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
The latest project by Demitrios Kargotis and Dash Macdonald is inspired by the exercises performed by members of Casualties Union, 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
The last edition of STRP attracted almost 30,000 visitors. They came for the concerts and parties of course, but also for the performances, exhibitions, conferences, workshops and associated events that were taking place in the city of Eindhoven. The exhibition was particularly exciting with its mix of no tech and high tech
Another winning project from the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award, 2.6g 329m/s is a project aimed at building a bullet proof skin by providing transgenic human skin with cast-iron spiders’ web. The work expressly asks the question if this technological innovation is socially desirable.
From ancient Egyptian poppy tinctures to Victorian cocaine eye drops, Native American peyote rites to the salons of the French Romantics, mind-altering drugs have a rich history. ‘High Society’ explores the paths by which these drugs were first discovered – from apothecaries’ workshops to state-of-the-art laboratories – and how they came to be simultaneously fetishised and demonised in today’s culture
Large amounts of sugar are excreted on a daily basis by type-two diabetic patients especially amongst the upper end of our aging population. Is it plausible to suggest that we start utilizing our water purification systems in order to harvest the biological resources that our elderly already process in abundance? In James Gilpin’s scenario, sugar heavy urine excreted by patients with diabetes would be used for the fermentation of high-end single malt whisky for export
Using their heartbeats, the musicians control a computer composition and visualization environment. The musical score is generated in real time by the heartbeats of the musicians. They read and play this score from a computer screen placed in front of them
Sitraka Rakotoniaina’s project explores a possible ‘Hyper-normal’ space on the edge of normality, whereby a distorted experience of reality is induced because of physical or psychological stress, injuries, conditioning or training
The sound exhibition ambitions to go beyond the auditory system and uses echoes, vibrations, timbres, resonances, waves to put the body of the visitor to the test
The Phantom Recorder system projects a cold and damp sensation onto the skin surface, triggering the brain to hallucinate a phantom. As the phantom movement stimulates the peripheral nerves, its activity is captured by the neural implant and external wireless machinery
Two new projects by Tuur Van Balen. The first one involves manipulating the metabolism of pigeons and turning them from urban nuisance to winged dispensers of a soap-like substance. The second one harnesses Synthetic Biology’s potential to turn us into our own doctors and pharmacists
A global overview of the ways in which contemporary artists are drawing on kinetics, biology, robotics and information technologies to explore new forms of creative expression
In the years to come, might the best employers encourage women to work longer by offering them the means to unlimited fertility in the form of a golden orb spider farm from which to harvest silk for their luxury spare womb?
In light of the latest developments in biotechnology, cybernetics and neuroscience, the mixture of medical exhibits and works of art introduces visitors to developments in bioscience and issues they entail. Can our definition of life remain unchallenged? Is the human commitment to reproduce going to remain the same? How much can medical and scientific developments impact the way we love and live?
Prosthetics, anatomical drawings by Michelangelo, ornate amputation saw from ca. 1650, disturbing videos by Patricia Piccinici, Tibetan anatomical figures, a painting by Damien Hirst. Some 150 medical artifacts from the Wellcome Collection in London and works of old Japanese and contemporary art are exhibited side by side. Without any hierarchy nor anxiety
Wafaa Bilal’s latest project addresses the issue of the invisibility of Iraqi civilian deaths during the war. The artist will submit his body to a 24-hour live performance. His back will be tattooed with a borderless map of Iraq covered with one dot for each Iraqi and American casualty near the cities where they fell
Yes, i had already seen sk-interfaces. Exploding Borders in Art, Technology and Society at FACT in Liverpool but the Luxembourg version, i was told by friends, is bigger, bolder and even better than the first one. They were right. A couple of pieces have been added to the show. The performances are well documented and there is a corner to watch videos. The space itself is kinder to the artworks. There’s extra drama as the poor Victimless Leather garments had caught some disease and were slowly eaten by decay
The VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics Ltd., Adam Zaretsky and Waag Society’s temporary research and education institute on Art and Life Sciences, will be focusing this month on body art
In the 19th century, despite the best efforts of body snatchers, the demand from medical schools for fresh cadavers far outstripped the supply. One solution to this gruesome problem came in the form of lifelike wax models. These models often took the form of alluring female figures that could be stripped and split into different sections. Other models were more macabre, showing the body ravaged by ‘social diseases’ such as venereal disease, tuberculosis and alcohol and drug addiction
The exhibition is set under the aegis of Nikola Tesla and its name refers to a village in Alaska. Little more than 200 inhabitants live in Gakona. There’s a service station, a small school, a post office, a couple of diners and a scientific research base: the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program
As humankind has developed increasingly sophisticated weaponry with which to harm its enemies, medicine has had to adapt to cope with the volume and the changing nature of resulting casualties.
Concentrating on the modern era, the exhibition ‘War and Medicine’ considered the constantly evolving relationship between warfare and medicine, beginning with the disasters of the Crimean War and continuing through to today’s conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq