Illustration Matt Saunders. Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

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.

Illustration Matt Saunders. Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

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.

Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

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...

The project Reproductive Futures explores "new reproductive scenarios". Could you take us through some of the scenarios you've worked on (i don't know how many you developed, if talking about all of them is too time-consuming, you could pick just one or 2 of them)?

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.

Image courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou

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.

Check out Reproductive Futures (as well as the Center for PostNatural History) at HUMAN+, an exhibition on view through June 24, 2011 at the Science Gallery in Dublin.

Previous works by Zoe Papadopoulou: The Cloud Project and Knitted Shields.

Sponsored by:


Tuur Van Balen and Revital Cohen are having a double exhibition show at the Z33 art center in Hasselt, Belgium. Presenting both finished and 'in progress' research projects, the exhibition titled, The Unnatural Animal, explores progress in bioscience and biotechnology but also their impact on our norms and values.

You might remember some of Revital's previous projects such as The Phantom Recorder and Life Support - Could animals be transformed into medical devices?. Hopefully i'll manage to catch up with her before the Z33 show closes.

Unnatural Animal exhibition - photo by Kristof Vrancken - Z33

In the meantime, this post is going to focus on Tuur Van Balen's most recent work, Cook Me - Black Bile, which saw him cook with his own blood with the help of leeches. Have a look at the video and see if you can stomach more details about the project:

If you understand dutch, head to Cobra, their video crew followed the designer during his experiment. Smakelijk eten!

Cook Me - Black Bile proposes to make synthetic biology and the new interactions it can trigger within our body part and parcel of a recipe for controlling the feeling of melancholy.

As Tuur explained to me, "by 'programming' the DNA of the yeast used in the recipe, the yeast becomes a biosensor. So when it is used to marinade the leech, it can measure a variety of hormones and chemicals in your blood that relate to your mood. On top of that, the yeast can be programmed to also bio-synthesize serotonergic agents (chemicals that alter the levels of serotonine) according to what it senses."

The advantage this bespoke yeast has oven pills prescribed by doctors to alter levels of serotonin, is that the drugs offer similar amount and composition of chemicals for every individual. Synthetic biology, on the other hand, allows to tailor this (emotional) experience for a specific person at a specific time.



Now back to the recipe. An instrument specially designed by Tuur allows the leech to feed on the forearm and is then used to cook a blood mousse. The parasite's body reacts with the marinade and with the laughing gas to make the blood mousse.

The blood mousse is accompanied by oyster mushrooms, a redcurrant sauce and blood sorrel.


The recipe is inspired by Hippocrates' Four Humours theory that sees the body as an entity comprised of four basic substances: yellow bile, blood, phlegm and black bile. This theory inspired bloodletting, a medical practice aimed at restoring both physical and mental health by bringing these bodily fluids back into balance. Each substance is linked to a specific temperament, black bile (gr. melan chole), the fictional of these four fluids, evokes the humour of melancholy.

Unnatural Animal exhibition - photo by Kristof Vrancken - Z33

Cook Me - Black Bile examines the space between ancient beliefs and future unknowns, between nonsense and science, the kitchen and the pharmacy.

The new video of the Pigeon d'Or project is also screened at the show:

Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal is part of Alter Nature, an overarching project by Z33, the Hasselt Fashion Museum and CIAP in collaboration with the MAD-faculty, the University of Hasselt, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), KULeuven University and bioSCENTer. Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal is running until 1 May 2011, at Z33 - house for contemporary art in Hasselt, Belgium.

Tuur van Balen and Revital Cohen in the exhibition The Unnatural Animal Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Also part of Alter Nature: It's My Island, Alter Nature: We Can, The flying tree.

Related: Cat Fancy Club..


I've been following the project The Incredible Shrinking Man for a few months now. Time has done little to diminish my bafflement in front of a speculative design research that looks into the possibilities and consequences of downsizing the human species to 50 centimeters. Yet, i thought that the project deserved some serious consideration. First of all because its initiator, Arne Hendriks, isn't known as a prankster (i think?!) I met him a few years ago when he was working as curator at Mediamatic in Amsterdam. He then became the creative producer at the awesome and now defunct Platform21.

Then there's the fact that reducing the size of people does make sense. As men grow higher and bigger as it is the case in modern society, they require more energy, more food and more space. And we've all read about the toll it takes on our planet.


Arne isn't improvising his research either, he looked into art, biology, history, genetics, psychology and got in touch with experts from various disciplines. One of the researchers he's working with, Donald Platt, has been studying the effects that a smaller body would have on brain capacity. In Arne's scenario indeed, the brain that would have to fit a head size of only 6 x 4,5 centimeters tall. The scientist writes that "An important factor in maintaining viability is shrinking cell size not cell number. This, I believe, can help to maintain functionality for organs such as lungs and the brain at very small size. Research work has also shown an imprinted gene pathway that may define an organism size from the time it is an embryo. This pathway may be able to be modulated by zinc finger protein modification combined with RNAi techniques. I think a multiple gene pathway approach will be most successful."

Platt works for the Florida Institute of Space Technology and is heading a research to shrink animals and perhaps people as part of a program to go to Mars. As Arne wrote me:

It's not science fiction, it's real research. Just imagine the advantages of smaller astronauts. They need less food, less water and oxygen, they're lighter and produce so much less waste. They're even better equipped to deal with the situation in space. The radiation levels in space effect them less, as does the change in gravity levels. If The Incredible Shrinking Man is able to connect the desire for space travel, with the desire for smallness it's another step towards a smaller mankind.

Arne is currently showing part of his investigation on The Incredible Shrinking Man in Amsterdam as part of the Transnatural exhibition. He collaborated with chef Martijn Jansen on a restaurant/kitchen dedicated to understanding the future diet of The Incredible Shrinking Man (One chicken will feed 100 people and 1 coffee bean will make you a coffee).


Now let's hear what Arne Hendriks has to say:

Arne, if i remember well you're a tall Dutch guy so why this interest in small people?

I'm 1,95m, almost 4 times the projected height of The Incredible Shrinking Man and about 50 times the weight. The average Incredible Shrinking Man would probably weigh only 1,7 kg. Because of the laws of scaling your weight drops very quickly if you are less tall. My fascination for the prospect of a smaller human species has different origins. One is the intelligence of evolution, another the mysteries of anthropology. Some are rooted in popular culture, films like Dr. Cyclops and the Incredible Shrinking Man, or books like Gulliver's Travels and Alice in Wonderland. I also used to have lots of bonsai trees when I was a teenager. Although at some point I gave them back to the forrest.

a Jack Arnold The Incredible Shrinking Man DVD Review PDVD_007.jpg
Still from the 1957 movie The Incredible Shrinking Man

The Incredible Shrinking Man enables me to approach two issues that effect our immediate future, genetics and the environment. How will the earth deal with the challenge of having to support 7 billion and more people? How will WE, the inhabitants of this planet, deal with it?

The research for The Incredible Shrinking Man involves the opening a fully functional research restaurant and kitchen. It will cater for 'regular' sized customers as well as for the 50 centimeter sized customer of the future. Its main focus however is to investigate our future relationship with ingredients, explore changed cooking techniques, measure its tiny energy needs and experience how little trash we'll make. I've invited a professional chef, Martijn Jansen, to conduct this investigation. We have already established that you would only need one coffee bean for an espresso and one chicken could feed up to a hundred people. To better understand what that means we're planning to roast an entire ostrich carcass as if it were a chicken. If we are to become 50 centimeters tall we'll only need 60 to 70 calories a day, the number of calories in a small apple.

Over the next month during the Transnatural exhibition I'll be mapping shrink culture by researching diverse fields as history, entertainment, science, sexuality, food and art. Around the central restaurant unit we're presenting outcomes of this research as well as stage fabricated docufragments to create a vision of the future. There is a family farm inside a tv-cabinet representing the repurposing of space. In it we're growing cherry tomatoes and mini-courgettes. We realized that mini-vegetables are the culinary equivalent of dwarf-throwing, meaning there is a clear and multidisciplinary connection between smallness and entertainment. We've also created the possibility to psychologically experience what it is like to be 50 centimeters and made several 50 cm research puppets available to the public. Unfortunately the Ames Room didn't survive the budget talks.

In preparation for Transnatural we organized workshops to find the questions we should be asking. Some of them are rather playful, others more serious. Will shrinking man be able to fly? How will he experience time? Are the Dwarfs of Sindh evolution's answer to population growth? What about brain size and our intelligence? Men were equally concerned about the size of another organ as well. A typical case of Koro Syndrome if you ask me.


Shrinking man does not just imply a physiological transformation, it also implies an important cultural shift. How could you convince a society which value height to consider shrinkage?

That's the crucial question. More than anything this research is about mapping out alternatives to our obsession with being tall. I haven't really found an answer yet but I did find many interesting signs of the desire for being small, or making others small. This ranges from very active communities of shrinkers in games like World of Warcraft and Second Life, to obsessed miniature collectors and the rather interesting sexual desire for tiny men and women called microphilia. If we somehow manage to abstract these desires and reintroduce them into society perhaps our paradigms will change. That, and a good explanation of the harm our too big size is causing the planet and ourselves.

2The Incredible Shrinking Man.jpg

Your blog arguments quite convincingly the reasons why humans should get smaller and smaller. but what would it bring me as an individual? What if i don't care about the good of the planet, the welfare of whales? Is there any reason why a vain, ego-centric individual like me would want to be small?

Perhaps Guy Keulemans said it best in response to the blog. I quote:" "the idea of a 50cm puppet exploring tiny urban space is interesting, simply because we are running out of regular sized spaces to explore. The great age of pioneers discovering new continents and lost worlds is long gone, but a remote controlled puppet could crawl and climb into the lost spaces of our cities; air conditioning vents, electrical tunnels, maintenance shafts... who knows what they might discover? Might the puppets even be small enough to bypass motion sensor alarms, or other devices designed to keep people out of restricted space?" What if this was not a puppet but you?


How do people react to your idea?

I'm actually quite surprised by the nature of the response. It's mostly very constructive and inquisitive. For me that's the best possible outcome since I'm more interested in dialogue than provocation. I structured the project like a public research so I can immediate the public's feedback and make it part of the investigation. There a little bit of every visitor spread over the walls of the exhibition space or infused into the website.

Our next project is titled "7 BILLION" because after the summer of 2011 that's how many people will live on Earth. It's a great time to come up with creative and original scenarios to deal with this fact. Perhaps I can use this opportunity to do an open call for projects? The Incredible Shrinking Man is one of them.

See the project at the Transnatural exhibition at TrouwAmsterdam, Amsteerdam, until April 1, 2011.

All images courtesy Arne Hendriks.

Second episode from the work in progress show of the Design Interactions department (Royal College of Art, London).

With BACK, HERE BELOW, FORMIDABLE [ the rebirth of prehistoric creatures ], Marguerite Humeau, attempts to ressuscitate the sound of extinct animals by reconstructing their voicebox (lungs, trachea, larynx + vocal folds, mouth and nose). Made of soft tissue, the vocal tract does not fossilize. The only elements which have been preserved through time are their bones. By comparing them with the larynx CT scans of their closest modern relatives, Humeau hopes to be able to deduce what the vocal organs of the extinct animals looked and sounded like. With the help of a specialist of each animal, the designer plans to remodel the soft tissues of the modern animals on the basis of the bone structure of the extinct one. The structure of the soft tissues will then be printed in 3D.

Image courtesy Marguerite Humeau. Lighting by Diego Trujillo

Hi Marguerite! "Back, Here, Below, Formidable" That's quite a title for a project. What's behind this long and cryptic (at least to me) title?

Marguerite Humeau: The idea of resuscitating the sound of extinct animals by reconstructing their vocal tract is quite straightforward- but could be seen as problematic on the scientific point of view: because made of soft tissue, the vocal tract does not fossilise. The only things which have been preserved through time are their bones. The idea is to compare them with the vocal tract CT scans of their closest modern relatives. Then we can predict how their vocal organs used to be like.

What was originally a simple idea has now become a quest, a contemporary epic tale. I see this quest as being very romantic and also fetishistic in a sense.

I want to bring back creatures which have existed millions and millions years ago, far before humanity was born. There is something almost mystical in this idea.

In general I am very interested in the fictional potential of scientific experiments and in the role of science in the creation of contemporary mysteries. We seem to live in a ongoing fiction: speculations and stories about what happens in the labs are as powerful as the Real itself. What we know about this Real in only through medias: they are the storytellers. It is really opaque. That's why we start to invent stories about these experiments: "science- fictions".

Image courtesy Marguerite Humeau. Lighting by Diego Trujillo

The object i saw in the exhibition space is quite impressive and curious. Could you describe it for us?

Marguerite Humeau: This prototype is the first of a larger series of reborn extinct creatures. Lucy (Australopithecus Afarensis) used to live 3,85 to 2,95 million years ago. It was one of our human ancestors- actually one of the first hominids- the mother of humanity. The remains of Lucy were found in 1974 in Ethiopia. Lucy In the Sky was playing on the radio when they found it, that's how she is called Lucy.

For this prototype I used the data from a vocal tract ( trachea, larynx- including the vocal chords, mouth, nose, pharynx, and sinuses) CT-scan from a human, and compared it with the data of a chimpanzee and the skull of Lucy.

Lucy's vocal tract is, scientists believe, actually really close from the one of a chimpanzee. The part of guesswork is then quite easy.

The same process for other animals is not always as simple as it sounds, as some extinct animals do not have any modern relatives, or, happened to evolve and become two or more different genus. For example, the sabre-toothed cat belongs to an extinct genus. From the same family, I could then use a wild cat like a tiger, or, a domestic cat. They come from the same family "felidae". But these two genus have two very different vocalisation systems- therefore it is hard to predict how the sabre-toothed use to sound like. Maybe it was not even roaring. This is when the prediction part becomes interesting!

Once the vocal tract is reconstructed, I just had to connect it to its artificial lungs ( the air compressor). This part of artificiality gives a curious and, maybe scary impression.

Image courtesy Marguerite Humeau

How did you get interested in the sound of extinct animals? Did you get some scientific help during your research and design process?

Marguerite Humeau: It all started with a synthetic biology workshop that we did last year, with James King and Daisy Ginsberg. At that time I discovered the work of Hideyuki Sawada who is constructing a "talking robot"- his research is the first time in the history of human voice simulation that the sound is actually made by reconstructing the vocal production system itself- so the voice sounds more natural. I connected this research with a talk from Anthony Atala on TED, about growing organs by 3d printing cells straight from the printer.

It meant to me that not only we are able to reconstruct organisms but we can enhance them. We could print living vocal tracts, and scale them, modifying the vocal cords, to create extra-ordinary voices- which would still sound "human" because coming from an actual larynx.

There was also this episode from Inside Nature's Giants on Channel 4 in which a team of veterinaries throw air from an air compressor inside a dead lion's throat- the lion starts to roar again!

I was fascinated by that and I wanted to add an imaginary dimension to it. Because we have never known these extinct animals we project a lot on them- how they use to be like, to sound like etc. They have become icons.

I then started to contact many different people. At first, I met Professor Hideyuki Sawada (who is working on the talking robot) in Japan, and then, palaeontologists, veterinaries, radiologists, engineers, etc. My goal is to get in touch with the world experts of each animal so the research is well grounded. Prof. Joy Reidenberg (also part of Inside Nature's Giants) was really helpful, she is specialised in animal's larynges. Alexandra Freeman, researcher on Walking with Beasts program on BBC helped me a lot as well in the beginning. I also got in touch with Dr. David Weishampel, specialised in the vocalisation of dinosaurs- he was Steven Spielberg's adviser for Jurassic Park. I also had great discussions with Prof. Adrian Lister from the Natural History Museum in London, who is a mammoth specialist.

(image source)

Another great meeting was with Bernard Buigues, French Explorer, who discovered three frozen mammoths in Siberia. It was fascinating to hear him talking about this beasts. Some of them have been completely preserved in the permafrost, with their organs, and even their fur. They even still have the "smell" of wild animals. Can you imagine what it must be to be able to see and touch these animals, which died thousand of years ago?

And then this week I went to visit the Institute of Wildlife Research in Berlin- they have the scans of many animals vocal tracts and have very good knowledge especially of elephant vocalisation- it was great to meet them as well.

Image courtesy Marguerite Humeau. 3D model made by Clifford Sage

How far are you in the process of resuscitating the sound of these extinct animals? What have you achieved so far and how much is there still left to do?

Marguerite Humeau: To recreate the sound, I need three things: the lungs ( which are the air compressor), the resonance cavities (mouth, nose, etc.), and the vocal folds which sit inside the larynx. Now I found almost all the data for the resonance cavities reconstruction that I need.

What I am working on now is the vocal cords. In reality they are composed of five different layers of tissue of different softness. I am working on creating variations and getting a replica the closest as possible from reality (in terms of frequency, elasticity, tension etc).

Do you plan to work with non-extinct animals? Such as imaginary animals (unicorns or creatures from World of Warcraft for example)?

Marguerite Humeau: I find it really interesting to work on animals which have actually existed. Bringing the dead back to life is fascinating and scary. It also creates a mix of time periods. I like how this project lives on an edge. I think this ambiguity comes from the fact that the project is grounded is very precise scientific data.

As a starting point I have decided to work exclusively on prehistoric mammals because they use their larynx for the production of sound. Birds for example ( as the dodo) use a syrinx which is a completely different system. Dinosaurs used to have a very complex web of air sacs for their vocal production.

There is a "scale of exactitude" of course. For the long-extinct animals we usually have very few fossils, the guesswork is therefore more important. We have a lot of information on the mammoth because it has only been extinct for 5 000 years, especially because of we have found some frozen carcasses as well.

I want to play on this edge of exactitude and prediction, but I think it is really important that there is always a part of real data, if I want people to connect and speculate on the specimens.

Image courtesy Marguerite Humeau

And then there the furry red thing you showed me the other day at the show. Can you explain us what it is about?

Marguerite Humeau: It is going to be part of the collection- I would like to involve more abstract pieces in my bestiary, next to the Vocal tract series.

This piece is a synthetic woolly mammoth. I see it made of synthetic bright red hair, almost alive, slightly moving.

There are so many stories about the cloning of the mammoth, like two weeks ago, the team of Japanese researchers who said they could make it happen soon. There are very big hopes that this could happen one day- this speculation is what I am interested in. Do we really want this to happen? What would it mean for us? Will we have to actually make it happen to realise the impact of our cloning technologies?

The reality of what is actually possible to do or not is unclear, we- as the public- don't really know. Every three month there is a new headline about cloning the woolly mammoth. All this is really abstract to us and we can speculate about it. This is what I want to play with in my next series.

Merci Marguerite!

Also at the show: Known Unknowns.

Paul Vanouse and Kerry Sheehan working at the Suspect Inversion Center. Photo: Axel Heise

While the reliability of ballistic, bite-mark and even fingerprint analysis can sometimes be questioned in courtrooms, genetic evidence is still widely regarded as the forensic gold standard.

Unfortunately, accidents happen. Remember the fiasco of the DNA evidence brought forward at the trial of O. J. Simpson?

Mug shot of O. J. Simpson

Or the deep embarrassment of European police when they found out that a mysterious serial killer known as the The Woman Without a Face had in fact never existed? The only clues that the criminal had left behind at 40 different crime scenes were DNA traces. These were collected on cotton swabs and supplied to the police in a number of European countries. The police later discovered that the DNA had very probably been left by a woman working for the German medical company supplying the swabs, who had inadvertently contaminated them.

There's more in the case against the fail-proof quality of DNA evidence. Three years ago, a crime lab analyst found out that DNA "matches" are not always as trustworthy as one might believe. While a person's genetic makeup is unique, his or her genetic profile -- just a tiny sliver of the full genome -- may not be. Siblings often share genetic markers at several locations, and even unrelated people can share some by coincidence.

And in Israel, scientists have demonstrated that DNA evidence can be fabricated. "You can just engineer a crime scene," said Dan Frumkin, lead author of a paper published in 2009. "Any biology undergraduate could perform this."

Paul Vanouse is doing just that with his latest work, the Suspect Inversion Center. Together with his assistant Kerry Sheehan, the biomedia artist set up an operational laboratory at the Ernst Schering Foundation in Berlin. Using equipment anyone can buy on the internet as well as Vanouse's own DNA, they (re)create in front of the public identical "genetic fingerprints" of criminals and celebrities.

Latent Figure Protocol

The solo exhibition features two other biological artworks by the American artist: a series of Latent Figure Protocol lightboxes and Relative Velocity Inscription Device, a cynical molecular race reflecting on biologically legitimized racism, in which bits of DNA, instead of bodies, compete by testing their "genetic fitness". The work uses DNA samples from Vanouse family and directly references Charles Davenport's book Race Crossing in Jamaica (1929), which attempted to provide statistical evidence for biological and cultural degradation following interbreeding between white and black populations.

Relative Velocity Inscription Device (detail of the installation)

The press release for the exhibition says:

Vanouse's biotechnological installations do not only challenge the codes and images of contemporary knowledge production but also question the methods behind (natural) scientific findings in general: What do uncritically accepted commonplace catchwords such as "genetic fingerprint" conceal? To what extend does the technical construction of alleged naturalness notarize clichés and prejudices? Vanouse diverts biotechnologies and scientific imaging techniques from their intended uses, and amalgamates auratic iconography with technical images. Employing gel electrophoresis as artistic medium, he intentionally applies a method that bears analogies to photography: while photography allowed viewers to draw seemingly objective conclusions about human qualities based on physiognomic characteristics of the body, today, increasingly questionable social conclusions are derived from ontologized body fragments such as genes.

Curated by Jens Hauser, Paul Vanouse: Fingerprints... remains open at the Ernst Schering Foundation (google map) until March 26, 2011. The foundation, which aims to promote science and art, was showing the wonderful work of Agnes Meyer-Brandis last year: Cloud Core Scanner - an artistic experiment in zero gravity.

More posts featuring the work of Paul Vanouse: Wetware Hackers Day 2 and Hybrid Art awards.

Still from the movie Mars Attacks

The latest installation and videos by Demitrios Kargotis and Dash Macdonald are inspired by the exercises performed by members of Casualties Union (CU), a charity organisation funded during the Second World War as a course where acting, made-up casualties were recreated to provide added 'realism' to civil defense and rescue training exercises. For over 60 years, their methodologies and exercises have been showing actors how to simulate 'authentically' both the emotional shock of disaster and physical trauma.

Archive image: The Casualties Union

The title for this exhibition currently on view at Lanchester Gallery Projects comes from a CU training script for displaying the different emotions associated with disaster; in this case 'shock'.

Through working with the Casualties Union West Midlands region to produce exercises which test and expand their methodology, the exhibition addresses the reach of theatre into everyday life and the dependence of acting in preparations that constitute applied policy on civil defence.

The first work in the new series, Exercise 1: 'Trapped Under Piano in Real Time' is an experiment in endurance acting that challenges a qualified member of the CU to realistically portray the physical and psychological symptoms of their prescribed injuries for as long as possible; exploring the need of acting casualties to sustain an 'authentic' performance throughout the entirety of training exercises. The 03:03:35 hour film Contrasts the often 'hyper-real', fast paced, edited portrayal of disaster that we are accustomed to through television and film.


The disaster scene in this first exercise is re-created from a training exercise detailed in the book The Struggle for Peace by Eric Claxton, founder of the Casualties Union.


Exercise 2: 'A Study in Laser Wounds' reflects the fact that The Atlas of Injury, the CU publication that guides its members how to act, fake and stage the signs and symptoms of injuries with medical accuracy has expanded over the course of the past 60 years in response to technological developments both in warfare and everyday life.

Laser weapons have hit battlefield strength for the first time and although currently used to counter missiles and projectiles, laser technology is on course to develop anti-personnel weapon systems in the years to come. Based on non-classified papers on laser bio-effects such as Explosive Onset of Continuous Wave Laser Tissue Ablation, Kargotis and MacDonald challenged the CU to expand the Atlas of Injury to include the effects of laser weapons on human tissue.

Still from Buck Rogers



The photographs document three speculative laser wounds starting with the current Advance Tactical Laser, at hundred kilowatts strength with a ten centimeter diameter at the target; moving up to higher power and smaller beam diameters which might be available in the future.

Finally, Exercise 3: 'Heart Attack in Repetition' challenged a CU member to repeatedly deliver one of their 'signature' injury simulations for the duration of forty minutes. This
performance is based on the role the CU play in training competitions for first aid and rescue organizations such as the Red Cross where CU members have to deliver the



Thime for a quick question and answer exercise with Macdonald and Kargotis!

I had never heard of anything like Casualties Union. How did you discover the existence of this organization? 
We initially discussed the CU after reading a short paragraph detailing their activities in JG Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, then rediscovered them when researching into the theatrical nature of civil defense and the different methods used for rehearsing possible disaster.  

Have you at any point been tempted to train with them and perform the casualties yourself?
Actually, in order to get to know the West Midlands Branch of the CU, we attended and offered our services as acting casualties for an exercise at Birmingham's police training centre. We played a family member of a missing person that could have been involved in a mass casualty disaster abroad.  Drawing from a sheet of paper describing the features of our fictitious family member, we sat in one of the academy dorm rooms, that we had to imagine was our house, answering their questions and improvising what we thought was the appropriate level of distress.

It was interesting over discussions at lunch to hear how each CU member had approached this in a different manner from being uncooperative and impatient to quietly sobbing and shaking.  

The performances you ask from the members of CU seem to be intense. On the other hand, CU works in a context which is quite different from yours. I had first thought they worked for the cinema industry but their website states that they work for "public benefit education and training in first aid, the treatment of illness, nursing, rescue, accident prevention, care in the community and similar activities". So how did they welcome this collaboration with you? Were there directions where they were not ready to go?
It's interesting that you thought they worked for the cinema industry as it was the contrasting demands placed on acting, illusion and pretense in the context of the CU, and their role in rescue training and accident prevention that fascinated us. For example, in such simulations if the rescue and first aid workers experience depends on the casualties' acting it places a significant need for the delivery of a 'realistic' performance as 'unauthentic acting' could contribute to 'unauthentic' procedure. All the exercises we set for the CU were based on the unique techniques they have pioneered to 'authentically' portray casualty victims and they were open and excited by the challenges,  and as committed to achieving authenticity and realism as they would be in any of their usual training exercises which can often be intense and physically demanding.


It is not the first time you explores 'amateur acting/staging skills'. I'm thinking of Imagine Being a World Leader. Is SHOCK: 'It...all...happened...so...quickly' a continuation of the former project? Or is it an entirely different investigation?
Both projects stem from our interest in acting, artifice and scripted pretense and their role in systems that affect our behaviour and perceptions of reality.  'Imagine Being a World Leader' uses the primary school children as a medium to deconstruct and show the potency of political rhetoric. SHOCK: 'It...all...happened...so...quickly' challenges the idea of authentically simulating reality and the role acting plays in shaping real world policy. However, the two projects focus on the pedagogy of these methods and how understanding them can create debate on the social implications they have.

"The exhibition addresses the reach of theatre into everyday life.' is this presence of theater into reality something we should embrace or do you feel that this is an invasion that should be kept under control? 
In the context of preparing for possible risks and disasters, the CU offers a valuable service for the training of emergency, rescue workers and organizations. In contrast, if we look at their involvement in past Cold War civil defense drills or current large scale simulations of terrorist attacks, they then become a part of what Professor Peter Marcuse refers to as 'manipulated climate responses', contrived scenarios that are calculated to increase insecurity for specific political agendas.

Any upcoming project of DASHNDEM you could share with us?
The next stage of our collaboration with the CU is 'A Fete Worse than Death' a public event that will utilize the format of a village fete to further explore the art of casualty simulation.  The overall narrative of the event will be based on a site specific 'worse-case' scenario. Visitors will learn how to simulate the resulting injuries then take part in competitions with categories which could include: holding the most authentic expression of pain for a prolonged period of time, delivering the most authentic emotional outburst or panic reaction or sculpting the most authentic severed limb. The 'finale' will consist of an improvised simulation of the overall scenario, staged around the central disaster set supported by accompanying music; a score composed for the scenario performed by a brass band.  
Thanks Dash and Demitrios!

DASHNDEM - SHOCK: 'It... all... happened... so... quickly' is running at the Lanchester Gallery Projects until 28 January 2011.

All images courtesy DASHNDEM.

See also Tatjana Hallbaum's IN-BETWEEN photos as described in the post Manipulating Reality - How Images Redefine the World.
Other work by Demitrios Kargotis: The unhappier you are, the more ice cream you get. By Dash MacDonald: Remote control skates.

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