Publisher Leonardo/Olats writes: Artists have opened new avenues in the art world by employing these developments in biotechnology, synthetic biology and Artificial Life; going from inanimate to autonomous objects to living creatures; exploring the thin border between animate and inanimate; confronting the grown, the evolved, the born and the built; and raising aesthetic but also social, political and ethical issues.
New forms of 'exo-life' may not arrive on Earth from outerspace by hitching a ride on a meteorite, but instead come out of the lab, designed by scientists - or perhaps artists - weaving together biology and computing in a petri dish or bioreactor.
Over the last fifty years our ideas about the nature of life have changed dramatically. Revolutionary advances in genetics and molecular biology have given us new insights into how carbon based life on our planet originates and functions. In more recent years the development of synthetic biology has dramatically expanded our ability to design and modify life forms. At the same time, disruptive developments in computing technologies have led to the possibility of generating digitally-based artificial life. And outside traditional institutions, emerging DIY, bio-hacking and citizen science movements have begun to appropriate laboratory technologies, challenging ideas about the governance of the life sciences.
Meta-Life is an anthology of articles published in Leonardo about the living, the non-living and the 'kind of living' in all their forms. There are 45 articles in total, some date back to the 1990s, others are newly commissioned texts. In fact, the whole DIY Biology - BioHacking section is composed of new commissions.
A quick look at the titles of the sections demonstrates the wide-range of themes explored: Between Bio, Silico and Syhtetic: Life and the Arts reflects on how our notions of life and of art are challenged both by computer technology and biotechnologies; Artificial Life and the Arts as well as the section called BioArt contain theoretical and philosophical texts about both fields, Bio - Fiction, Design, Archictecture explores the thin border between reality and fiction; DIY Bio - BioHacking proposes various points of view on the bio DIY movement.
I haven't been through the whole ebook but i've read most of the articles and so far, so very good. To be blunt, I don't trust Leonardo to publish texts that are approachable and engaging. Intelligent, informative and thought-provoking, they do very well but appealing to broad(ish) audiences? I wasn't not so sure. Well, that's where i was very wrong. There is no abstruse language nor complex theories in this ebook. Trust me, I deliberately looked for it.
Here's just a couple of examples of the essays i've enjoyed, in no particular order:
Dr Craig Hilton writes about his collaboration with artists Billy Apple® to create what is simultaneously a subject of art and of scientific endeavor. This project consisted in growing the first biological tissue made available for artists and the first biological tissue for science research made available by an artist as art. The Immortalisation of Billy Apple® is a work of art that lives, multiplies and has the potential to create other works of art ad infinitum, especially because there is no restriction placed on the use of the Billy Apple® 's tissue.
The flamboyant Adam Zaretsky authors a sex-infused manifesto about the utopias surrounding the art (manipulation) of the living.
Following the exhibition GROW YOUR OWN ... Life After Nature, Michael John Gorman offers a coherent and crystal-clear introduction to synthetic biology, in which he also manages to include a few reflections on intellectual property, ethical and regulatory framework, media frenzy, and market interests.
Anna Dumitriu explores the relationship between bacterial and digital communications networks through the lessons she learnt while working on her project Cybernetic Bacteria 2.0.
Steve Tomasula places bio art into the context of the tradition of manipulating nature for aesthetic reason.
Oron Cats investigates the concept of being alive or 'just kind of living.' He makes some important points about the absence of a cultural language that would help audiences deal with tissue culture and other fragments of life. How should we culturally articulate and position lab-grown life when we have no cultural reference that would allow us to relate to it?
David Benqué has an enlightening conversation with independent synthetic biologist Cathal Garvey. The discussion explores the difference between DIY biology and BioHacking, the fear of biotechnology escaping the labs, the cost of creativity in biology, etc.
The first text i ran to was actually Alessandro Delfanti's research about DIY biology and its position in the world of science, the world of the market and the state.
I think i could go on and on. I carried Meta-Life in my e-reader throughout the Summer and enjoyed dipping in and out of it. I think that this collection of texts by illustrious artists, designers, and researchers constitutes a great reference to anyone who has a mild-to-strong interest in how the art world is exploring the synthetic and the aesthetic, the artificial and the new natural, the fictional and the ethical dimensions of life.
Get that one for your Kindle, it's a gem.
Image on the homepage: Brandon Ballengée. Malamp Reliquaries, 1996-ongoing. Unique IRIS prints on water-colour paper. 2003-07.
There's nothing remarkable about a can of tuna, an empty packet of candies, a plastic toy bird, or a battered video tape of a Queen concert. But stories and issues that affect us all can hide behind the most mundane objects.
These items and many others are part of A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting, a growing collection of objects "from places that may disappear owing to the combined physical, political, and economic impacts of climate change." Each time the project is exhibited in a new city, artist Amy Balkin calls for local people to contribute to the archive and donate items which constitute an evidence of rising sea level, coastal erosion, desertification and extreme weather getting more extreme. Each object is then catalogued and archived as if it were a rare historical artifact, because one day it may well be.
The materials in the archive mark the asymmetry of present or anticipated loss, standing in as proxies for the contributors' recognition of the geopolitical production (or spatial politics) of precarity and slow-onset dispossession. Together, the contributions form one material record among many; a collection of community-gathered evidence, a public record, a midden.
So far, the collection includes objects from the antarctic, items rescued from the floods caused by Superstorm Sandy, water from Venice, etc. And i'm looking forward to seeing what Dubliners will contribute to the project as the archive is now on view (and open for submissions) at the Science Gallery. In the meantime, i've contacted
Hi Amy! The items collected come from places that may disappear owing to the impact of climate change. So how does Dublin fits into this? Are the effects of climate change already visible in the city and more generally in the country?
I hope your questions will be answered by people living in Dublin and across Ireland and its outlying islands, whose contributions to the archive, whether related to predicted increases in coastal flooding events along the East Coast, or other experienced or forecast climate impacts, will form a new Ireland Collection.
What kind of items have people in Dublin added to the archive so far?
None yet-the exhibition opened recently-the call for contributions is at https://dublin.sciencegallery.com/strangeweather/peoplesarchive
What were the most unexpected items that have been contributed to the archive so far?
It's hard to say, as each contribution is complicated by the circumstances and context of it's submission. Your readers can view the entire archive at sinkingandmelting.tumblr.com and decide for themselves.
And which ones would you say are the the most representative of the climate change crisis?
Items contributed from places where people's ability to remain is difficult or becoming untenable, such those in the Kivalina (Alaska, USA) Collection.
The description of the project says that "Through common but differentiated collections, contributed materials form an archive of the future anterior; what will have been." Could you elaborate on this? Explain in more details what the 'future anterior' means?
The phrase "common but differentiated" is taken from Article 3 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which states "The Parties [which have ratified the convention] should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.
In A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting, all contributions together form a 'common' archive, a coalition of items from radically varied situations. These are 'differentiated' based on the UNFCCC Party status/commitment category of the country each was contributed from, which is included on the museum label (Annex I, II, B, Non-Annex, No Status) for each item in the archive .
In the context of the archive the language of "common but differentiated" is taken to situate the archive against the inequity of present climate politics, including the UNFCCC treaty process, which as it politically constructs the atmosphere, influences the habitability of locations represented by objects in the archive, influencing the meaning of the archive, the individual items within it, and the lives of the archive's contributors.
The future anterior, which describes "what will have been," is a position the archive asks its contributors, audience, and users to take. I understand this as a political task demanding insight and the willingness to confront uncertainty and loss.
I think what strikes me the most about A People's Archives is how tangible it makes the issue of climate change feel. When i discovered the project at the Science Gallery, i suddenly visualized how much part of daily life it has become, even if we don't necessarily realize it yet. The fact that you left the archive in the hands of everyone played a big role in this feeling. But do you 'curate' the collection? Or do you accept anything people give?
One framing idea of the archive is that it is not 'curated,' and is always presented in its entirety, whether all the contributions are exhibited, as they are in Dublin, or available as a research tool in archived collections, as it was at the Prelinger Library earlier this year.
As of August 2014 the archive contains roughly 100 items, none of which weighs more than 1kg, so presenting all the contributions hasn't created any logistical problems. If the archive gets much larger, there may be a need to do things differently.
Everything contributed to date has been accepted, other than two items offered that misunderstood the parameters of the archive. More complicated is the question of including items contributed after specific weather events, such as materials sent from Germany after the 2013 European Floods or from New York and Cuba after Superstorm Sandy, or materials offered from places that are at risk but will have significant adaptation infrastructure built, like Venice, Italy, which is getting a $7 billion flood-protection system.
Where will the objects go after the Dublin show? Because the project has been exhibited in several countries so far so i suspect that the collection is getting quite voluminous by now.
The archive will go to New York next for the exhibition Lenin: Icebreaker, which opens at the Austrian Cultural Forum in December. I'm currently working with Olga Kopenkina to solicit contribution from across Russia, with particular attention to the northern autonomous okrugs (administrative divisions) and Murmansk Oblast.
If your readers want to contribute to A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting, from Ireland, Russia, or anywhere else, how to submit is www.sinkingandmelting.org
Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer from CoClimate and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.
In the early 19th century, textile artisans started to break into factories at night to destroy the new labour-saving machines that their employers had bought. They saw the stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms as a threat that would make their skills obsolete and lead to lower wages.
The movement began in Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread throughout England over the following two years. The artisans who opposed the newly introduced machinery were called the Luddites. The origin of the name is uncertain but over time, the term "Luddite" came to describe people opposed to any form of technological progress. In the late 21st century, the neo-luddites emerged. They protest(ed) against the negative impact that technology has on individuals, their communities and the environment and aspire to a return to a 'simple lifestyle'.
Newspapers suggest that society is now facing the rise of a new type of neo-luddites. They don't fear for their jobs or for any damage to the ecology, they fear the loss of privacy brought about by drones and google glasses. In any case, the smartest form of luddism or neo-luddism is not one that commends violence, it's one that calls for a better understanding of new technologies and demands that people (all of them not just the ones who can afford to buy these technologies) have a voice in how they are to be distributed and used.
Speculative designer Lisa Ma, however, is pushing the discussion further. Over the past few month, she has been looking for the relevance of Luddism in the modern era by shifting focus from digital and communications technologies to the innovations of biotechnology industries. These biotechnologies which have started to pervade the food, health and ecological systems will undoubtedly attract their own forms of luddism. So who are the BioLuddites? Where are the group and individuals who ask for a demystification of biotechnologies and who are calling for a public debate about GMOs, systems ecology, hormone replacement, etc?
"Biotechnology, its beaucrocies, peripheries and implementation affect our everyday lives. There is a lot of work on the public engagement of emerging technologies, but there are gaps between where we believe science should cover and what is not yet covered. The recent ebola outbreak is an example of where the epidemic is actually one of fear, as society comes face to face with and area not yet solved by biotechnology or policy.
In digital technologies, we've seen an emergence of e-etiquettes and social manuals etc. of digital behaviour. These are what we refer to when society reaches the inner and outer limits of digital technology. Similarly, we also need guidances to reform our social relationships with biotechnology. Bioluddites is filling a necessary role in guiding the social and not just the ethical critiques of biotechnologies."
As part of her residency at Near Now, a programme which works closely with artists and designers to produce projects that explore the place and impact of technology in everyday life, Lisa Ma organised a panel titled Where are the Luddites - An Open Call for BioLuddites. The event took place on 4th June 2014, in Nottingham, birth place of the Luddite movement.
John O'Shea gave a compelling talk about his very funny adventures in proposing the implementation of a Meat Licence, and in bio-engineering a Pigs Bladder Football. Both are projects that catches the imagination of the public but the artist also discussed the legal, ethical and cultural questions that arose during the development of the works.
David King, who has a PhD in molecular biology, is the founder and Director of Human Genetics Alert, the founder of Luddite 200, and of the Breaking the Frame conference. He is also a frequent contributor to media debates on genetics and it is clear from his contribution to the panel that he has some strong and thought-provoking opinions about synthetic biology, three-parent babies, the need to engage in a dialogue with the powerful systems that control biotechnological innovations, etc.
Ben Vickers is a curator, writer, technologist and self-proclaimed Luddite. He talked about the functioning of unMonastery, a space that aims to develop a new kind of social space, akin to co-living and co-working spaces, drawing influence from both Monasteries and HackerSpaces, with a focus on the process of co-creation and co-learning between the community and unMonasterians. He is also a NearNow fellow.
An Open Call for BioLuddites was a great event and i can't recommend enough to watch the video of the panel:
Image on the homepage via BBC news.
One of the thing that surprised me when i moved from Belgium to Italy all those years ago is that i suddenly found myself in a culture where the weather wasn't part of the conversation. The sky never changed much. Every day was mostly sunny and fairly dry. This is less the case nowadays. I'm living in London where the Summer has been boiling hot. Meanwhile, Northern Italy has been showered by torrential rains. The weather has decidedly taken a turn for the weirder.
Newspapers publish alarming and disconcerting articles about climate change and 'extreme' meteorological phenomena on a daily basis. It seems that no matter how much we cycle to work and recycle our trash, this is too little too late (becoming a vegetarian would have a bigger impact anyway.) Climate change is a phenomenon so complex and grim that most people feel powerless and inadequate even taking about it..
The exhibition Strange Weather: Forecasts from the Future at the Science Gallery in Dublin gives a more human dimension to the issue. The show features 26 artworks that, each in their own way, act as springboards for new discussions and debates about the eccentricities of the weather.
The show goes from the very absurd (the Halliburton survivaball) to the very dark and dramatic. But the adjective that pervades the show is 'fun'. While visiting the exhibition, i've been drinking cloud, watched a 1959 film that speculates on how weather control departments would use satellites and met with little child mannequins in Hazmat suits in the most unexpected places.
Strange Weather is one of those rare shows that's never dull, never obscure, never preaching. A quick video walk-through of the exhibition will prove my point:
Given my enthusiasm for the exhibition, there's a lot i'd like to blog: all the ideas, all the works i've discovered. Being notoriously lazy, i'm going to bide my time and slowly publish stories about Strange Weather. Here's a first batch of artworks which explore clouds in the most poetical and critical ways:
Karolina Sobecka climbed to the Sally Gap in the Dublin Mountains to harvest clouds, decant them into little tubes and invited gallery visitors to consume them.
The artist built her own Cloud Collector, a device that is sent into the atmosphere attached to a weather balloon. Clouds condense on its mesh wings and flow into a sample container. These cloud samples are analysed for microorganisms and ingested by experimental volunteers. By combining the cloud microbiome with their own, the volunteers become part cloud and keep a cloud journal reporting their transformation.
Thinking Like a Cloud owes a lot to Aldo Leopold's land ethics motto 'thinking like a mountain'. It describes an ability to appreciate the deeps interconnectedness of all the elements in the ecosystems. By ingesting clouds, clouds become part of you and you become part of the atmosphere yourself.
I was strangely moved by Studio PSK's proposal for the ash dispersal of your loved ones. I don't care whether it is speculative or art or whatever, i want this project to be real.
I Wish to Be Rain suggests that after their death, people could literally become part of the weather by having their ashes used for cloud seeding, the dispersing substances into the air to trigger rain.
Following a funeral and cremation of a body, the crematorium will give the bereaved an aluminium vessel that contains their loved ones remains and a dormant aerostat. When the family are ready, the encapsulated ashes are sent skywards tethered to a weather balloon, to be dispersed in the macroscopic structure of a cloud. The capsule becomes increasingly pressurised. At the point it reaches the troposphere, the highest point at which clouds form, the capsule bursts, dispersing the ashes into the clouds below. When dispersed into the clouds, the remains get enveloped into a macroscopic structure far beyond the most grandiose human experience. But this is short lived, again they enter the domain of the miniature, falling back to earth as raindrops, before eventually finding their way back into the sea.
One thing i noted when i spoke to people who live or used to live in Dublin is that they all have something to say about the fluctuating prices of the houses in the city. Matt Kenyon's Cloud therefore feeds into two concerns: real estate and weather. The artist turned the last 10 year of housing market into a stream of small house-shaped clouds that fly to the ceiling of the gallery, stick there for a while, lose stamina (and metaphorically value) and then fall down to the floor.
The viewers witness common house-ownership dreams disappear as fast as they materializes -- just as many saw the false promises of their homes disappear as they were quickly foreclosed upon during this period.
Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.
Yet another work i discovered in Riga when i visited Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, an exciting exhibition featuring artworks that challenge existing viewpoints, deconstructs social issues, and proposes positive visions for the future.
POLSPRUNG, by Erich Berger, explores the psychology and politics of disaster. The installation focuses on geomagnetic reversal, a change in Earth's magnetic field that makes poles switch ends with the magnetic north pole becoming south, and vice versa. Scientists believe that the reversal is cyclically and some have even calculated that the moment is long overdue.
Starting from (im)possible disasters during a polar reversal, an attempt is made to generally ask how we deal with threat scenarios and states of emergency. We are hereby especially interested in the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.
The POLSPRUNG installation features a series of instruments that measure the earth's magnetic field to detect a possible polar reversal, register the gamma radiation caused by the solar wind and compare the data with the speculative disastrous gamma radiation data during a polar reversal. A small reading space also provides information about polar reversal research and disaster speculation, a magnetite laboratory and a notebook in which visitors can write down their thoughts about disasters.
Interview with the artist:
In Polsprung I refer to the geomagnetic reversal, when magnetic north and south are reversing their position and earth its geomagnetic polarity. The German word for the geomagnetic reversal is POLSPRUNG and I use it because of "SPRUNG" - which means "jump" as substantive. A "jump" implies some form of time, something very short in our time experience. But a geomagnetic reversal has a duration of about 10.000 years - nothing we humans would consider a jump, it is only a jump considering geological time. I liked the idea of the jump which makes us think about different time scales.
The other thing about frantically googling Polsprung is that it does look scary. Maybe worse than anything we might read about climate change (sorry for the link to that awful publication) Yet, it doesn't get that much coverage in newspapers. How do you explain that? Is it because we cannot yet feel the effects of the Polsprung?
True, from time to time we hear about a possible catastrophic scenario related to the polar reversal, but maybe it is not so popular amongst journalists, as the concept is not so easy to sell. And there are less "esoteric" scenarios around. This was also the reason I picked it, because it is rarely used in talking about catastrophes.
Could you tell us about the setting of the installation. It's very techy, with instruments that look scientific. Yet, the work explores 'the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.' So what is the role of the instruments if the works explore the psychological and political dimensions of a catastrophe?
A constant flow of states of emergency produced through media was the starting point for me to work on POLSPRUNG. In the last years I saw myself constantly bombarded with possible catastrophes, the swine flue, the bird flue, climate change, global warming, peak oil, an asteroid hitting, super solar storms, you name it. Some of these scenarios are just briefly in the media, some stay for some weeks and month others are permanently with us.
It is a really interesting phenomena when you observe it for a while. Most of these scenarios never play out, or were totally disproportionate or are predicted for a future we are not part of. What they have in common is that they create states of emergency which create fear, keep us occupied and make us worry about our current life, our loved ones and our future. States of emergency are also perfect for enforcing measures which we could call unpopular, so I am also interested in the politics of these states.
So I thought to create a test environment, a laboratory, a vehicle to explore such a case. I was looking for a possible scenario which would not be possibly created by human impact like climate change or random (act of god?) catastrophes like an asteroid collision. My interest in geology lead me to the geomagnetic reversal. If we look at the reversal statistics of the last 5 million years then the next reversal is long overdue - so I found my perfect state of emergency. Now, the speculations of possible catastrophes related to a polar reversal range from nothing to a complete mass extinction event. One quite probably effect could be an increase in gamma radiation on the ground leading to a higher rate of mutation in biological organisms but also to unwanted interaction with the electronic hardware. The electromagnetic spectrum was always of high interest to me in my artistic work and so I settled for the gamma radiation increase as possible catastrophe. With this as basic setting the installations manifests itself in 3 parts:
* Disastrous test arrangement # 1: Polar Reversal Detector
* Disastrous test arrangement # 2: Muon Telescope
These two arrangements are self build but functioning instruments which permanently detect the fluctuations of the earth magnetic field (magnetometer) and the related gamma radiation (muon detector). With enough patience and time at hand (a couple of hundreds to thousand years) one can observe the reversal process and gamma ray increase - I call that radical witnessing.
Though the instruments are built quite simple and open they still remain black boxes for the visitor and make it difficult to completely understand the whole process. The detection really happens but people also need to believe in it and need to make them believe to actually be able to create the state of emergency.
* Disastrous test arrangement # 3: Reading and Feedback
The third arrangement is central, as here fears and personal catastrophes of visitors and witnesses are collected. A black book on a writing table invites people to write down their stories and thoughts. The book collects the stories of the different exhibition venues. I haven't seen the result from Riga yet, but in Hamburg, where POLSPRUNG was exhibited for the first time, people made intense use of it. At the same table you find literature to read regarding the polar reversal, the dynamic environment our earth represents when you look at it from a deep time perspective but also philosophy and ecology of geology and disaster sensationalism. For the more playful mind there is also a box where you can investigate and play with magnetic minerals.
"POLSPRUNG is the first installation in a cycle of the works that deal with the psychology and politics of disaster." Do you already know what the upcoming installations will be like?
I am currently working on the second work called INHERITANCE together with Finnish/Danish jewellery artist Mari Keto.
I already mentioned my interest in geology which specifically focuses on techno minerals, like uranium and thorium ores or rare earth elements, their origin, occurrences, mining, technologies and politics, etc. In one of my field trips quite close to my home I discovered native copper in the bedrock.
I knew this was exceptional and informed the geological research centre. To make a long story short, my sample also caught the attention of the researchers working for the Finnish nuclear waste industry. They saw the sample as physical evidence that copper is resistant enough as canister material for nuclear waste in Finnish bedrock. This was a rather
Finland currently builds the first permanent nuclear waster storage facility called Onkalo. There is a quite interesting film by Danish film maker Michael Madsen which I can recommend, called INTO ETERNITY which explores the facility and the people working around it. Also last year I participated in the excellent nuclear field lab Case Pyhäjoki organised by Mari Keski-Korsu which engaged with Finnish nuclear politics from an art and activism viewpoint. Anyway, nuclear processes are vast in time but also in their spacial and economical dimensions, and as such really difficult to grasp. I was thinking of ways how to make them more comprehensive and now we are working on sets of family jewellery which are rendered unwearable through their radionuclide content for quite a long time.
Family jewellery is perfect to inverse the logic of nuclear waste. Family jewellery is a vehicle for family identity and wealth into the future. With nuclear waste we in-debt the future. We have now researched the legal conditions we are working in and planned 3 different jewellery sets which will be presented as installations. Details are too early to
This is the last weekend to discover the Fields exhibition, produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Armin Medosch. The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.
Other posts about the Fields exhibition: Sketches for an Earth Computer, Ghostradio, the device that produces real random numbers, On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm and FIELDS, positive visions for the future.