Pigeons, fungi, human cells, finches and flowers are just some of the mediums of bioart and design. These emerging fields are the source of daring experiments and thoughtful reflections about how aspects of culture, such as our concepts of identity, nature and environment are changing.
Matter of Life presents nine such research projects at the intersection of art, design and the life sciences
Twenty-five provocative artworks that explore the scientific, symbolic and strange nature of blood.
The jars are filled with all kinds of deformed and diseased body parts: a gout-swollen hand, an inguinal hernia from around 1750, the bound foot of a Chinese woman, the skeletons of conjoined twins, a liver dented by years of wearing tight corsets, a brain perforated with an ice pick during a frontal lobotomy, a rat that died of tuberculosis, a cabinet of surprisingly voluminous objects that people inserted into their bodies (more about that one in the video below), etc
The Sick Rose is a visual tour through the golden age of medical illustration. The nineteenth century experienced an explosion of epidemics such as cholera and diphtheria, driven by industrialization, urbanization and poor hygiene. In this pre-color-photography era, accurate images were relied upon to teach students and aid diagnosis. The best examples, featured here, are remarkable pieces of art that attempted to elucidate the mysteries of the body, and the successive onset of each affliction
I was expecting the usual about tattoos: the criminals, the freak shows, the Māori warriors, the virtuosity of contemporary tattoo artists. I certainly found all of that in the show. I wasn’t however expecting to be shocked by the way tattoos were used to mark women
Mind Maps explores how mental health conditions have been diagnosed and treated over the past 250 years. The exhibition looks at breakthroughs in scientists’ understanding of the mind and the tools and methods of treatment that have been developed, from Mesmerism to Electroconvulsive Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy bringing visitors up to date with the latest cutting edge research and its applications
Superflux is looking at the ways emerging technologies interface with the environment and everyday life and the result of their research is a rather extraordinary portfolio which explores deviant economies for India’s elastic cities, climate change, political engagement, desertification, human enhancement, etc
Michiko and Michael’s work is never without surprise. Whether they entrust opera singers to produce food in a future world where algae have become the world’s dominant food source or explore the possibility of a city that would be isolated from the wider environment and where food, energy, and even medicine, are derived from human origin and man-made biological systems.
For her project Ergo Sum Charlotte Jarvis donated blood, skin and urine to the stem cell research laboratory at the University of Leiden. These donations have been transformed into stem cells, which in turn have been programmed to grow into cells with different functions such as heart, brain and vascular cells.
The result is a biological self-portrait; a second self; biologically and genetically ‘Charlotte’ although also ‘alien’ to her – as these cells have never actually been inside her body
Artist Pratchaya Phinthong has shipped to a London art gallery the replica of a skull that almost 100 years ago provided key evidence to support Darwin’s theory of human evolution, replacing it with an identical model purchased online. He has additionally invited the museum guide, Kamfwa Chishala, to travel to London and relay the complex history of the skull to Chisenhale Gallery visitors, as he does in Lusaka
Marco Donnarumma is a young performer and sound artist who gained fame across the world for a series of performances and instruments that use open biophysical systems to explore the sonic dimensions of the human body. His interactive instrument Xth Sense won the first prize in the Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition and was named the 2012 “world’s most innovative new musical instrument”
With the introduction of bioprinting the possibility of new organs is becoming a reality. The ability to replicate and print cells in complex structures could mean different cells with various functions could be put together in new ways to create new organs that would take millions of years to evolve naturally. Frankenstein-esque hybrid organs could then be put together using cells from different body parts or even different species
During the show we will be talking about how she managed to get her hands on a fresh human brain but Helen will also discuss some of her broader projects such as The Body Is A Big Place, a large-scale installation that explores organ transplantation and the thresholds between life and death
In-Potentia exposes, in the most limpid and absurd way, how science is blurring what we are used to regard as clear-cut categories, such as where life begins and ends or what constitutes a person. Or in Guy Ben-Ary’s words:
What is the potential for artists employing bio-technologies to address, and modify, boundaries surrounding understandings of life, death and person-hood? And what exactly does it mean culturally, artistically, ontologically, philosophically, politically and ethically to make a living biological brain from human foreskin cells?
In this episode of #A.I.L., Adam Zarestky will be talking about what you can do with a preserved turd of William S. Burroughs but also eyeballs in armpits, ethics, biotechnological materials and ”Full Breadth Genetic Alterity
Charlotte has donated parts of her body to stem cell research. Her tissue and blood samples are now in a lab where they will be transformed into induced pluripotent stem cells and from there into a range of completely different substances. A second self of Charlotte will be created, made from a collage of in vitro body parts.
The project is called Ergo Sum and it recently received the Designers and Artist’s for Genomics Award. It will be exhibited this Summer in The Netherlands. But until then, Charlotte is in the studio to tell us more about this work.
Zoe has spent the past year 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?” 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
From a group of ancient Incan skulls, to a spectacular chandelier made of 3000 plaster-cast bones by British artist Jodie Carey, this singular collection, by turns disturbing, macabre and moving, opens a window upon our enduring desire to make peace with death
London Fieldworks asked avant-garde artist Gustav Metzger to sit on a chair for 20 minutes thinking of nothing. Meanwhile, 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
Resurrection men were body snatchers who often worked in gangs to steal corpses from mortuaries and dug 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.
Glasses, lipstick, false teeth, the contraceptive pill and even your mobile phone – we take for granted how commonplace human enhancements are. Current scientific developments point to a future where cognitive enhancers and medical nanorobots will be widespread as we seek to augment our beauty, intelligence and health.
Superhuman takes a broad and playful look at our obsession with being the best we can be. Items on display range from an ancient Egyptian prosthetic toe to a packet of Viagra, alongside contributions from artists such as Matthew Barney and scientists, ethicists and commentators working at the cutting edge of this most exciting, and feared, area of modern science
One clinical trial applied the emotional tears of women to the upper lip of men. These men experienced a decrease in testosterone levels without visually witnessing the act of crying. Accepting this as truth concludes that in our everyday lives we are constantly receiving information on an invisible and olfactory basis. Is it possible in the near present future to mass-produce chemosignals that can be used to decrease aggression in humanity?
A number of life-support machines are connected to each other, circulating liquids and air in attempt to mimic a biological structure.
The Immortal investigates human dependence on electronics, the desire to make machines replicate organisms and our perception of anatomy as reflected by biomedical engineering
Brains: The Mind as Matter has a seemingly very specific, very narrow focus: the brain and not even the mind, just the physical organ. Yet, the exhibition branches out into issues of ethics, history, and reminds us that while some of the moments in the history of neuroscience are glorious, others are downright disgraceful
The collaboration between artist Ania Dabrowska and social scientist Dr Bronwyn Parry gives a visibility to the medical research on dementia. The photos demystifies what happens behind the doors of brain bank laboratories, and in so doing actively seeks to rehabilitate, even celebrate, the practice of bodily donation in the public imagination
While investigating the paranormal phenomenon Spontaneous Human Combustion, Sebastian Thielke found about long forgotten military experiments that were carried out in the 1960s USA. The designer’s finding tells a fragmented story of how science, in the name of war, is willing to push the boundaries of what is ethically and morally acceptable, and how far the institutions of national defense are willing to go beyond what is rational
Japanese love hotels go out of their way to satisfy the most outlandish fetish: some rooms offer the feeling of being inside a subway carriage, a class room, or a Hello Kitty SM room, others locks you into an alien abduction nightmare (/dream).
Ai Hasegawa, second year student in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London, proposes to close loving couples into an even more extraordinary fantasy.
Her Extreme Environment Love Hotel simulates impossible places to go such as an earth of three hundred million years ago, or the surface of Jupiter by manipulating invisible but ever-present environmental factors, for example atmospheric conditions and gravity
Delusions of Self-Immolation, aka ‘the suicide machine’, was a built by Erik Hobijn in the 1990s to set members of the public on fire. Literally
Reading through the online reviews of the museum makes me realize how much i’ve missed (namely the skeleton of ‘Irish giant’ Charles Byrne, the tooth of an extinct giant sloth donated by Charles Darwin, the brain of computer pioneer Charles Babbage and Winston Churchill’s dentures) during my short and shocked visit. Be sure that i’ll be walking around the place first thing on Tuesday morning
The Urban Immune System Research, one of the 4 Making Future Work commissions, investigates parallel futures in the emergence of the ‘smart-city’. During their research, the Institute has produced a series of speculative prototypes that combine digital technology and biometrics: one of the devices ‘functions as a social sixth sense’, a second one is a backpack mounted with 4 megaphones that shouts out geo-located tweets as you walk around, a third one attempts to make its wearer get a sense of what might it feel like to walk through a ‘data cloud’ or a ‘data meadow’
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
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
In a bold self-experiment aimed at blurring the boundaries between species, Marion Laval-Jeantet was injected with horse blood plasma. Over the course of several months, the artist prepared her body by gradually introducing into her bloodstream 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
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
I had a discussion with Julijonas Urbonas about his hypothetical euthanasia machine. Taking the form of a roller coaster, it subjects the rider 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
So far, explaining children how babies were made involved 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. New Scientist called it male eggs and female sperm at the time.
How will the stories about human reproductions evolve as our methods of reproduction become increasingly more diversified?
For ‘Cook Me – Black Bile’, designer Tuur Van Balen used leeches and his own blood too cook a recipe for controlling the feeling of melancholy. Synthetic biology and the new interactions it can trigger within our body are proposed as a new form of cooking, guided by one’s personal metabolism
Interview with Arne Hendriks about The Incredible Shrinking Man, a speculative design research about the consequences of downsizing the human species to 50 centimeters. It has been a long established trend for people to grow taller. As a direct result we need more energy, more food and more space. But what if we decided to turn this trend around? What if we use our knowledge to shrink mankind?
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 bring back the vocal organs of the extinct animals. 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.
Biomedia artist Paul Vanouse’s latest work, the Suspect Inversion Center, comments on the way genetic evidence is brandished as the ultimate evidence in courtrooms. He set up an operational laboratory at the Ernst Schering Foundation in Berlin where he creates identical “genetic fingerprints” of criminals and celebrities using his own DNA