1tu8549.jpgThe 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 show will be aired today Wednesday 24st March at 16:00. 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.

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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.

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Ergo Sum performance at the Waag Society in Amsterdam

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 project has received a Designers and Artist's for Genomics Award. It will be exhibited this Summer at Naturalis in Leiden, The Netherlands.

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.

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.

Zoe Papadopoulou is an artist whose work looks at emergent technologies and speculates on their future uses to help the public imagine and discuss what these innovations might hold for us in the coming years. In the past, Zoe has baked nuclear cakes, sold ice cream flavoured clouds and drafted the merger between the island of Cyprus and Intel corporation.

But the work we are going to focus on today is called Reproductive Futures. Zoe has spent the past year on a project sponsored by the Wellcome Trust exploring the scientific and technological developments in Artificial Reproductive Technologies. She particularly looked at questions such as "Will the techniques themselves have the potential to fundamentally change the way we perceive parenthood and reproduction? How will the stories we tell children evolve?" Her research will take the form of 3 books that address different scenarios of future reproduction through children's stories.

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The story of the "Goldfish Boy'. Illustrated by Matt Saunders

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1677: Invention of the microscope - 1694: Homunculus (tiny person already formed inside a sperm) illustrates the theory of Preformationism

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Timeline charting the history of assisted reproduction technologies exhibited at the festival Abandon Normal Devices in Manchester

In the show, we will be talking artificial uterus, the orphan child who had 5 parents, artificial gametes, and premature babies exhibited in freak shows.

The show will be aired today Thursday 31st January 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.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Previously: Reproductive Futures.
Image on the homepage: Wellcome Collection.

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Marcos Raya, Untitled (family portrait: group), 2005

Exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection are always eventful. I've seen sliced brain, freeze-dried brain, dessicated brain, two wax babies heads dissected, tin face masks for WWI soldiers disfigured by explosions and gunshot, i've learnt about the history of narcotics, read about a gentleman turned on by dirty maids, etc. Wellcome's exhibitions are dramatic and engaging but they are also impeccably researched and edifying. I can't remember having exited one of their shows without being fascinated by the amount of information their curators manage to pack in each room. Except this time.

The recently opened exhibition Death: A Self-portrait is entertaining, it contains some fantastic pieces and it definitely deserves a trip to the Euston Road museum but it is a bit light in reflection and cross-disciplinary references compared to what Wellcome has used me to. The show displays some 300 works -most of them being skulls- from Richard Harris's collection of cultural artefacts, artworks and scientific specimens devoted to the iconography of death and our complex and contradictory attitudes towards it.

The artefacts are grouped into five themes: "Contemplating Death" (a room full of memento mori), "The Dance of Death" (the 'many' faces of death, most of them are actually skelettons), "Violent Death" (artists representing the ravages of wars), "Eros and Thanatos" (the human fascination for death) and "Commemoration" (death, burials, mourning and their rituals). One moment you're looking at rare prints by Goya, next you find yourself in front of anatomical drawings, puzzling photos in black and white, ancient Incan skulls, or a gigantic chandelier made of 3000 plaster-cast bones.

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Otto Dix, Shock Troops Advance Under Gas, from the series Der Krieg (The War), 1924. Photograph: Wellcome Images/The Richard Harris Collection

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Otto Dix, Wounded soldier - Autumn 1916, Bapaume, , from the series Der Krieg (The War), 1924

One of the most striking work for me was the truly horrific cycle of 51 prints that Otto Dix made to document his time fighting as a machine-gunner on the Western Front during World War One.

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Otto Dix, Night-time encounter with a madman, plate 22 from Der Krieg (The War), 1924

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When Shall we Meet Again?, c. 1900. Photograph: Wellcome Images/The Richard Harris Collection

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Halloween. Anonymous photo. The Richard Harris Collection

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Edward S Curtis, Kwakiutl Man, Crouched, Cradling Mummy, c.1911

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Linda Connor, Death Dancers, Hemis Monastery, Ladakh, Himalayas, Linda Connor, 2003. Photograph: Wellcome Images/The Richard Harris Collection

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Linda Connor, Skeleton, Shrine, Kathmandu, Nepal, 1980. Photograph: Wellcome Images/The Richard Harris Collection

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Linda Connor, Young Monk with Death Mask, Ladakh, India, 2003, from Gates of Reconciliation

Dr Luis Crucius's drawings of skeletons animated a promotional calendar distributed to doctors by the US Antikamnia Chemical Company in 1900--01. Ironically, the company's antikamnia painkillers contained an active ingredient which was later found to be toxic and addictive.

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Dr Luis Crucius, Antikamnia Calendars, 1900

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Metamorphic postcard (c1900-10). 'La vie et la mort, Leben und Tod' (Life and death, life and death). Photograph: Wellcome Images/The Richard Harris Collection

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Dana Salvo, from the series The Day, the Night and the Dead. Photograph: Wellcome Images/The Richard Harris Collection

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Jodie Carey, In the Eyes of Others, 2009. Picture: © Jodie Carey

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Iturbide, Graciela, Procession. Chalma, Mexico, 1984

Our (western) culture tends to keep death in the background. We have lost touch with death and its rituals (unlike, for example, Mexico which celebrates the Día de los Muertos in the most flamboyant fashion.) And since none of us has a direct experience of death, we leave its interpretation and representation to artists.

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Marcos Raya, Untitled (family portraits). Photo by Happy Famous Artists

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Marcos Raya, Untitled (family portrait: woman in yellow dress), 2005

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Marcos Raya, Untitled (family portrait: Grandma), 2005

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Photo by Happy Famous Artists

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Photo by Happy Famous Artists

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Photo by Happy Famous Artists

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Photo by Happy Famous Artists

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Found Human Skull. Anonymous photo taken in 1927 at the San Diego home of Phebe Clijde. Part of the Richard Harris collection

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Tibetan carved wooden mask, 19th century

Photos by Happy Famous Artists. The Guardian has a slideshow.

Death: A Self-portrait remain open until 24 February 2013 at the Wellcome Collection in London. Admission is free.

Related: Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men right now at the London Museum, Exquisite Bodies at the Wellcome Collection, Mind Over Matter and Brains: The Mind as Matter.

A new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present ResonanceFM, will be broadcast today Tuesday 11th December at 4:00 pm. There will be a repeat on Thursday 13th December at 10:30 pm. You can catch it online if you don't live in London.

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London Fieldworks, Polaria. Photography: Andy Paradise, 2002

This week i'm talking to Bruce Gilchrist, who together with Jo Joelson is the founder of London Fieldworks, an art practice that dialogues with science and technology.

Their work, which is usually developed in collaboration with other artists and with scientists, has investigated subjects as different from each other as the caravan and nomadic culture, the animal habitat, the impact of natural phenomenon such as the weather and the light on human consciousness and the possibility to send human beings into hibernation.

The projects of London Fieldworks have led them to the Atlantic Rainforest, the Scottish Highlands, North East Greenland but right now London Fieldworks have a show at the WORK gallery near King's Cross.

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The exhibition, Null Object: Gustav Metzger Thinks About Nothing, has received much coverage in the press. The first reason for it is that London Fieldworks collaborated with Gustav Metzger, an avant-garde artist who launched the auto-destructive art movement back in 1959. The idea of auto-destructive art is roughly speaking to demolish art, and reconfigure the act itself as an artwork. His work however is never empty nor gratuitous, most of his pieces deal with social and political issues: threats to the environment, nuclear weapons, nazi Germany, capitalism, etc.

06gustavm416.jpgSo it seemed almost logical that London Fieldworks would ask the artist to sit on a chair for 20 minutes thinking of nothing. But the second reason for the vast media coverage is that while the artist was seated, readings were taken of the electrical activity taking place inside his brain. The resulting electroencephalograms were then analyzed and turned into instructions for a factory robot to drill a hole inside a bloc of stone. The result is a 50cm high cube of stone with a void that represents what happens inside the brain of Metzger when he is thinking about nothing.

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In the show we'll talk about neuroscience, brainwaves, biofeedback technology and other technologies that are influencing the way we live today.

The exhibition Null Object: Gustav Metzger Thinks About Nothing is up at the Work Gallery until 9 February. The book accompanying the show is Null Object. Gustav Metzger Thinks About Nothing (available on amazon USA and UK.)
Bruce recommended another book if you'd like to know more about Gustav Metzger's career: Damaged Nature, Auto Destructive Art (available on amazon UK and USA.)

Finally, if you're in London on Friday, Jo Joelson and Bruce Gilchrist from London Fieldworks will talk about their work at the symposium Digital Reflexes: Craft and Code in Art and Design.

There is a spectacularly informative and macabre exhibition at the London Museum right now. Its title is suggestive enough: Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men.

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Skull saw, c. 1831-1870 © Science Museum, Science & Society Picture Library

Resurrection men were body snatchers who often worked in gangs to steal corpses from mortuaries and to dig up recently buried corpses to supply anatomy schools with bodies to dissect and study. Unsurprisingly, the poor, often hastily buried, were easier to unearth and carry to the nearest anatomy school.

Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only bodies that hospitals were legally allowed to use for surgeon training were the ones of executed criminals. And because the gallows only provided surgeons and anatomy schools with a few bodies each year, the medical profession had to resort to illegal means to get a practical understanding of human anatomy. Surgery was a dirty and agonizing affair back then. There was no anaesthetic nor antiseptic and even if the operation went well, the patient could still die from shock, loss of blood or infection. Surgeons had to be fast, their gesture confident and for that, they needed bodies on which to practice.

Some resurrection men were more unscrupulous than other. A handful even killed people to provide the corpses needed for surgery practice. The most famous case was the one of Thomas Williams and John Bishop who murdered 16 people and sold the bodies of their victims to science. They were convicted in 1831 and the irony is that after their execution, their own corpses ended up on the surgeon's table. The exhibition is showing fragments of their tattooed skin and even a slice of the brain of infamous body snatcher and murderer William Burke.

To end the ensuing public hysteria, the parliament passed the Anatomy Act in 1832. It expanded the legal supply of bodies to "unclaimed" corpse from hospitals, workhouses or prisons. Once, again, it was the poor who usually ended up on the anatomy lesson table.

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Fragment of tattooed skin from John Bishop or Thomas Williams. Photograph: Science Museum

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Amputation saw, reputedly the property of the English surgeon George 'Graveyard' Walker, c. 1800. Courtesy Science Museum, Science and Society

Because they feared to have their body or the body of a loved one stolen by resurrection men, people defended their right to 'rest in peace' by being buried in gilded iron coffin, outfitted with locks, and graveyards were protected by fearsome "man-traps", loaded pistols with trip-wire, etc.

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19th-century man trap © Museum of London (image History Extra)

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Classes with direct contact with contagious diseases were not feasible so models were used instead. Joseph Towne made hundreds of wax samples, cast from living patients, in order to aid the students' study (image BBC news)

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Dissection hooks © Science Museum, Science & Society Picture Library

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Post-mortem instruments, c1850 © The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons

The exhibition starts on firm historical ground but by the third room you realize that the theme finds an echo in 21st century Britain. First of all because Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men was inspired by a recent event: the finding in 2006 of a burial ground at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. They remains excavated by archaeologists showed marks of dissection, autopsy and amputation, along with skeletons of animals dissected for comparative anatomy. The discovery suggests that the hospital dissected the body of diseased patients for surgery practice both before and after it was legal to do so.

The second reason is that the Anatomy Act was only replaced in 2004 by the Human Tissue Act which ensures that access to corpses for medical science in the UK is now regulated by the Human Tissue Authority. But even today, demands for bodies to either dissect or use as a source of organ for transplantation far exceeds the offer.

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men, as you can guess, often verges on the gruesome but it is also remarkably instructive and engaging. I'm leaving you with a few more images from the show, starting with the work that impressed me the most:

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Conservator Jill Barnard installs the 19th-century anatomical plaster cast of convicted murderer James Legg. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Anatomy classes also took part at the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1801, 3 artists demonstrated that most depictions of the Crucifixion were anatomically incorrect. With the assistance of a surgeon, they acquired the body of a criminal and nailed it into position, flayed to remove all skin and then cast in plaster. The cast was never intended as a work of art but is otherwise on display at the Royal Academy of Art.

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The Superficial muscles of the thorax and the axilla, 1876. Photo Wellcome Library

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Female wax anatomic model showing internal organs, 1818. Courtesy Science Museum, Science and Society Picture Library

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Front view of dissection table © Science Museum, Science & Society Picture Library

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Female momento mori © Science Museum, Science & Society Picture Library

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Excavation of tightly packed burials from the later part of the hospital cemetery. Photo Museum of London Archaeology

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View of the exhibition space (image Visit London)

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View of the exhibition space (image BBC news)

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men is up until April 14 at the Museum of London.

Related story: Brains: The Mind as Matter.

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