Wetware Hackers Day 1

I’m currently participating in a two-day workshop about art and biotechnology at ISEA/Zero One here in San Jose, California. It goes under the title of Wetware Hacking and this is what we do.


Artist Beatriz da Costa (creator of the Pigeonblog), Christopher Kim and scientist Tau-Mu Yi gave an introductory session in their ambitious project of using living organisms as sensors for urban pollution. While the ultimate goal here would be to have a plant which could act as an indicator for ozone, they are currently at the stage where they can already use yeast as a sensor for Nitric Oxide. This also was what the participants were asked to do. In a hands-on style people strapped over latex gloves and lab suits and started preparing their plasmids, ligating the DNA, do some cloning and insert the plasmid back into the yeast. It was a bit like a cooking show since some of it was prepared for reasons of time but when we get back tomorrow, the yeast will tell how much pollutants it was exposed to by blueishly glowing under UV-light. We did expose it to a car’s exhaust along the way, too.


Second up was Oron Catts and Phil Ross on tissue engineering for artists. Phil gave a very passionate talk about how cultivating mushrooms relates with the baroque idea of creating an secluded space in which to observe things in, how it even relates to the idea of the white cube as in galleries. One can build a relatively high-level biotechnology lab with very little money, especially since HEPA-filters got cheaper in the course of the first war on Iraq. (Watch our for his article in the next issue of MAKE magazine.) This is also what his colleague does who is also exhibiting a fully-fledged bio-tech lab that was assembled for less than $3000. Oron, who is a an artist and researcher with Symbiotica in Australia gave us the lowdown on how to extract cells from a piece of meat in order to cultivate them for further use in art pieces or research.

More wetware to come. If you’re around, don’t miss the “launch” of Beatriz’ Pigeons tomorrow. It’s not gonna be One-Trick Pigeons, she promises.