Category Archives: BAD award

A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, MU in Eindhoven invited the public to a 2 day long immersion into all things bio art and bio design. The Body of Matter / BAD Award Special weekend lined up a series talk, panels, workshops and performances and explored how the techniques and challenges of life sciences are embraced by contemporary artists and designers. There’s more details in the first part of the report. Head this way if you haven’t read A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 1.)

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Masterclass: Artificial idiocy with Agi Haines. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Isaac Monté, The Art of Deception (Heart of Stone)

But before i proceed with the final part of my report from the weekend, I need to say something about Eindhoven. Several years ago, i wrote about an exhibition in Eindhoven. I can’t remember what exhibition i was reviewing at the time but i do remember that i wrote that the city looked ‘as dull as dishwater.’ I’ve had a change of heart. Eindhoven always had the Design Academy, the fantastic Van Abbemuseum, the MU art center and various other interesting cultural spaces. But now they have Strijp S, a 27 hectare huge area attracting a dynamic crowd of artists, designers, concept stores, juice bars, a communal vegetable garden and organizations. Strijp S used to be the industrial site of the company Philips. It’s a mere 15 minute walk away from the city center and that’s where MU is now located. And Baltan Laboratories. And the BioArt Laboratories. And more. Each time i go to Strijp, there’s something new, thrilling and stylish to discover.

End of the parenthesis. Let’s get back to Body of Matter and to the artists’ talks, shall we?

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Hongjie Yang, Human Tissue Vase, 2015

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Lecture Hongjie Yang. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Hongjie Yang, Human Tissue Vase. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Hongjie Yang‘s Human Tissue Vase is made of human kidney cells that have been grown on a 3D vase-shaped scaffold. I first dismissed his work, thinking that Tissue Culture and Art Project had been there before with their Victimless Leather jacket. But Yang’s piece has a different focus.

It’s less about the ethics and politics of using tissue culture and more about exploring the place that biotechnology can occupy in the history of design techniques and aesthetics. Furthermore, the designer was also intrigued by the kind of relationship we might develop with artifacts that share genetic information with us. Would we care more for an object made using our own cells? Will human-derived objects blur the distinction between person and object, between alive and inanimate?

The designer is particularly interested in examining the influence that human progress has on aesthetics. New technologies can be seen as disrupting any idea we might have about aesthetics and about the sublime. They create the conditions for new objects and aesthetics to develop. The chisel was disruptive, it enabled for a finer shaping of wood or stone. The Industrial Revolution in England was also aesthetically disruptive because it led to the invention of bone china. We could multiply the examples. But now that we are entering the Post Natural Age, what will the new chisel be? Will we see the emergence of lab-grown china? Will biotech innovations transfer into new aesthetics?

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Lecture Floris Kaayk. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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The public during the Body of Matter special weekend, with Floris Kaayk‘s The Modular Body video in the background. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Floris Kaayk! I had almost forgotten how impressive his work is. I remember seeing Metalosis Maligna for the first time, it was clearly a mockumentary but i was still tempted to believe that the story it narrated was true. Shot in the style of a documentary, the video informed the public about a disease that affects patients with medical implants. Metal implants get infected and start growing inside the body until they sprout out of it, start eating the flesh away and turn human patients into half-organic, half-mechanical beings.

Kaayk creates fictional films, interactive projects and online fictions. He takes a well-known media format and subverts it by replacing existing events with fictional stories. In 2012 his online media project Human Birdwings was all over the press. Told through a series of short youtube videos, the work chronicled the successful adventure of a man building a set of wings that allowed him to fly. Most major news outlet fell for it. Until Kaayk revealed that the inventor and the story were purely fictitious.

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Floris Kaayk, The Modular Body, 2014

Floris Kaayk, The Modular Body, 2014

Kaayk is now working on a new internet story called The Modular Body. The work is inspired by 3D-printed organs and the media format adopted is the one of kickstarter pitch videos. The artist was interested in the gap between what the science can actually do and the way the media presents it. If you read the press, you get the felling that human kidneys, hearts and noses are routinely printed and implanted. But the implementation of 3D printed technology in medicine is still years away from now. The Modular Body fictionalizes this 3D printed body and presents it as the solution to our outdated bodies. Kaayk envisions that in the future we’d have 3D printed body parts that work like detachable modules. We’d be able to combine, plug and connect them to each other according to our needs. We could replace any part that doesn’t function optimally and adapt it to whichever situation we might face. The Modular Body is still a work in progress and it will take the form of a series of footage fragment. The Body of Matter exhibition showed extracts of the final work. It’s pretty gruesome. There are raw bits of flesh crawling over a table.

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Conversation between Charlotte Jarvis and Dr. Reinout Raijmakers from Science for Life

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Charlotte Jarvis, Et In Arcadia Ego. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Charlotte Jarvis, Et In Arcadia Ego. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Charlotte Jarvis invited Dr. Reinout Raijmakers to join her in a conversation about art & science because he is the scientist she turns to whenever she has an idea for a new project but doesn’t know whether it is feasible, which field of science might help her give a tangible form to her projects, etc.

She briefly explained one of her latest works, Et In Arcadia Ego. Part of the MU exhibition, the piece was Jarvis’ attempt to confront her own mortality head on. She worked with Prof. Hans Clevers and Dr Jarno Drost at the Hubrecht Institute to grow gut cancer tumour from her own cells. The project started with a rectoscopy to collect colon tissue. The samples were then grown in vitro and then submitted to mutations that made them cancerous.

Jarvis also talked about Music of the Sphere, a collaboration with Dr. Nick Goldman, the molecular biologist who stored Shakespeare’s Sonnets and other data into synthetic DNA. The artist used Goldman’s technology to encode a new musical recording by the Kreutzer Quartet into DNA. The DNA has been suspended in soap solution and broadcast on the audience with soap bubbles. The ‘recording’ fills the air, pops on visitors skin and literally bathes the audience in music.

The moment i almost dropped my pen and paper was when she talked about her desire to work with scientists on a new project that would consist in encapsulating and recreating the smell of her husband. She could make a fortune if she managed to patent the process! I wouldn’t mind packing a little flask of my boyfriend’s smell whenever i have to travel. Jarvis’ idea actually sparked some animated discussions in the public about perfumes, hormones, pheromones, sexual attraction, Putin body odour and all kinds of notions more or less related to the smell of people we love or loathe.

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Launch of publication The Art of Deception and science panel by Isaac Monté. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Launch of publication The Art of Deception and science panel by Isaac Monté. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Isaac Monté, The Art of Deception. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Isaac Monté, The Art of Deception. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Isaac Monté talked to me about his project a few months ago (see Can organs be objects of design?) but the show allowed me to finally get to see the final 21 decellularized and modified pig hearts. They are incredibly beautiful and moving. The hearts and their story deserve to tour widely in exhibitions across the world.

The designer worked with Professor Toby Kiers (Free University Amsterdam) to decellularize pig hearts and manipulate each of them as if they were blank canvases that could be tattooed, embroidered, stained, dressed up with precious materials, filled with with concrete, etc. The decellularization process involves stripping organs of their cellular contents, leaving behind a scaffold that can be repopulated with stemcells. Isaac had invited 2 scientists to join him and discuss how far scientists but also artists or designers can go when it comes to manipulating organs. One of the scientists explained how they use decellularization technique in order to respond to the lack of organ donations. Her work consists in exploring how we can turn an unhealthy liver into a liver that can safely be transplanted. They would get rid of the cells in the liver and then fill the empty matrix with good cells.

The designer documented the whole research and creation process in The Art of Deception book.

That’s it for my report from the Body of Matter weekend. May the event inspire other places around Europe to set up new initiatives, commissions and competitions that will help artists and designers dialogue with scientists.

Previously: Plastic trash, rotting rubber & wonky skeleton. Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture at the Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend, A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 1), Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design

Plastic trash, rotting rubber & wonky skeleton. Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture at the Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend

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Maarten Vanden Eynde, Homo Stupidus Stupidus

A few days ago, the MU art center in Eindhoven organized a Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend of talks, masterclasses, panels and performances. The event accompanied Body of Matter exhibition, an exhibition that looks at how biotechnology might in the near future modify the shape, functions and even our perception of the body. The show also offers the opportunity to discover the winners of Bio Art and Design Award which each years enables young artists and designers to develop collaborate with prominent Dutch science centers and develop ambitious projects related to the latest developments in art sciences.

A lot happened during that weekend and I’ll come back with more details about it later on. Today, i thought i should dedicate a full post to Maarten Vanden Eynde‘s brilliant lecture on the first evening. He talked about how the fish, the beaches and even ourselves are chocking on plastic, about King Leopold II of Belgium and his brutal exploitation of Congo, and about the Homo Sapiens, a species so presumptuous it gives itself the title of ‘doubly wise.’

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Maarten Vanden Eynde, Homo Stupidus Stupidus, part of the Body of Matter exhibition. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for MU Eindhoven

Vanden Eynde doesn’t define himself as a bioartist. What interests him is the Genetology (The Science of First Things), Eschatology (The Science of Last Things) and how these two relate. As a result, his work hovers between past and future. His talk zoomed in on the piece he is showing in the Body of Matter exhibition as well as on 3 other works related to the body and to the evolution of our planet:

Homo Stupidus Stupidus is a human skeleton taken apart and put back together as if the person who assembled the bones had no knowledge of human anatomy. The name of the piece refers to the mistakes done in attempting to reconstructing the skeleton but it also mocks the arrogance of our own species which define itself as Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Given the unethical way in which we behave towards the environment, other species or between ourselves, the title of Sapiens Sapiens is unquestionably inappropriate.

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Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture during the Body of Matter special weekend, 22 January 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for MU Eindhoven

Vanden Eynde also took us through another of his work that is directly related to the body: The Invisible Hand, a rubber copy of the right hand of Leopold II of Belgium. The artist made it at night by climbing on the equestrian statue of king in Brussels.

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The Invisible Hand, Art Brussels 2015, Belgium

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The Invisible Hand (making-of), Brussels, Belgium

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The Invisible Hand (making-of), Brussels, Belgium

From 1877 until his death in 1909, Leopold II, had an unprecedented influence on the current Democratic Republic of Congo. He was the founder and private owner of the Congo Free State, a territory he was eventually forced to cede to Belgium in 1908. The Congo Free State then became a Belgian colony under parliamentary control.

Although the king never set foot in the country, he changed, exploited and shaped it so fundamentally that the result is still visibly present today. The Invisible Hand refers thus to Adam Smith‘s 1759 theory of the same name. The concept could be summed up as follows: individuals’ efforts to pursue their own interest and profit may frequently benefit society and the entire economy more than if their actions had been directly intended to achieve the greater good. Of course few attained that more unwillingly than Leopold II whose reign is marked by the atrocities that Belgians committed in Congo. With the chief goal of ruthlessly exploiting the natural resources of the African country, Leopold II’s politics nevertheless instigated a local economic growth, but at a high price. More than 10 million people are estimated to have died as a consequence of Leopolds ‘Invisible Hand’.

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Nsala looking at the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter, Boali, a victim of the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company (A.B.I.R.) militia, 1904

The name ‘The Invisible Hand’ doesn’t just refer to Smith’s theory of an unobservable market force, it also alludes to the custom of chopping the hands of enslaved people who didn’t work hard enough.

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The Invisible Hand (making-of), Ngel Ikwok, Kasai-Occidental, Democratic Republic of Congo

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The Invisible Hand (making-of), Ngel Ikwok, Kasai-Occidental, Democratic Republic of Congo

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The Invisible Hand, Art Brussels 2015, Belgium

But let’s get back to the artwork, Vanden Eynde went to the Democratic Republic of Congo with the copy of the hand of the ruler who had never traveled to his ‘own’ colony. The artist brought the mould to an abandoned rubber plantation in Kasai-Occidental and filled it up with natural rubber. Strangely enough, the rubber reacted to oxygen and decayed quite rapidly, the white rubber hand turned into a black one that smelled atrociously.

The hand traveled back to Belgium where it was presented inside an old Victorian vitrine at the art fair Art Brussels, completing the problematic circle of colonial treasure hunting in relation to historical fetishisation.

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Plastic Reef, Manifesta9, Genk, Belgium, 2012

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Hordaland Art Center, Bergen, Norway, 2013

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Glendale College Art Gallery, Los Angeles, US, 2009

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Fish caught in a plastic containers.Its teeth seem to fit the bitemarks on the plastic debris. Photo

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Beach trash in Montevideo. Photo

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Plastic flocks together with patches of sargassum seaweed floating in the North Atlantic Gyre. Photo

Next, the artist talked about Plastic Reef, a work that explores the longevity of plastic trash that floats around our oceans, litters our land, is buried underground and might very well outlive our species. Plastic doesn’t decompose, it shrinks down through friction and light into ever smaller pieces. These tiny plastic particles are called “mermaid tears” and in some parts of the ocean, their masses can be even greater than plankton. Some sea creatures mistake the particles for food, putting them directly into the food chain and thus potentially onto our plates.

Today there isn’t a single cubic meter of sea water that is free of plastic particles. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea and according to Captain Charles Moore, we can’t even see all of it because plastic is present up to 100 meters below the surface of the sea. Entire gyres have taken shape in our oceans in which plastic trash is being washed around by the currents and form what looks like islands of rubbish. The biggest water-based plastic trash aggregation, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is estimated to be about the size of Central Europe.


Al Jazeera, Micro-plastics fill world’s oceans

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Peanut the turtle before being rescued from the plastic ring of a six-pack holder. Photo Missouri Department of Conservation, via The Dodo

The artist visited ocean gyres around the world and collected hundreds of kilos of plastic debris from each place. He then melted the trash to form a sculpture that grows in size and weight each time it is exhibited, reflecting how the material is relentlessly invading our planet and damaging its fauna and flora.

The trash became beautiful again and seemed to solve two problems at the same time: the plastic in the ocean and the disappearing of coral reefs world wide, the artist writes

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1000 Miles Away From Home, Hordaland Art Center, Bergen, Norway, 2013

The final work that the artist presented are five snow globes that symbolize the five main oceanic gyres. The globes contain water and bits of plastic debris Vanden Eynde collected in the North and South Atlantic, the North and South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The snow globe is like a time capsule for the future. When it is shaken the water creates a micro gyre making the plastic swirl around.

I really want one of those snow globes….

There’s only a few days left to visit the Body of Matter exhibition at MU in Eindhoven, it closes on 7 February 2016.