create a facsimile of species that disappeared from the continent some 13,000 years ago. These large mammals need to roam and the parks and natural reserves humans have conceded them are clearly not sufficient. They need to get out of the borders. Wildlands Networks proposes to connects the parks together through corridors accessible for non-humans. Areas of shared use by humans and wildlife would have to be implemented as well as animals will inevitably run into shopping malls, golf courses and railways while migrating from one wild areas to another. We need to de-program ourselves from our own culture in order to be able to deal with this new kind of living conditions.
For the hands-on part of the course, Adam teamed up with Theun Karelse from FoAM & FoAM Lab Amsterdam. Our assignment of the day was to create sculptures made of earth, fertilizer, clay and seeds and distribute them throughout the city of Amsterdam.
The workshop is in fact inspired by the practice of seedballing that aims to return native and often vanished flora species to cities and suburbia. The most eco-friendly version of seedball, developed by Masanobu Fukuoka, consists in mud-and-clay balls that contain a mixture of organic compost and different seed species meant to complement each other.
We set up our working space right in the middle of the organic market on the Nieuwmarkt.
Adam, Lucas and Lipika from Waag kicked off their shoes and mixed the clay, fertilizer and seeds with their feet wine stomping-style while the rest of us started making sculptures and rolling little balls. Almost immediately people came to us, asking what we were doing, putting on gloves and helping us shape seed balls.
Once we had collected enough seed balls we went on a guerrilla gardening walk to spread them in the city in places where they might thrive. The workshop was actually a crash version of seedballing as the balls should be left to dry for a couple of days before being released in the urban wilderness. When the rains come, the mud and clay will break apart, exposing the seeds to elements that lead to their growth. In each location whichever seeds are best suited thrive in their protected mud starter-home.
The 'seedballed' sites will then be mapped by Theun and added to google maps of urban edibles.
The workshop was a great success, its simplicity attracted all sorts of passersby and the majority of them were happy to go pass the fun of seeing us getting covered in mud and enter a more in-depth and meaningful conversation.
Here's my flickr set of the event.