So far the work of Kris Verdonck was mostly a privilege reserved to the aficionados of theater stages but Z33 in Hasselt has invited the theatre-maker and artist to invade its rooms with wonderful machinery, installations, videos and even a metaphorical garden made of some of the most invasive non-native plant and animal species in Belgium. It's the artist's first 'gallery' exhibition. Hence the title of the show.
His works are incredibly invigorating because of their originality and poetry but a few moments spent in their company reveals their dark undertone.
The work of Kris Verdonck (...) focuses on the confusion of man in an estranged world due to technological development. The tension between man and machine, between living species and dead materials creates an atmosphere of Unheimlichkeit or eeriness. This 'current state of the world' - with its environmental problems, ecological disasters and wars - is the central theme through his oeuvre.
In the solo exhibition in Z33, Kris Verdonck focuses on the one hand on the confusion and eeriness of man in his environment. On the other hand, his work is about the confusion of the world itself in which the Apocalypse already took place.
EXHIBITION at #1 is a bold move, the challenge was to prove that Verdonck's pieces, many of which the artist describes as "big installations that are displayed in a theatrical context", were strong enough to stand on their own two feet in a contemporary art gallery. I had never experienced any of his works in theatres before so i had no preconceptions nor expectations. All i saw were absorbing videos, stunning installations and an earnest robot.
DANCER #3 is one node of ACTOR #1 which explores the metamorphosis from chaos to order. One of the starting points for this work was the history of the creation of the 'homunculus', the artificial miniature human that philosophers, alchemists and scientists have sought over the centuries since Greek Antiquity.
DANCER #3 is a robot trying to stand up straight; he always falls down again, but never gives up. His energy and clumsiness display the optimism of a clown who's always tripping over.
In Box, a glass cube contains the strongest possible light source that can be concentrated on such a small surface. As spectators --equipped with protective glasses-- watch the light, they hear the voice of the actor Johan Leysen who speaks, in German, the apocalyptic texts by dramatist Heiner Müller: Verkommenes Ufer Medeamaterial Landschaft mit Argonauten (Despoiled Shore Medea Material Landscape with Argonauts) (1982-1983.)
Light that normally allows us to see was made so strong by the team of engineers Verdonck collaborated with that it turns us blind. BOX is the second installation in a series of installations that examine "the end of the world" from different points of view. Its light could be the luminous flash of a nuclear explosion, a never ceasing, eye-burning lightning that announces the end of the world.
The most jaw-dropping moment for me was when entered a big room on the first floor of Z33 filled with the appliances and objects developed by the artist for live shows. Most of them would normally be kept behind the scenes. The machines often look like medieval instruments (of torture). At the same time, they are often high-technological objects, that fulfil complex functions. They form a large contrast with the extreme esthetical images that they produce.
The overview of machines by Kris Verdonck addresses the field of tension between man and machine in today's society. What relationship can/must/do people want to enter into with technology? How difficult is the balancing act between human control and submission to machines?
For the IN performance, an actress remains motionless for an hour in a transparent cube filled with water. The distortion to her senses caused by the environment she is in makes her go into a trance. The sounds of her breathing and movement are amplified by microphones.
MOUSE shows - enormously magnified and in extreme slow-motion - a mouse walking into a trap. The trap closes, the iron breaks the small body. A camera with super slow motion (10,000 images/sec) was used to unravel the mechanics of a movement, just like Muybridge did. The technique makes us experience an extremely upsetting emergency situation in the slowest possible way.
We eat meat every day but we don't want to be remembered that animals have to be killed before they land on our plates, and we definitely don't want to be confronted with it visually. MOUSE is an image of our daily hypocrisy turned into a slow motion opera that fills a whole room.
The figures in the large-scale projection FRIEZE look like your typical posh office workers. Neatly dressed, impassible and modern. After a few minutes however, their sharpness starts to crack. No matter how hard they try, the businessmen loose their decorum as their bodies slip, tumble and move awkwardly around the claustrophobic space they are confined to.
The characters in FRIEZE could be considered to be a modern version of the majestuous Greek caryatids. These sculpted female figure were functional as well as ornamental and emanated gravitas. The caryatids in FRIEZE on the other hand, display their vulnerability in the extreme.
The catalogue of the exhibition is available online.
The competition for Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award (DA4GA) invites artists and designers to team up with the Netherlands most prestigious Genomics Centres and produce new artworks in the field of sustainability, food, health, bio-informatics, agriculture, and safety. So far the competition was only open to people living, studying or working in The Netherlands.
But the good news is that the first edition was so successful that The Netherlands Genomics Initiative, the Centre for Society and Genomics and Waag Society have decided to open up their second call for application to artists and designers from any country. Three projects will be selected and awarded € 25.000 for the realization of the final piece. The only condition is for you to have graduated in the past five years. Application form and other info, this way please!
A few weeks ago, i was in The Netherlands to see the result of the first competition. You might remember that i had interviewed the 3 winning artists/designers just as they were about to start developing their projects (The Miscroscopic Opera, 2.6g 329m/s, aka the 'bulletproof skin' and System Synthetics) so i was curious to see whether the final pieces lived up to their (and my!) expectations. The show is up until January 8th at Naturalis, the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity which is located in Leiden, a short train ride from Amsterdam.
The best surprise for me was definitely the Microscopic Opera, developed by Matthijs Munnik in collaboration with Richard de Boer from the Netherlands Consortium for Systems Biology. In this installation, the fluid movements of the humble lab worms C.elegans are turned into sounds and images. This tiny worm is used routinely as a model organism in research laboratories around the world. Its 'participation' to the artwork is particularly relevant to genomics since C.elegans is the first multicellular organism to have its genome completely sequenced.
A software tracks and converts the movements of the worms into various sounds that range from abstract opera singing to dynamic soundtrack of background sounds. The public can follow the activity of the creatures on a series of screens, they display the images magnified by the microscopes installed above the petri dishes containing each from 100 to 1000 worms.
Microscopic Opera could have been yet another 'new media art' installation controlled by a living being but, somehow, the modesty of the performers, the pleasant sounds they generate and the control and dignity they gain in the process made for a surprisingly moving experience.
The project that got most headlines in newspapers and blogs is 2.6g 329m/s, developed by Jalila Essaidi with the help of Forensic Genomics Consortium Netherlands. The objective of her project was to create a a bulletproof human skin, the kind DARPA would pay fortunes to get their hands on. Except that the project is first and foremost the trigger for a reflection about the many social, political, ethical and cultural issues concerning safety.
The rather unappealing result is a hybrid between spider's silk produced by transgenic silkworm and human skin cells:
In an interview with Neva Lukic, the artist explained why her project explores the concept, relativity and borderlines of safety: Safety is relative. You can use multiple layers of this skin but there will always be something else that can harm you. A nice example is made by Lucas Evers, the initiator of this project, who told me that before there were no safety belts in the car, the child was protected only with his father's hand and that was enough for the child to feel safe... The question of this work is also about the border. Scientists are also thinking about that. So it has to become accessible to the whole society. Just as safety is relative, so is the word bulletproof. For example, I have recorded two impacts of a slower bullet, the same caliber but with a lower speed. The bullets didn't pierce the skin, but in both situations they showed very different results. One of them got embedded in the ballistic gel, wrapped in the silk-skin, much like an arrow in the silk vest of a warrior during the time of Genghis Kahn would have done. The other one was on a piece of skin with more spider silk layers and the bullet got embedded in the skin itself and not all the way inside the ballistic gel. Two entirely different results, both being bulletproof.
Jalila has recently posted on her blog, the extract of Sam Gaty & George Costakis' upcoming A Documentary Film about Synthetic Biology. The short video below gives a quick overview of the work being done in a farm in Laramie, WY whereby spider silk is being spun from goat milk.
The third project is System Synthetics, by designer Maurizio Montalti in cooperation with the Kluyver Centre for Genomics of Industrial Fermentation. The ambitious work attempts to study the possibilities of production of the bio fuel out of the degradation process of the plastic waste using two fungal organisms. A first type of fungi would break down plastic waste, a yeast would then take over and produce bio-ethanol out of it.
(images Maurizio Montalti)
The final installation doesn't showcase the successful outcome of the project (the whole process would take years to complete) but it documents the intention, the experiments and points to the ecological burden that plastic imposes on our planet. There is a series of objects in a window that deconstruct the process from the moment plastic is broken down by men into smaller particles to phase when plastic waste would finally be transformed in an alternative energy source.
You might get a better idea of the whole project by watching this film:
The Casino de Luxembourg has, once again, put up an show worth a trip to the capital of the tiny Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Second Lives: Jeux masqués et autres Je raises questions about the blurring of identity in contemporary society. I'll review the whole exhibition later on this week but in the meantime i'd like to single out a work i found particularly striking.
In February of this year, Art Orienté objet (Marion Laval-Jeantet & Benoît Mangin) were at galerie Kapelica in Ljubljana to perform Que le cheval vive en moi (May the horse live in me), a bold self-experiment that aimed to blur the boundaries between species.
The French artistic duo has been exploring trans-species relationships and the questioning of scientific methods and tools for 20 years now. This time their work involved injecting Marion Laval-Jeantet with horse blood plasma. Over the course of several months, the artist prepared her body by allowing to be injected with horse immunoglobulins, the glycoproteins that circulate in the blood serum, and which, for example, can function as antibodies in immune response. The artist called the process "mithridatization", after Mithridates VI of Pontus who cultivated an immunity to poisons by regularly ingesting sub-lethal doses of the same.
In February 2011, having progressively built up her tolerance to the foreign animal bodies, she was injected with horse blood plasma containing the entire spectrum of foreign immunoglobulins, without falling into anaphylactic shock, an acute multi-system allergic reaction.
Horse immunoglobulins by-passed the defensive mechanisms of her own human immune system, entered her blood stream to bond with the proteins of her own body and, as a result of this synthesis, have an effect on all major body functions, impacting even the nervous system, so that the artist, during and in the weeks after the performance, experienced not only alterations in her physiological rhythm but also of her consciousness. "I had the feeling of being extra-human," explained the artist. "I was not in my usual body. I was hyper-powerful, hyper-sensitive, hyper-nervous and very diffident. The emotionalism of an herbivore. I could not sleep. I probably felt a bit like a horse.'
After the transfusion, Laval-Jeantet, perched on stilts, performed a communication ritual with a horse before her hybrid blood was extracted and freeze-dried.
Video documenting the performance:
As a radical experiment whose long-term effects cannot be calculated, Que le cheval vive en moi questions the anthropocentric attitude inherent to our technological understanding. Instead of trying to attain "homeostasis," a state of physiological balance, with this performance, the artists sought to initiate a process of "synthetic transi-stasis," in which the only constant is continual transformation and adaptation. The performance represents a continuation of the centaur myth, that human-horse hybrid which, as "animal in human," symbolizes the antithesis of the rider, who as human dominates the animal.
Second Lives: Jeux masqués et autres Je remains open at the Casino de Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain through September 11, 2011.
Black Dog Publishing writes: See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception is the first book to survey the fascinating relationship between design, the body, science and the senses. Over the last 50 years, artists, architects and designers have been experimenting with the boundaries of our senses, altering the way we experience the world.
Did you know it has been revealed that we can hear our skin, can see through our tongue, and can plug our nervous system directly into a computer? With prosthetics, robotics, cybernetics, virtual reality, transplants, and neuroscience altering the way we perceive and experience space, the body has re-emerged as an important architectural site. See Yourself Sensing reports the experiments of artists and designers on the intimate scale of the body, and explores the influence of such experimentation on architecture, installation and new media.
Exploring this concept through the last 50 years of contemporary art and design, See Yourself Sensing examines the work of key practitioners in this field, from Rebecca Horn's object based installations and Stelarc's robotic body extensions, to Carsten Höllers' physically interactive sculptures. The works and artists illustrated throw into consideration how we see and sense the world around us through artistic interpretation. The book includes projects such as solar-powered contact lenses that augment reality, LED eyelashes and an implanted tooth receiver that transmits the Internet directly into the wearer's inner ear, all created with the purpose of transforming and provoking the wearer's sensory experience.
Madeline Schwartzman brings together this unique collection of images that reflect the sensory design in architecture, art and installation, chartering the breadth of this sensory theme through the work of many renowned artists. Analysing the importance and influence of body-scaled sensory experiments, Schwartzman reveals the fascinating relationship between senses, body, art and perception.
Books on similar topics tend to look either like catalogs listing and illustrating relevant projects or lengthy essays that you might or might not have the strength and desire to read from the first to the last page. See Yourself Sensing manages to keep the balance between the two. There are plenty of works to illustrate each chapter, many of which i had never heard about and was therefore enthusiastic to encounter. But it is also a well-paced, well-researched essay about the impact technologies are having on the architecture of our senses.
Instead of dividing the book into chapters that would each focus on one of our human senses, the author chose to adopt more conceptual approach. The first chapter, Reframers takes a look at the mind-bending in function, utility or outlook. Environments negociates the space between bodies and containers. Tools deals with utility, performance and enhancement. Mediators are the agents that intervene between people, spaces and objects. The final chapter, Speculations is the boldest of all with its set of ideas and projects that spark even more inspiration and conjectures. The introduction to each chapter focuses on a few artists, researchers or designers. They can be as diverse as R&Sie and Kevin Warwick. Then the book adopts a faster rhythm with the presentation of dozens of project that illustrate the theme of the chapter.
The sections are not hermetically closed, they keep referencing each other and there is a sense of narration, a flow that keeps your mind alert and your interest alert. I think this book is going to be one i'll be referencing again and again. And there aren't many books i can see myself getting back to regularly.
Here's a few projects i discovered or re-discovered in the book. I wish i could add more but some of the ones i found most fascinating don't seem to be well documented online:
Sitraka Rakotoniaina and Andrew Friend, Impactor and Neck Clamp from the Shocking series that explores and exposes the boundaries between thrill, fear and science lye. The devices they have designed would allow individuals the chance to test these limits for themselves, capitalising on new, fantastic material qualities promised by the advances of technology and in particular the development of new shock absorbing nano composites.
Creeper is one of Hyungkoo Lee's movable machines that allow humans to alter their sensations and be closer to insects.
Haus- Rucker-Co's experiment brought new perspectives on the fusion/separation between the body and the space.
Blow-Up, by George Yu Architects, is a group of inflatable touch-sensitive surfaces that enable visitors to modulate sound, touch, and light.
Krzysztof Wodiczko's now iconic Dis-Armor is a prosthetic equipment designed to meet the communicative need of the alienated, traumatized, and silenced residents of today's cities, offering them the opportunity offers to communicate indirectly with another person by speaking through their backs.
Marepe's Cabeça Acústica (Acoustic Head) are two aluminum wash basins connected with hinges and a cooking pan to create a meditative isolation chamber for amplifying singing.
Euthanasia Coaster is a hypothetical euthanasia machine in the form of a roller coaster, engineered to humanely kill a human being. The rider is subjected to a series of intensive motion elements that induce various unique experiences: from euphoria to thrill, and from tunnel vision to loss of consciousness and eventually death. The whole process reproduces over a much longer period of time the sensations that pilots and astronauts experience during training when they are put through extreme g-force inside human centrifuge machines. The Euthanasia Coaster is of course a speculative project. People might want to experience this ultimate ride in the future, for example when their lives have been extended so much that existence has become unbearable. In addition, the roller coaster, with its spectacular succession of physical and mental sensations, brings back a sense of ritual to the contemporary handling of death (after all, people in England have been known to use fireworks to send the ashes of the deceased into the night sky.)
If you want to know more about the project you can take the fast lane and enjoy designer Julijonas Urbonas's cute Lithuanian accent in this video:
Or take your time and follow this conversation i had with designer:
You have a rather unusual bio for a designer, it states "In 2004, I became a managing director of an amusement park in Klaipeda, Lithuania, and ran it for three years." Was it already part of your design research or was it a genuine job that had nothing to do with art and design and had no other purpose that making a living? What did your experience there teach you?
I grew up in a Soviet amusement park, which was headed by my father. The park was my substitute kindergarten and its employees - ride operators, event managers, technicians, cashiers, administrators - were my nannies. I witnessed the transition from communism to westernisation from quite a unique perspective of that architectural amusement. The entire Soviet Union was filled with these carefully crafted packages of standardised 'military-grade' amusement rides that functioned rather as communist propaganda machines, saturated with Soviet memorabilia, soothing and relaxing the labour force from physical and mental exhaustion. Once Lithuania became independent in 1991, the country's amusement culture was also liberated and western forms of entertainment started to emerge. As a result of this, the park started to experience gradual decrease in visitor numbers, and the need for an upgrade was evident. Growing up, I was constantly involved in various activities related to this transformation, from redecorating and redesigning to rechoreographing the movements of the rides. Later I engaged in a dialogue with these experiences during my BA- and MA-level design studies, finally culminating in a speculative architectural and design proposal for the renovation of the park I had grown up in. This paved the way for my CEO career - I took over my father's position.
But it was only quite recently that I realised it had been a little professional misfortune: I never liked to ride the rides myself, but rather preferred to wonder about those peculiar phenomena. My disinterest in submitting my body to the funfair machinery perhaps lies in the fact that I'm quite motion-sickness-prone, and that I grew up in a very standardised park (most children at that age were dreaming about Disneyland). Thus, I've been intimately connected to the amusement park, but also retained a substantial or, better put, critical distance. Nonetheless, in spite of (or thanks to) the latter, I felt something extremely powerful was lurking in the park. And I soon realised, that, for instance, it was the only existing hybrid narrative form that engaged or immersed its audience through virtually all the possible channels at once: psychologically, symbolically, ideologically, bodily, etc. Most interestingly, I found that this sort of surrogate reality provided a variety of aesthetic kinetic bodily-perceived experiences that was unparalleled by any other existing place, except for, was perhaps, only astronaut training camps. So, now I can say that by engineering and designing efficient ways of twisting the rider's guts and elegantly disorienting people, I was in fact working on what I call the aesthetics of 'gravitational theatre' in my PhD research project.
The Euthanasia Coaster, a model of which is currently exhibited at the Science Gallery in Dublin, is designed to put an end to a state of boredom we might feel in the future due to an almost excessive longevity. It would allow people to leave life in a euphoric state through an amusement park ride. Why call it Euthanasia and not suicide coaster?
At first, what was designed was just a fatal falling trajectory with no purpose but one: to kill the rider pleasantly and elegantly. That was where the title came from - "euthanasia" means "easy or good death" in Greek. It was a design thought experiment concerned with what the ultimate roller coaster would look like and what possible usages it would be open to. Later on, having received lots of feedback from my scientific advisers and the public, I began to add more trajectories, yet this time not as engineered curvatures but rather as storylines suggesting different uses. The key ones were obviously assisted suicide and execution. It is because the coaster may provide not just a pleasant death in terms of physiological pleasure but also, more importantly, an alternative death ritual appealing to both the individual and the mourning public.
Today, the procedures of terminating the patient's life are highly hospitalised and not much different from a mundane injection of medicine. There is no special ritual, nor is death given special meaning, except that of legal procedures and psychological preparation. It appears that death is being divorced from our cultural life much like death rituals are dissapearing in our secular and postmodern Western society. But if euthanasia is already legal in some countries, why not make it more meaningful, not in a way certain aboriginals mourn a deceased by ecstatic singing and dancing around a bonfire, for example, but rather as a ritual adapted to the contemporary world where theme and amusement parks replace churches and shrines or at least achieve an equal power of producing spiritual effects (more and more people attend theme parks for self-improvement purposes: relaxation, self-cultivation, socialisation). This is, of course, food for thought.
It has been observed that the jumpers, people who commit suicide by falling to the ground, often demonstrate some sort of aesthetic preference for a nice place or structure to kill themselves, for example, by travelling long distances for that, but also performing some forms of rituals such as folding their clothes neatly before the jump or holding a hat on the head with both hands all the way down. What's more, sometimes the jumpers fall undressed or perform some choreography - it seems that they care about how their bodies meet the air. All this testifies that self-murderers are not apathetic in relation to the ritual of killing themselves, and seek some sort of aesthetic meaning in it.
In fact, falling is a unique experience that sets itself apart from other types of death: while rushing towards the ground or, in the case of the Euthanasia Coaster, towards the loop, knowing and anticipating with the whole body the exact time of death, there is still a fraction of time for reflection. Its real-time interface and inherent dramatic structure - the leap, the fall, the impact - a three act tragedy, are not present in lethal injection, shooting yourself or in overdosing on drugs, for example. Pull the trigger and you receive the shot - there is no gap between the act and its result, while with lethal injection or overdose there is an unknown time interval. In the Euthanasia Coaster the ritualistic drama is exaggerated even more: there is a lift up the tower, the drop, the serpentine fall, the vertiginous and euphoric entry to a series of the loops, and, eventually the fatal ride within the loop. Moreover, another unique thing is that this dramatic spectacle is open to the public, be it the relatives of the rider or the victims of the sentenced to capital punishment, revealing the full drama of their demise. Given all that, the coaster incorporates the private and public aesthetics of a humane and meaningful death: for the faller it is a painless, whole-body engaging and ritualised death machine, for the observers - a monumental mourning machine.
Another possible usage of the coaster - a "hacked" thrill ride - was suggested by an aeronautic engineer who happened to visit the coaster's scale model during one exhibition in London. "Your machine could be easily hacked, you know," she commented. Noticing my confused face, she continued: "Using anti-g-trousers that prevent pilots from blackout and fainting, I believe, I would survive the ride and turn it into the most extreme thrill ride."
My previous project Emancipation Kit is also a part of my PhD studies and has something to do with parks as well. It is a set of specially designed tools for facilitating vomiting - a sort of vomit simulator. The project evolved out of the sketchy idea of "Vomit Park," a park with no kinetic experiences but retaining the very result of them, puking. You visit such a vomit park, disgorge the contents of your stomach, and leave light and emancipated.
I have many more ideas of similar 'amusements', but most of them have to be open for bodily participation and therefore are quite pricey to build. It might take a good while until I realize them.
The description of the project explains that the Euthanasia Coaster benefits from 'the marriage of the advanced cross-disciplinary research in space medicine, mechanical engineering, material technologies and, of course, gravity.' Could you give us more details about the technology involved in the Euthanasia Coaster?
The key technology of the coaster is basically its falling trajectory, the "story-line" of the ride, if you can call it technology. The very experience of the ride depends on the curvature of the track, and therefore all the design and engineering involved in building a roller coaster is basically structured around this linear element: its play with gravitational forces, the resulting effects on the rider's body, dynamic loads on the supporting architectural structure, the physics of the ride such as tendency to slow down due to air drag and friction, etc.
In the Euthanasia Coaster, the track incorporates both the functional and the aesthetic aspects of the ride. Both converge in the human-gravity interface design, or what I call g-design, and permeate the personal and public levels of aesthetics, dealing with the bodily experiences of the ride including pleasurable death, the ritual, but also the sculptural appeal of the coaster's construction. Based on physics calculations, the coaster's track has a laconic shape and is completely functional in terms of elegantly and pleasurably terminating the life of the rider. It consists of two core parts: (1) the drop tower - for dropping the coaster's vehicle down the track to achieve such kinetic energy that allows to sustain 10 g for about a minute within (2) a series of seven teardrop-shaped vertical loop elements, arranged in a decreasing size order and forming a spiral. In order to keep constant force, the size of the lethal loops decreases along the course according to the car's decreasing velocity reduced by the friction and air drag. The drop-hill features a heart-line roll element, a whirling coaster track element, where your heart stays roughly in line with the centre of the falling trajectory around which you body spins. This element adds a vertiginous experience, but also works as a sort of disorienting anaesthetic for the further harsher part of the ride. The latter incorporates GLOC (G-force induced Loss Of Consciousness) and brain death caused by cerebral hypoxia, oxygen deprivation in the brain- which is, curiously, usually a euphoric experience accompanied with surreal dreamlets.
The Euthanasia Coaster's loops are specially engineered in the shape of a clothoid loop to sustain uniform and constant g-forces along the ride. Specifically, it sustains 10 g which is not too much to get injured physically and not too little to come back alive.
To calculate all the physics, I needed some mechanical characteristics of the vehicle. For this I modelled a hypothetical vehicle with rough physics approximations of 1 ton roller coaster car with no windshield (I wanted the passenger to feel the wind, its increasing force, and, eventually, terminal velocity).
When it comes to efficiency, the coaster is in fact not the best solution to end one's life with g-forces, as there are more efficient ways of killing people such as the human centrifuge, the Euthanasia Coaster's closest analogue, or many killing machines and techniques introduced by the Nazis. In comparison to those, the coaster is extremely bulky and grandiose, but this heaviness is balanced by the aesthetics of experiential, functional and sculptural lightness devoted to the dignified death of a human being. Moreover, it is also 'light' for the earth as the coaster is driven almost solely by gravity.
The model is exhibited at the Science Gallery along with a b&w video showing the face of -i think- a pilot. There's a short extract in this video.
The pilot in the video is undertaking high-g training in a U.S. Air Force Centrifuge at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. He is performing a set of anti-g-strain manoeuvres - special techniques of breathing and muscle contractions of lower extremities, especially in the abdomen and legs to keep blood circulating in the upper part of the body - which prevent one from fainting while performing high acceleration turns (an experiential equivalent of the Euthanasia Coaster's loops). The pilot there is spun around at approx. 9 g, which means he experiences a nine-fold increase in his body weight. He is stuck to the seat so hard that his whole body is almost completely immobilised. You can see in the video the tissues of his face drooping down - it looks like he is ageing remarkably. Breathing requires more effort, as the ribs and the rest of the internal organs are pulled down, which empties air from the lungs. The force rushes the blood to the lower extremities of the body, thereby causing oxygen deficiency in the brain, which results into blurred colourless vision (aka greyout), later - loss of peripheral sight (aka tunnel vision) and hearing, and blackout. Eventually, this experience - accompanied by disorientation, anxiety, confusion and even euphoria - is crowned with G-LOC, during which the body is completely limp, and vivid bizarre dreams occur, such as being in a maze and unable to get out, or floating in a white space, not knowing who you are, why you are here, etc (check this video). While the pilot is recovering from G-LOC, he is still unconscious, his body flails around in a chaotic fit that is called "funky chicken" in aeromedical slang, as the neurons in the brain - replenished with extra oxygenated blood pumped harder from the heart - begin firing once again. This causes arms and legs to twitch uncontrollably. After having lost consciousness in centrifuge training, pilots often experience amnesia and deny the fact they lost consciousness, even feel dumbfounded when shown video tapes of the episode.
If i understood well, the Euthanasia Coaster is part of a PhD research project that explores gravity's impact on creative disciplines such as design but also art and architecture. Has this field of Gravitational Aesthetics been really so under-explored so far? What will the rest of your "Gravitational Aesthetics" investigation be about? Are you working on other prototypes?
The study "Gravitational Aesthetics" - both theoretical and studio-based - is original on several levels: the systematic phenomenological (or experiential) survey of gravitational experiences such as amusement rides, various levitations, even lucid weightless dreams; and the development of a specific design approach, g-design (the prefix "g" stands as a conceptual link to g-force or gravitational force).
G-design, a marriage of gravity and design, is an original creative and critical approach examining the complexity of the cross-interactions between gravity, aesthetics, technologies and philosophy. Inspired by amusement rides and choreography, it invokes the powerful gravity's creative potential for creating revelatory and enriching experiences that engage the whole body and imagination. Choreographing the bodies through design, shaking the body's innards with poetic vehicles, imagining alternative gravities are a few things that g-design is concerned with.
You may say this approach is not new - there are individual examples of artistic, design, architectural, engineering work that might be 'labelled' as g-design. For instance, roller coasters designed by Harry G. Traver, custom-modified wingsuits, the oblique architecture of Paul Virilio, imaginary vehicles by Panamarenko, etc. These examples abound, yet they are fragmentary, and there is no person who has/had pursued an extensive and systematic study in this area. G-design aspires to fill this gap by surveying the existing examples and designing new ones, while striving to unify and synthesise them in a single theory or creative approach, and give it pragmatic orientation, something that an individual can directly translate into or apply to an artistic practice.
The research project has been mainly theoretical so far, but in parallel to writing I've been sketching all the time, and have produced quite a bunch of ideas that I am very enthusiastic about putting into practice now. Currently I'm developing a few ideas of conceptual amusement rides open to bodily submission: one involves collaboration with a choreographer and roboticist, another has to do with imaginary exercises.
P.S. Julijonas Urbonas also invites musicians, sound artists and engineers to submit sound compositions for a series of the installations "Sounding Doors." Selected compositions will be played by opening/closing a door augmented with specially integrated electronics in various public locations in the city Karlsruhe in late Summer. DEADLINE: 1 August 2011.
So far, explaining children how babies were made involved quite often storks, cabbages, bees and other fantasies. Science, however, has added new modes of reproductions to the discourse. From in vitro fertilization in the 1970s to today's research into artificial gametes from stem cells or somatic cells that would allow sperm and eggs to be created from anyone's cells, regardless of age, gender or sexuality. At the time, New Scientist described the research as 'male eggs' and 'female sperm'.
How will the stories about human reproductions evolve as our methods of reproduction become increasingly more diversified?
Designer Zoe Papadopoulou collaborated with Dr Anna Smajdor, an expert in the ethical aspects of science, on a multidisciplinary project that investigates how scientific and technological developments influence historical stories and narratives, explaining 'where we come from'. By exploring new reproductive scenarios, this project aims to create the space for a broader discussion on artificial reproductive technologies (ART) that can engage people in the possibilities these advances present.
The work, called Reproductive Futures, is still very much in progress but the first results of the project are on view right now at the Science Gallery in Dublin as part of an exhibition that considers the future of our species. The final outcomes of the project will be a series of books accompanied by objects featured in the narratives.
Hello Zoe! Sorry to ask you something so basic but is "artificial reproductive technologies" a different way to say "assisted reproductive technology"? Or are they two different things?
The two terms refer to the same thing - often abbreviated to 'ART'. They incorporate currently available treatments such as IVF, and treatments in development, as well as future possibilities such as artificial gametes.
Apart from gametes which ART does Reproductive Futures take into account?
There are also a number of different scientific techniques that are being pursued. One involves the creation of gametes from embryonic stem cells; other scientists are working on making sperm from bone marrow stem cells. Another method is 'haploidisation' where a normal body cell is stimulated to become a gamete by splitting and ejecting half of its chromosomes. Work is also underway on induced pluripotential stem cells, where normal body cells are treated with chemicals that stimulate them to behave as though they were embryonic stem cells. It's not certain which if any of these is likely to succeed first, or which would be safer. One of the interesting ethical questions is about how we establish whether it's safe or not, without actually allowing it to happen in a human being. Even if it works in animals we can't be 100% sure - it will be experimental. This is what happened with the first IVF baby, scientists really had no idea what the long term implications would be, so this was very much an experimental procedure.
I read a couple of articles about the use of artificial gametes in reproduction that the text on your project page refers to. They date back to 2008 and most of their authors had their doubts about the validity and safety of the technology. Is it still the case? How far away are the "female sperm" and "male eggs" from reality?
Some scientists are very optimistic about how soon this will work. Others are more cautious. When I started researching this about 7 years ago, some scientists were claiming artificial gametes would be available in 5 years. Clearly that hasn't happened! But often in science, breakthroughs can be unexpected, so I don't think it's a question of being able to put an exact timescale on it. What is clear is that scientists in many areas are working on getting cells to change their function. Creating cells that will function as gametes is just one part of this, so it's not totally cut off from other aspects of research. The ultimate goal is to be able to understand and control all these processes so that any human cell can be reprogrammed to fulfil whatever function we want it to...
We are currently showing the work in progress at the Human+ exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin, previewing four stories of hypothesized reproductive futures: from genetics ('multiple biological mothers' - where more than two people's DNA is part of fertilization), through to more "practical" near-future scenarios like the possibility of full term gestation in artificial wombs.
We really should mention that 'Reproductive Futures' is still in its development phase. We are delighted to have just been awarded a Wellcome Trust Arts Award grant which means the next couple of months will be focus on exploring all the possible opportunities that will arise from ART.
Some ART would bring part of the reproduction into the hands of scientists. There could even be no sexual intercourse involved and therefore, i suspect less taboo or embarrassment in explaining how a baby was born. So does it mean that they will generate narratives that could be completely free from the cabbage and cork-type of "mythology"? Would parents explaining to their kids where they come from be more open about the scientific process than they would be about one that take place in a bed?
That is very possibly right, but perhaps that's all the more reason why we might need to re-imagine those "mythologies". Deliberately, the tales you refer to that were once told to children bore no resemblance to how or why conception happened. This ambiguity was embedded by the use of fantasy, and they referred to a world very different to that of children, or of their everyday lives. Fantasy in and of itself has a role to play in this project, yet as developments in science makes the descriptions of 'how' and 'where' babies come from more complicated, there must be truth and integrity in what we narrate. This project needs to be neither too factual and scientific, nor based on expedient story-telling. It must instead find a way of making understanding both accessible and enjoyable to children and adults.
Thanks Zoe and Anna!
All images courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou.