The Sick Rose" Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration, by academic medical historian Dr Richard Barnett.

Available on Amazon UK and USA.

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Publisher Thames and Hudson writes: 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. Bizarre and captivating images, including close-up details and revealing cross-sections, make all too clear the fascinations of both doctors and artists of the time. Barnett illuminates the fears and obsessions of a society gripped by disease, yet slowly coming to understand and combat it. The age also saw the acceptance of vaccination and the germ theory, and notable diagrams that transformed public health, such as John Snow's cholera map and Florence Nightingale's pioneering histograms, are included and explained. Organized by disease, The Sick Rose ranges from little-known ailments now all but forgotten to the epidemics that shaped the modern age.

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The feet of an infant with hereditary syphilis, showing the skin covered in pustules. Photograph: Wellcome Library, London

The images in the book might not be to everyone's taste. They date back from the late 18th century to the early 20th century, a time when medicine was moving away from the principles of Hippocratic humoralism that saw the body as unified whole and starting to see disease as a form of specific physical disorder. It's no coincidence that in the early 19th century, Mary Shelley would imagine Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who subverted the integrity of the body and created his living creature by assembling parts originating from various human corpses.

The period also saw the beginning of the mass-production of books for the education of medicine students. The medical images these books contained were the result of a collaboration between several professions. Physicians, surgeons and anatomists would first secure, dissect and prepare bodies. Draughtsmen would then be called to reproduce the subject in great details and under the guidance of the medicine man. Finally, engravers would cut woodblocks or copper plates as mirror images of the illustration. The anatomical reality would thus have to be filtered by the minds, eyes and hands of subjective humans. That's without taking into account any further involvement of the printers and publishers.

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A 13-year-old boy with severe untreated leprosy. Photograph: Wellcome Library, London

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Severe tubercular leprosy (or ichthyosis) of the hand. Photograph: Wellcome Library, London

The Sick Rose is a wonderful book. Not just because of the eye-catching illustrations but because Richard Barnett is a talented narrator. And the stories he tells are fascinating.

First of all, there is the origin of the corpses to dissect and portray. At first, they came from the gallows. Starting in 1752, the sentence for murder in English courts included indeed public dissection. Body snatchers would supply corpses of pregnant women and foetus and any extra cadaver if needed. The 1832 Anatomy Act, however, abolished the dissection of executed criminals but allowed anatomy schools to use the body of anyone who had died unclaimed in hospitals. Which means that it was no longer crime that lead you to the dissection table, it was poverty.

Then there are the stories that accompany each disease studied in the book. Leprosy, aka the "Imperial Danger", that reappeared in the 19th century when doctors and missionaries traveled to tropical colonies. Smallpox and how the first vaccine was successfully developed with the help of pretty milkmaids. Venereal diseases and syphilis in particular which was treated by injection or ingestion of mercury. Et cetera.

My favourite page in the book may well be page 246, aka "Places of Interest", a list of the pathology museums, anatomy museums, medical history centers and other public collections of all things bodily and gruesome. I'm definitely going to drop by some of those in the coming weeks.

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Left: The face of a male patient showing rupia, a severe encrusted rash associated with secondary syphillis. Right: A woman's face, affected with lesions of impetigo. Prince A. Morrow, Atlas of Skin and Venereal Diseases including a brief treatise on the pathology and treatment, London, 1898

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Left: A man with a large pendant hip tumour. Right: A man with a large pendant face tumour. Lam Qua

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A child with blisters and other lesions affecting the skin. Photograph: Wellcome Library, London

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Diffused and spotted pulmonary apoplexy in a tubercular lung, drawn by Berhari Lal Das at the Medical College of Calcutta in 1906. Photograph: St Bartholomew's Hospital Archive

Views inside the book:

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The Guardian has a photo gallery.

Dr Richard Barnett will have a conversation with journalist and historian Frances Stonor Saunders about 'The Sick Rose' on June 19 at the Wellcome Collection.

Related story: Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men.

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Mauser and Bullet, 1938

The Michael Hoppen Gallery has just opened an exhibition featuring a selection of vintage prints by Dr. Harold Edgerton, a photographer whose works are found hanging in art museums and galleries across the world. He even won an Oscar with his short film Quicker 'n a Wink. Yet, Edgerton was adamant that he was a scientist, not an artist.

The professor of electrical engineering at MIT invented the ultra-high-speed and stop-action photography when he synchronized strobe flashes with the motion being examined, then took a series of photos through an open shutter that could flash up to 120 times a second. The invention enabled him to photograph motion that was too fast to be captured by the naked eye: balloons at various stages of bursting, bullets tearing through fruits, divers rotating through the air, devil sticks in action, an egg hitting a fan, drops of milk coming into contact with liquid, etc.

If that were not enough, Edgerton was also involved in the development of sonar and deep-sea photography, and his equipment was used by marine biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau to scan the sea floor for shipwrecks. Or for the Loch Ness monster.

During the Second World War, he pioneered superpowered flash for aerial photography used to create night time reconnaissance images, revealing the absence of German forces at key strategic points just prior to the Allied attack on June 6, 1944.

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Bobby Jones, Golf Multiflash (Iron), 1938

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.30 Bullet through Apple, 1964

To trigger the flash at the right moment, a microphone, placed a little before the apple, pickes up the sound from the rifle shot, relays it through an electronic delay circuit, and then fires the microflash (via.)

Moments after the apple was pierced by the bullet, it disintegrated completely.

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Bullet through a Helium Bubble

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Bullet through King, 1964

A .30 caliber bullet, traveling 2,800 feet per second, requires an exposure of less than 1/1,000,000 of a second. Edgerton turned the card sideways and the rifling of the barrel caused the rotation of the projectile, which, in turn, carved out the S-shaped slice of card between the two halves (via.)

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Atomic Bomb Explosion, circa 1952 (more images)

After World War II, the Atomic Energy Commission contracted Edgerton and two of his former students to photograph atomic bombs as they exploded. The trio developed the rapatronic (for Rapid Action Electronic) shutter, a shutter with no moving parts that could be opened and closed by turning a magnetic field on and off.

Revealing the anatomy of the first microseconds of an atomic explosion, the fireball was documented in a 1/100,000,000-of-a-second exposure, taken from seven miles away with a lens ten feet long. The intense heat vaporized the steel tower and turned the desert sand to glass (via.)

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Untitled (Rugby ball), 1938

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Gussie Moran, 1949

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View of the gallery space

The exhibition Dr. Harold Edgerton: Abstractions is at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London until 2 August 2014.
Image on the homepage: Antique Gun Firing, 1936.

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Cécile Babiole, BZZZ! The sound of electricity, 2012. Image courtesy RIXC

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Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite (RIXC), Voldemārs Johansons and Jānis Jankevics, Biotricity, 2013 - 2014. Image courtesy RIXC

Last month, i was in Riga for the festival Art+Communication and this was undoubtedly one of the most pertinent and satisfying art & science events i've ever attended. I'll do my best to share my enthusiasm in a series of upcoming reports and interviews with artists. Let's start with a broad overview of FIELDS, an exhibition which was huge and surprisingly devoid of any weak work.

FIELDS investigates the place of contemporary art practices in society and the role artists can take not just as generators of new aesthetics but also as catalysts of active involvement in social, scientific, and technological transformations. While some of the works in the show present a critique of ongoing political or ecological issues, others go a step further by suggesting positive visions for the future.

The artworks exhibited explore alternative energy, others engaged with neo-liberalism, unemployment, surveillance, endangered bee ecology, global market crisis, climate change, genetic mutations, etc. A sense of urgency emanated thus from the exhibition rooms but any doom and gloom was compensated by hints of defiant counter-action and strategies of productive rebellion.

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Martins Ratniks, Fields, 2007 + Michal Kindernay, Ondřej Vavrečka, Milos Vojtechovsky, Imagograph, 2013/2014. Image courtesy RIXC

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Isidora Todorovic, Luka Ranisaljevic and Andrea Palasti, Can you feel the spill?, 2013. Image courtesy RIXC

We were expecting proposals from artists, who are working with contemporary ideas and tools, science and technologies, yet are deeply engaged with social issues, curators Raitis Smits and Rasa Smite explained. We call them 'critical interlopers', because Fields artists instead of unrealistic future scenarious, propose constructive approaches towards more sustainable future and more then that - they act, through their creative practices obtaining a touch of reality.

Armin Medosch, the third curator of the exhibition, goes further: If we look at energy, agriculture, transport, systems of production, it is clear that the ideology of limitless expansion is driving us straight into catastrophe. Everybody knows that, but while there are many initiatives, mainstream society seems to be blindly following its course, unable to change. In this situation new patterns are urgently needed, new ways of thinking, but not just that, new ways of interacting with the world, with technology, with nature. An ecological turn is overly due, but to achieve this seems almost utopian within current social relations. In this situation art can provide new models, new directions, but those are models, like in a mini-mundus world. Art gives Form to the imagination, Herbert Marcuse wrote. And this artistic imagination we are talking about in Fields is involved in the construction of a new society.

This is Riga:

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The exhibition presents almost 40 works. I won't be able to cover all of them but i'll bring the spotlight on a dozen of them over the coming days. Here are four of the art pieces i found particularly compelling:

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YoHa (Matsuko Yokokoji and Graham Harwood) and Matthew Fuller, Endless War, 2012 (image)

YoHa (Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji) and Matthew Fuller's Endless War scours in real time through the data obtained from Wikileaks' release of the Afghan War Diaries. Characters on the screens show the slow process of going through over 76,000 files covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010.

The reports were written by soldiers and intelligence officers and calculated by clocks, computers, and satellites. As the war is fought it produces entries in databases that are in turn analysed by software looking for repeated patterns of events, spatial information, kinds of actors, timings and other factors. Based on this analysis, military decisions are taken.

Instead of looking at the War Diary as a record of specific military acts, Endless War critically reflects on the database machines that generated it, showing how the way war is thought relates to the way it is fought. Both are seen as, potentially endless, computational processes.

Graham Harwood writes: If journalists tried to make the data transparent, to use it as a window to real world events, what we wanted to make visible was the data itself, and its role in a system of war in which we are also implicated. Endless War was an attempt to convey a sense of how the machine is able to read the entries in a way that is unlike a human, yet makes sense of the entries, ordering them in order to allow the human to participate in an intelligence that is not their own.

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Class Wargames, The Game of War


ClassWargames, The Game of War

One of the keynote speakers of the conference that accompanied the FIELDS exhibition was Richard Barbrook, an author, lecturer at the University of Westminster who, as part of his research into the politics of ludic subversion, co-founded Class Wargames in 2007. This group of artists, academics and agitators plays and explores the possibilities of Guy Debord's The Game of War. While the game has sometimes been dismissed as Debord's 'retirement project', Barbrook affirms that it not only 'plays well', it also offers lessons in life and politics inspired by the tactics of situationism.

Debord's Game of War was inspired by Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed both the "moral" and political aspects of war. In the Napoleonic-era military strategy game, armies must maintain their communications network to survive. For Debord, The Game of War wasn't just a game, it wasn't about competing but about exploring ways for people to live their lives within Fordist society. By playing, revolutionary activists could learn how to fight and win against the oppressors of spectacular society.

Debord wrote in 1989: So I have studied the logic of war. Indeed I succeeded long ago in representing its essential movements on a rather simple game-board... I played this game, and in the often difficult conduct of my life drew a few lessons from it -- setting rules for my life, and abiding by them. The surprises vouchsafed by this Kriegspiel of mine seem endless; I rather fear it may turn out to be the only one of my works to which people will venture to accord any value. As to whether I have made good use of its lessons, I shall leave that for others to judge.

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I was also intrigued by Hayley Newman's Daylight Rubbery.

As part of her work as a Self-Appointed Artist-in-Residence in the City of London, Newman is a 'bank rubber', she makes rubbings of the fronts of banks in the City of London. She performed dozens of bank rubbery on used envelopes to form a Histoire Economique, a sort of natural history of the banks in the City. The rubbings are exhibited in vitrines, like dried plants in the natural history museum.

I am interested in unconscious aspects of corporate life - what is repressed and what is revealed, the artist explained in an interview with Corridor8. Frottage seemed an appropriate technique to use in that it is often applied in an attempt to relinquish conscious control of an artwork. In Histoire Économique I use it as a method to help reveal something (the unconscious?) of the bank I am rubbing.

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Maja Smrekar, Hu.M.C.C. m.k.2 (Human Molecular Colonization Capacity), 2013

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Maja Smrekar, Hu.M.C.C. m.k.2 (Human Molecular Colonization Capacity), 2013

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Maja Smrekar, Hu.M.C.C. m.k.2 (Human Molecular Colonization Capacity), 2013

The food industry is exploring how the new possibilities offered by synthetic biology and biotechnology could meet the demands of a growing global population. Maja Smrekar embarks on a similar quest with her project HuMCC--Human Molecular Colonization Capacity, a line of yoghurt containing her own enzyme that she offers for public consumption.

Working with scientists at the University in Ljubljana, the artist combined her own DNA with that of a common yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae which, after being genetically transformed with the artist´s gene sequence, produces lactic acid.

The project also references Soylent Green, a scifi movie set in a future when most of the world population survives on rations produced by a corporation that produces Soylent Green, a green wafer advertised to contain "high-energy plankton". However, the main protagonist of the story discovers that the oceans no longer produce the plankton from which Soylent Green is reputedly made, and infers that it must be made from human remains, as this is the only conceivable supply of protein that matches the known production.

The artist explains that the work is located in the Soylent Green paradigm where the fear of ecological cataclysm turns into a subtle critique of corporate cannibalism: not only are corporations actually using people to continue to maintain themselves in their own lives but these same people are simultaneously yearning for those products! "Maya Yoghurt" is an overidentification tactical media product as means of producing pressure on the population--this infinite desire of capital to continue developing regardless of whether that would include even (sublime) levels of cannibalism.

I guess i'm completely immune to the ever-seducing 'shock factor' of cannibalism. Out of habit of seeing art/design projects dealing with similar topic and also for the very mundane reason that i already take probiotics that contain human strains. The 'human dairy' scenario also reminded me of the breast milk ice cream sold in London a while ago.

I was however, very seduced by Smrekar's suggestion that our own body, this nutritious source of "uncolonized biotechnological materials", might hold a key to the way growing populations might be fed in the future.

Fields exhibition was produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite (Latvia) and Armin Medosch (Austria).

The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.

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The Social Mining Union. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

Last weekend was the Goldsmiths degree show at the Truman Brewery in London. There were quite a few interesting projects but the one that really stood out for its depth, coherence and reach is Tearlach Byford-Flockhart's The Social Mining Union (SUM.)

The BA Design project aims to reposition the role of the 'labour union' (and function of positive activism) within a globalized landscape of post-consumer society, examining the industrial mining industry and peripheral territories it is associated with.

Tearlach's adventures took him from scrapyard in south London to Glencore Xstrata's Annual General Meeting in Switzerland.

Metal scrapping, i learnt from my conversation with the designer is a a multi-million pound business. A documentary on Channel 4 revealed that the business of a yard owner in south London can turn over £7million a year while "scrappers", the men who scour the streets in the hope of turning trash into cash, can make up to £800 a day.

Trailer for documentary 'Getting Rich In The Recession - Scrappers'

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Getting Rich In The Recession: Scrappers. Picture by Jude Edginton/ Channel 4 Picture Publicity

Tearlach joined the scrappers and collected discarded objects from all over New Cross, a district in the London Borough of Lewisham. He also 'mined' websites like Gumtree and freecycle for discarded computers. He then sold his scrap in scrapyards and used the money to buy Glencore (a multinational commodity trading and mining company) shares. Being a shareholder, he somehow managed to infiltrate the annual general meeting of Glencore Xstrata last May when he took the opportunity of a Q&A session to suggest more positive economic, social and environmental impacts in the mining industry. His intervention might not have had much effect but imagine what would happen if whole communities of scrappers engaged in similar forms of activism!

The Social Mining Union project looks back at the Industrial Revolution when large-scale industries were centred around people and place. The paternalism of companies such as Cadbury's and Unilever ensured that communities flourished around places of work, sharing a common ground and an inherent sense of place. This affiliation between workers, industry and environment strengthened social and cultural values and cultivated prosperity at an individual level, and consequently this had a positive effect on the commercial output. The picture is obviously quite different in today's global context.

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The Social Mining Union. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

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The Social Mining Union. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

Extracts from my conversation with the designer:

Hi Tee! I'm very interested in your experience in scrapyards. Could you detail where you collected the scrap and how you turned it into money that you then used to buy some Glencore shares?

I collected old radiators, piping, cans which were often left in skips and on the side of the road. I then visited two different scrap yards - Sydenham scrap metals and Lewisham scrap metals ltd. When you arrive you weigh your van load for the cheaper scrap - iron and steel etc and then for the more valuable scrap such as copper you weigh it separately on smaller scales. Once the van has been weighed you then remove all the scrap and weigh it again working out how much scrap you had.

You then get payed by check, which I put strait into a bank account set up for the union - this then gets transferred into my Barclays stockbroker account where you can by any public companies shares, once bought you can request a proxy from to attend shareholders meetings and other events.

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View of the project at Goldsmiths Degree Show

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These bullion ores are the processed, melted down scrap. They represent a variety of metals (iron, gold, copper, tin, alluminium, silver steed) mined from different sources

By the way, why did you chose Glencore rather than any other mining company? Any particular reason?

Glencore is the largest commodities and mining giant, from my research I was interested in the anonymity and secrecy they only recently become a public company so not many people know about their operations. I felt it was important to show some transparency and realised that whilst investigating them they were incredibly corrupt in a variety of ways.

One of the goals of your project is to question the role of the union and of activism nowadays. What is wrong with the way they function now?

Activism it seems still predominately relies on models such as protesting, embarrassment and sometimes aggression, these are important but outdated, as policing and government legislation has changed and evolved. The Battle of Orgreave is one of the signifiers to how policing was evolving to deal with large crowds with new techniques being used to control the people.

Unions have lost the strength they once held. Although in the past they did at times act like bullies, they have lost the sense of community connections and this is due to the combinations of small unions into larger ones. They are also stuck in a mentality that suits the past in terms of how they deal with gaining better paid employees based upon a time when striking had more of an impact.

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Glencore Xstrata, Annual General Meeting, 20 May 2014, Zug, Switzerland. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

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Tearlach at the Glencore Xstrata with a Colombian activist. Image courtesy of Tearlach Byford-Flockhart

During our conversation, you mentioned the industrial paternalism policy of Cadbury's and Unilever which 'facilitated social capital at a domestic level.' If i understood your project correctly, workers and unions would have to take matters into their own hands and recreate this social capital, instead of relying on corporate mining industries? Can you walk us through what you did once you owned some Glencore actions? And what you think could happen if other people did like you and the whole action was scaled up?

Once I bought the shares I was able to begin a dialogue with Glencore via emails, this enabled me to assess what was possible at the meeting I was planning to attend.

What I found from the meeting is that if we are to make a change within this centralised forum we need to one take matters into our own hands as management seem little concerned and two to speak through a collective voice, if we imagine The Social Mining Union with 1 million members each of these members holds a small amount of shares but collectively they hold a massive amount of shares then we collectively are a threat, as our voice is much louder than one. But I also think it is important to remember that this project is about access and navigation The Social Mining Union suggests a new way to engage with these global companies at a human level. ​

Thanks Tee Byford!

Synthetic Aesthetics. Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature, by designer Alexandra Ginsberg Daisy, social scientists Jane Calvert and Pablo Schyfter, bioengineers Alistair Elfick and Drew Endy.

Available on amazon UK and USA.

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Publisher MIT Press writes: Synthetic biology manipulates the stuff of life. For synthetic biologists, living matter is programmable material. In search of carbon-neutral fuels, sustainable manufacturing techniques, and innovative drugs, these researchers aim to redesign existing organisms and even construct completely novel biological entities. Some synthetic biologists see themselves as designers, inventing new products and applications. But if biology is viewed as a malleable, engineerable, designable medium, what is the role of design and how will its values apply?

In this book, synthetic biologists, artists, designers, and social scientists investigate synthetic biology and design. After chapters that introduce the science and set the terms of the discussion, the book follows six boundary-crossing collaborations between artists and designers and synthetic biologists from around the world, helping us understand what it might mean to 'design nature.' These collaborations have resulted in biological computers that calculate form; speculative packaging that builds its own contents; algae that feeds on circuit boards; and a sampling of human cheeses. They raise intriguing questions about the scientific process, the delegation of creativity, our relationship to designed matter, and, the importance of critical engagement. Should these projects be considered art, design, synthetic biology, or something else altogether?

Synthetic biology is driven by its potential; some of these projects are fictions, beyond the current capabilities of the technology. Yet even as fictions, they help illuminate, question, and even shape the future of the field.

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Christina Agapakis and Sissel Tolaas, Selfmade, 2014. Photo: Science Gallery

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Human Cheese Making 2: Bottles, 2010. Photograph by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg

I don't think i've ever reviewed a book and recommended it to scientists. Synthetic Aesthetics, however, should appeal to the art/design crowd and to the science community alike. It should also interest anyone who is eager to look beyond overenthusiastic headlines that promise a world-saving 'green' technology and who would like to understand better the benefits, risks and uncertainties of a field that might sometimes appear foreign and abstract.

Synthetic Aesthetics brings together synthetic biologists, social scientists, designers and artists to talk about what it means for science, culture and society to not only redesign existing organisms but also to design new ones, constructing in the process completely novel biological entities. As you can expect from the avant-garde minds invited to take part in Synthetic Aesthetics, the essays discuss the possibilities, real and imagined, of a future in which 'synbio' is part of 'nature', design and everyday life but some of the authors also look at the historical and cultural precedents of human interference with nature, from The Island of Doctor Moreau to producing GMOs.

Synthetic Aesthetics doesn't offer any easy answer regarding the challenges and potentials of 'synbio'. What it does very well, however, is opening up a space to have a broad discussion about questions as critical as: Could reprogramming organisms answer the problem of the finite resources of the planet? How do you design what doesn't exist, not even in our imagination? When should we turn to synthetic biology rather than to political or technical solutions? What are the implication of applying an engineering mindset to life materials? etc.

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Designers: Will Carey, Adam Reineck. Scientists: Reid Williams, Wendell Lim, Packaging that Creates its Content

Roughly one half of the book explores projects that resulted from a close collaboration between scientists and artists/designers. I'll just highlight one of them because it has a good balance of 'sci-fi' and everyday practicality.

Packaging that Creates its Content envisioned a probiotic drink that relies on bacteria to morph into a physical cup when exposed to a specific light wavelength. During shipping and storage, the cups remain dormant until water is poured inside, creating a healthy drink. After several uses, the cup's walls begin to degrade and it can be composted.

'Packaging That Creates Its Contents' helps people think about what the world would be like if packaging never created waste.

Get that book! I've searched high and low for a book that would explain synbio in a clear, engaging and intelligent way. I'm glad i've finally found it.

Views inside the book:

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Image on the homepage: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, The Synthetic Kingdom: Carbon Monoxide Detecting Lung Tumour, 2009. Photograph by Carole Suety.

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