Category Archives: biotech art

The Phylogenetic Atelier: Would your wear clothes made of the skin of de-extinct species?


Tina Gorjanc, The Phylogenetic Atelier. Exhibition view at FAKE: THE REAL DEAL? Photo credits: Science Gallery Dublin

We’re going to see a living breathing woolly mammoth soon! Because members of de-extinction circles made us big, confident promises and because media enthusiasm and sleek videos confirmed their words.

Except that the reality is a bit more complicated than that. Scientists are not really going to “resurrect” the long extinct species. The plan is rather to create a GMO. The main strategy adopted by researchers today consists in using cells from the closest living species (in this case the Asian elephant) and edit their genes to obtain DNA as close as possible to that of the extinct animal. The result will be a hybrid organism that carries the genetic material from both species. It won’t be exactly the same hairy mammal as the old one.


Martha, the last surviving passenger pigeon, died in captivity in 1914, leading to the extinction of her species. She is now being displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Photo via

A similar copy-pasting exercise in gene editing is going to be applied to other extinct species. The Passenger Pigeon is one of the promising candidate for ‘resurrection’. The migratory bird was by far the most common bird in the United States. It traveled in flocks so huge and so dense that people at the time described how they would darken the skies for hours when they flew over heads. Unfortunately, unbridled hunting and destruction of its habitat reduced the population to a few individuals by the late 19th century. A few decades later the bird was extinct.

By modifying the DNA of the band-tailed pigeon, its closest living relative, the research group Revive & Restore is hoping to hatch the first “passenger pigeon” (or rather its genetic approximation) by 2025.

Critics are concerned about the ethical issues of de-extinction: Are the animals impregnated with manufactured embryos going to be be safe? How can the newborn enjoy a social life similar to the one experienced by passenger pigeons (or mammoths)? Does their habitat still exist as it was? How do you scale the process up so that the whole species has a reasonable chance of survival? How do you avoid problems associated with inbreeding? Shouldn’t our efforts and funding be focused on keeping alive the many plant and animal species that are endangered?


Tina Gorjanc, The Phylogenetic Atelier. Exhibition view at FAKE: THE REAL DEAL? Photo credits: Science Gallery Dublin


Tina Gorjanc, The Phylogenetic Atelier. Exhibition view at FAKE: THE REAL DEAL? Photo credits: Science Gallery Dublin

With her work The Phylogenetic Atelier, critical and speculative scenario designer Tina Gorjanc is asking whether producing ‘fake’ copies of an extinct animal is an attempt to understand the past, or just an excuse to constantly create the desire for rarity

Her installation stages the aftermath of a successful Revive & Restore’s Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback project. The work suggests a speculative venue that combines a museum, a laboratory and a luxury artisan workshop that in the future will craft gloves out of the leather of fake passenger pigeons. Gorjanc’s installation is exquisite, intriguing but also remarkable for the way it makes tangible the many ethical dilemmas of our fascination with producing new replacements for extinct or endangered biological matter.

In the future, the “passenger pigeon” leather would become a luxury item for the few who are rich enough to afford a pair, prompting the question: Is the de-extinction movement about restoring biodiversity or about producing a few curiosity specimens for the enjoyment of novelty enthusiasts?

The project description explains:

As our current society is becoming mostly driven by the aspiration to constantly innovate it is starting to lack the ability to analyze the cultural understanding of what we are experiencing in the process of innovating. Old definition and stereotypes of original and fake, natural and synthetic, alive and dead are becoming obsolete as new discoveries in the field of synthetic biology are being made.


Tina Gorjanc, The Phylogenetic Atelier. Exhibition view at FAKE: THE REAL DEAL? Photo credits: Science Gallery Dublin

The Phylogenetic Atelier is one of the many thought-provoking works you can see at FAKE: The Real Deal?, a free exhibition at Science Gallery Dublin that asks if life is better when we embrace the artificial. I contacted the fashion designer and asked her to tell us more about her project:

Hi Tina! The work ‘showcases an intersection of a laboratory, a museum and a luxury artisan glove workshop”. Why did you choose these 3 settings? What is the role of each facility?

I decided to speculate on a possible intersection of those practices base on the research I have done which evidences that the interest of our commercial market is moving towards such collaborations. The discoveries that have been done in the field of biotech in the past couple of decades are making this technology more accessible and interesting to a wider spectre of companies outside the pharmaceutical and medical domain.

The Phylogenetic Atelier project, therefore, aims to showcase how the advances in the field of synthetic biology and tissue engineering could be applied to preservation and revitalization of endangered/extinct species and form a new type of collaboration with natural history museums that might provide a rich amount of “raw” material for those practices.

The reason for the incorporation of the luxury artisan glove workshop into the presented system mainly has to do with my desire to facilitate the debate around the issues the project is trying to expose.

By simplifying the debate to a de-extinct leather material rather than the entire organism which represents a far more complex classification problem, the project aims to promote critical thoughts around the way we will interact with the de-extinct material and how we are going to shape different aspects of our society around them (legislation, ethical rules and concerns,…) when they suddenly become more mainstream.

Additionally, as the craftsmanship of leather gloves also represents an endangered practice doomed to extinction due to the direction of our commercial market, as well as gloves, being closely linked to the breeding and training of avian species I thought it would be an appropriate base to frame the output of the project.


Tina Gorjanc, The Phylogenetic Atelier. Exhibition view at FAKE: THE REAL DEAL? Photo credits: Science Gallery Dublin


Tina Gorjanc, The Phylogenetic Atelier. Exhibition view at FAKE: THE REAL DEAL? Photo credits: Science Gallery Dublin

The Phylogenetic Atelier is a very seducing exhibit. It’s difficult not to admire the craft and the sheer beauty of the ‘leather’ and the glove. Yet, i think you also wanted to suggest something more complex, more critical and a bit darker about de-extinction. Could you comment on this? What did you want the audience to take from the exhibit?

As our current society is becoming mostly driven by the aspiration to constantly innovate it is, unfortunately, starting to lack the ability to analyze the cultural understanding of what we are experiencing in the process of innovating. Old definition and stereotypes of original and fake, natural and synthetic, alive and dead are becoming obsolete as new discoveries in the field of synthetic biology are being made.
The research behind the proposed work tackles the ethical and philosophical dilemmas concerning our fascination with producing new replacements for extinct or endangered biological matter and their application in our current world.
The aim of the project is to provoke a debate and encourage the audience to start asking themselves questions such as our right as a species to give back the biological specimens that we have taken away from nature? If we can do it also mean that we should? If you could bring back one extinct animal which one would it be and why?

Thanks Tina!

The Phylogenetic Atelier was developed as a commission from the Science Gallery Dublin, part of the Trinity College Dublin. It is part of the exhibition FAKE: The Real Deal? which remains open at the Science Gallery Dublin until the 3rd of June 2018.

Also part of the exhibition: Vapour Meat: a helmet to vape the essence of ‘clean meat’.

Vapour Meat: a helmet to vape the essence of ‘clean meat’

Animals that fake their appearance to blend in their surrounding and attract their prey, people who fake a delirious state of bliss on social media, girls who prefer fake fur (or ‘fantasy fur’ as Lagerfeld called it) to the real one, etc. Sometimes the fake is just a little bit more desirable than the real. And if you’re worried about animal welfare, broken food systems and the future of our planet, then fake meat, and in particular lab-grown meat, looks like the saviour humanity was waiting for. It will be cruelty free, greenhouse gases free and guilt free. At least that’s the promise.


Devon Ward and Oron Catts, Vapour Meat [HP0.3.1]alpha, 2018. Exhibition view. Image courtesy of the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin


Devon Ward and Oron Catts, Vapour Meat [HP0.3.1]alpha, 2018. Exhibition view. Image courtesy of the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Technological solutions like lab-grown meat come with ethical, ecological and economic costs that receive far less coverage in the press than the cheerful myths and fictions heralded by the proponents of the technology. As previous works by The Tissue Culture & Art Project have demonstrated time and again (from Disembodied Cuisine which pioneered the lab-grown meat practice to Stir Fly, a bioreactor designed to culture and farm in vitro insect meat at home), one of the most contentious aspects of tissue engineering is its use of fetal bovine serum as a nutrient for the cells. Harvested from unborn calves, usually by drawing the blood directly from the heart of the fetus after the pregnant mother is slaughtered, FBS enables the cells to grow and multiply into meat for our consumption.

There are plant-based alternatives to the FBS of course but their content and formulation is wrapped in IP claims, NDAs and secrecy. And if there’s one thing our food systems need almost as much as the eradication of cruel practices, it’s transparency. This fake meat lack of transparency is reflected in the language adopted by the industry: they talk of “clean meat” and of “cellular agriculture”, for example.

Besides, growing cells in this way is also grossly inefficient. It requires considerable amount of resources and engineering on several levels: replicating the experience of eating meat is not just a question of aspect and taste, it also involves the reproduction of the meat texture, elasticity, smell, etc.


Devon Ward and Oron Catts, Vapour Meat [HP0.3.1]alpha, 2018. Exhibition view. Image courtesy of the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Vapour Meat, by Devon Ward and Oron Catts tries to unpack the growing uneasiness with meat and the murkiness that surrounds its artificial duplicates. The work pushes the discourse around lab-grown meat to its most extreme limits by imagining a device that would enable meat lovers to vape the essence of lab-grown meat.

Vapour Meat casts a critical and sarcastic eye at an industry typified by eco-opportunism and a love for the techno fix (why stop eating meat and consume plant-based proteins when you can throw a bit of science on a problem?) Ward and Catts see lab-grown meat as a kind of vapourware, a term used in the computer industry to design a computer hardware or software product that is announced to the general public but is never actually manufactured nor officially cancelled. Which is pretty much what is happening with in-vitro meat, a technology that has been described as ‘just around the corner’ for years. Yet, it remains unclear how the technology will be scaled up beyond prototypes or how it will comply with appropriate safety standards and relevant regulations across nations.

Vapour Meat is an example of what Catts and Ionat Zurr call a work of contestable design. Instead of evoking the desirable objects and scenarios typical of speculative design, contestable design submits to public scrutiny scenarios that underscore future problematic uses of a technological or scientific process.

FAKE: Faux or no? at Science Gallery Dublin

Vapour Meat uses this scenario to posit a future in which we reach for the fake and the technological in lieu of the real. As such, it’s one of the most interesting and curious works you can see at FAKE: The Real Deal?, a free exhibition at the Dublin Science Gallery that asks if life is better when we embrace the artificial.

I’ll come back with a long and proper review of the show later on. In the meantime, i got in touch with Devon Ward to learn more about Vapour Meat:

Hi Devon! What’s in the vapour that makes it smell like meat? How did you develop this artificial smell?

The vapour is composed of a mixture of different essential oils, infused oils and spices. I used my home cooking as the starting point to develop the smell. Many of the elements are based on spices I use when cooking. Without giving too much away, the vapour liquid contains infused oils that include flavours like smoked paprika and cumin. There are also small amounts of essential oils including sandalwood and basil, which aim at a mixture of smoky and sweet.


Devon Ward and Oron Catts, Vapour Meat [HP0.3.1]alpha, 2018. Exhibition view. Image courtesy of the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

On the one hand, the work might also be seen as a demonstration of the absurdity and excesses of the whole synthetic and lab grown meat industry that requires so much efforts, technology and artifices in order to produce proteins that could be found elsewhere, in a ‘natural’ state. So how does a work like Vapour Meat position itself within the fake meat issue?

You’re right, Vapour Meat isn’t too far from what companies may soon be producing. We may see ‘clean’ meat products that adopt sophisticated food presentation techniques to sell in vitro meat to a niche market. I wouldn’t be surprised if these companies create products inspired by Rene Redzepi or David Chang. For instance, labs may start serving ‘clean’ rabbit caviar on a bed of locally sourced arugula topped with owl mousse and a GFP-infused salt. And if a waiter served it, I can almost hear them saying something like, “this dish is a taste of our current cultural moment. It gives you the flavour of our biotech terroir, something lab-crafted and home-grown, at the same time. It’s a lab-to-table experience…” We may even see products that reference Marinetti’s Futurist Cookbook. Someone might make a dish based on his Chickenfiat, a dish made of chicken and ball-bearings. The ‘Clean’ Chickenfiat recipe might call for in vitro chicken cells grown over the surface of steel ball-bearings served in a Martini glass while you sit in the cockpit of a VR flight simulator with LCD windows that display an orbit around Jupiter. All of this is to say that we may see elaborate spectacles being employed in order to sell ‘clean’ meat. The ‘clean’ meat industry wants to replace farm-grown meat with lab-grown meat, but it may just end up creating high-end products that only a few people can afford. The individuals pushing these grand visions seem to really gravitate toward highly technical fixes. This idea was dealt with by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr in works like Disembodied Cuisine and Victimless Leather. And, Oron wrote an article for The Conversation last year that tries to unpack the hype-cycle around the lab-grown meat.

Vapour Meat definitely builds off of these ideas. The way I see it, Vapour Meat is a critical piece that satirises the recent cultural developments around lab-grown meat. It attempts to draw parallels between the ails of start-up cultures and the ‘clean’ meat industry.

The name Vapour Meat was inspired by the term vapourware, which describes software that is heavily hyped in order to draw interest and investors, but which never delivers on its promises. In other words, vapourware is something that deals with marketing, speculation, ideal and utopia. The term seemed utterly relevant, so Oron and I developed Vapour Meat to explore the overlaps between vapourware and ‘clean’ meat. We created an absurd product that literally produces nothing but vapour, but attempts to convey the ‘essence of meat’ through smell and small quantities of desiccated mouse muscle fibres (C2C12s). The work seemed to critically engage with the big promises of the ‘clean’ meat industry—namely that it will replace animal farming and dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions. Could ‘clean’ meat theoretically solve major issues around animal farming? Sure, but I have trouble seeing ‘clean’ meat live up to its grand ideals. There may be a place for in vitro meat in the future, but it may just be another signifier of status, power and wealth. ‘Clean’ meat may just be a form of conspicuous consumption.

And why does the title also feature “HP0.3.1 Alpha”? What does this correspond to?

“HP0.3.1 alpha” comes from software development nomenclature, which includes a code name, version number, and development stage. It’s a bit of an Easter egg for anyone working with software. In general, because we wanted to explore the overlaps between software start-up culture and biotech start-up culture, the nomenclature was another way to communicate that connection.

The “HP” stands for homeopathic. We were unable to include in vitro meat cells in the liquid reservoir for health and safety reasons, so this reality became the code name for our project. The “0.3.1” is due to the fact that work at the Science Gallery Dublin is actually the third version. Vapour Meat was in development for a year and previous versions involved other artists, so we thought this was a fitting way to acknowledge their involvement. We labelled this version of the work “alpha” due to the fact that it’s still being developed further. Also “alpha” is used to designate “white-box testing,” which was appropriate for a gallery exhibition.

Thanks Devon!

The exhibition FAKE: The Real Deal? remains open at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin until the 3rd of June 2018.

Cellout.me: What does it mean to own someone else’s DNA data?


Jeroen van Loon, Cellout.me, exhibition view at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma


Jeroen van Loon, Cellout.me, exhibition view at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

At the end of 2015, artist Jeroen van Loon offered his entire DNA data – 380 GB of personal data – for auction. The starting price was an extravagant 0 euro. Anyone could place a bid through www.cellout.me. A year later, the auction closed and the artist’s full genome sold for 1100 euros to the Verbeke Foundation.

The highest bidder had just acquired an installation composed of the server cabinet where the data are stored, framed pictures documenting the DNA extracting and encoding processes, four letters written by experts as well something more difficult to fully grasp: an individual’s entire DNA self-portrait.

In their letters, experts from very different fields attempt to untangle the meaning and implications of Cellout.me. Auction house Christie’s Amsterdam seeks to estimate the artistic value of the artist’s DNA; specialists at medical center ErasmusMC in Rotterdam looked at the ethical dimension of the artist’s work and what it means to own his genome which they compare to the digital version of an individual. KPMG, a company with expertise “in all things Big Data” investigated the potential fluctuations of value of the artist’s DNA through time. As for cybersecurity company Fox-It, they wrote perhaps the most dramatic note, they underline the fragility of this DNA which needs to be protected from the greed of ‘gold miners’ and other people or companies eager to speculate and profit from this new type of data.

The letters highlight how a project that can be summed up in a couple of words (Artists Sells Own DNA for 1100 Euros!!!) hides various levels of complexity, meanings, ramifications and uncomfortable questions regarding ownership, privacy, the place of DNA in big data and digital culture in general, bioethics, etc.

Jeroen van Loon, Cellout.me – selling human DNA data

What are the consequences of owning someone else’s DNA data? How does this influence the spatial privacy of the biological owner and his family members?

The installation is currently on view at Aksioma Project Space in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I took the exhibition as an excuse to contact Jeroen van Loon and ask him the questions above. And more:


Photo by Erik Borst: In front of the HiSeq DNA sequencer, which takes 2 weeks to sequence a full genome

Hi Jeroen! The idea of selling your full genome might sound a bit abstract and too conceptual to most people. DNA is a very very long sequence of ACTGs (3 billion lines!) Could you briefly tell us about some of the ethical and cultural questions raised by the auction of your DNA data?

The main difference when thinking about selling DNA data (and I mean DNA data, not biological DNA) compared to other types of data – let’s say credit card or social media data – is that DNA data is not constrained to one single person. DNA data is about me, but also about my sister, parents, grandparents and also my son. So when I decide to sell my DNA data, the first question one could ask is if it’s even my data to sell. Who is the owner of my DNA data? Do I have any authorship or copyright concerning my DNA data? Should I inform my family members and ask for consent when doing something with my DNA data? Scientists call this characteristic of DNA data spatial privacy. Further more, if I find your DNA on a soda can and I sequence it, is it then my DNA data?

Apart from the selling questions, one of the main questions revolves around the monetary value of human DNA data. Because, how do you come up with a certain price tag for my DNA data when we discard the production price for the creation of that DNA data? What makes my DNA data any different – and more of less worthy – than yours? To make it more difficult, what we know today about human DNA data isn’t the same as what we might know in let’s say 15 years. The information value of human DNA data changes because of new scientific research. So linking the price tag to the current information level could also be problematic.


Jeroen van Loon, Cellout.me, artist presentation at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma


Jeroen van Loon, Cellout.me, exhibition view at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma


Jeroen van Loon, Cellout.me, exhibition view at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

The most distressing aspect of the work for me is that it projects you into a very uncertain future. Right now it’s probably not very easy, practical nor affordable to faithfully transcribe someone else’s genome and draw profit from it. But one day it might. And since you share the DNA material with your existing and future family, it means that your work might be of concern to them. Did you justify your work to them? How did they react to your project?

Yes, I explained my intentions and what I would do with my DNA data. Everybody found it interesting, some found it a little scary, including myself, and others, like my son, was, and is, too young to think anything about it. I did not ask anybody for consent, either in a formal or informal manner. You could call this egoistic, which it probably is.

The main reason for doing it this way is that you might otherwise not have asked this particular question. The artwork is not a metaphor, narrative or visualisation, it is a documentation of a real life action. And it is this action that creates the questions concerning this future digital culture I wanted to show. If it was not a real life action and thus without consequences, it would not have been able to ask these questions.

This is not to say that this does not scare me sometimes, but right now this discussion is in an ‘ignorance is bliss’ place in my mind.


Photo by Erik Borst: Isolating DNA from blood sample

You asked specialists from various fields to ponder upon the significance of the work. One of them was cybersecurity company Fox-It. In their letter, they insist on the need to protect this type data, because DNA is “the new gold” and “access to the goldmine” should be controlled. Yet, the description of the work states that “The artist decided not to stipulate a contract with the eventual buyer” What motivated this decision? I’m particularly curious about the absence of contract since it is so important to protect your data and encrypt it carefully, especially when the data is so personal.

I came up with the idea to add a contract, which would state what the buyer could and couldn’t do with the DNA data, during the final production stages of the artwork. I think I got cold feet. It was the same reason why I wanted to begin the auction price at the production price of the artwork. Both ideas were abandoned after conversations with fellow artists when I realised they would greatly damage the core idea behind the work. It would create a watered-down version of the artwork.

When content becomes binary code we see the same questions pop up regarding copyright, authorship, piracy, privacy, original/copy, remix and so on. This happened to music, cinema, news, and will happen to our DNA data as well. When DNA sequence technology becomes easier, cheaper and more widely available, more companies/organisations will offer ways of e.g. sequencing, storing, sharing, owning, buying or selling DNA data.

As with all other types of digital content, DNA data will also be (il)legally recorded, shared, hacked, leaked, mixed and so on. My point was to show what kind of new questions could arise when human DNA data was sold, not to find the most secure way of transferring it. The actual selling asks not only these questions but also shows possible implications.

What happened since you sold your DNA data? You just sent the whole installation to the Verbeke Foundation and then it disappeared from your preoccupations?

My focus as an artist is on visualising, documenting and revealing digital culture, not on DNA and its discourse. DNA was only my focus because it became data. So to be very honest; when the work was sold my preoccupation with my DNA data was finished.

I try to keep up a little with news about DNA sequence possibilities. I recently saw a Dutch TV commercial in which they offered to sequence parts of your DNA for your, a sort of 23andMe.com. The fact that this is now on Dutch TV means that we will have to deal more and more with the questions surrounding data and DNA and therefor I feel happy to already have finished the work since I tried to reveal digital culture with this work.

I did write a small text about my final reflections on the selling of my DNA data for Digimag Journal | Issue 75 | Digital Identities, Self Narratives. The interesting part was that a lot of people around me were encouraging me to place fake bids to get higher bids. Even journalists told me they would write about the work if the price would be higher. This really frustrated me, as if a work is only interesting if it’s worth as much as possible. The strange thing was that during the last month of the auction I got the same feeling, ‘the work is useless and failed if it’s being sold for 500 euro…’ Which of course doesn’t matter, it was only my own insecurities. The only thing that matter was that my DNA data was sold. For how much or little didn’t matter, the selling itself was important, not the price. But it did get me thinking about what would change the price. I don’t think there’s any difference in the order in which the 3 billion ACTG’s are positioned, rather I think it could be a difference in context. Who sells it, when, where, how and why, meaning the value of DNA data resides in context rather than in production as perhaps is the case with all art.

Have you never been worried by the fact that the work could have been bought by some private company that speculates on data? By Amazon or Google for example?

I did, this was precisely the worry that made me think of the contract and start looking at the production price. The thing that scared me the most was that someone would buy it, analyse the sequenced data so they knew e.g. what my chances are on getting alzheimer’s disease and publishing all this information so my family members could read about their own chances of getting it without having the chance to say ‘no, I do not want to know this right now.’.

During the last 30 minutes of the year-long auction there where four different potential buyers of which one had a relation with the medical industry. What could have happened if Verbeke haden’t bought it, I don’t know, perhaps it wouldn’t be an artwork anymore, it would just be data.


Photo by Erik Borst: In ErasmusMC’s data center: the hardware responsible for storing and analysing DNA


Photo by Erik Borst: Transferring 380gb of DNA data from ErasmusMC’s data center to the artist’s hard drive

Do you think it could turn out that yours was actually a very wise move? That the Verbeke Foundation might do more to protect your DNA data than you (or anyone else) could do? That it now feels some kind of responsibility towards it?

I never thought about it that way. Could be I guess. Since there is no contract they can do whatever they want with the work, sell it, show it, dismantle it, put it in a depot. I don’t have any say in it, so when Aksioma asked me if it would be possible to show cellout.me, I first had to ask if I could loan the artwork. It would be interesting to document the opinion of Geert Verbeke, owner of the Verbeke Foundation, about his responsibility towards the artwork and the data.


Photo by Erik Borst: First step: generating blood samples


Photo by Erik Borst: 3 vials of blood

Was the ‘blood-to-data’ process a long and difficult one? What was it like and who did you work with?

The team of André Uitterlinden (Professor of Complex Genetics at Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands) helped me with understanding the procedure of sequencing my DNA and the actual sequencing. Through this understanding I could decide how many photos I needed to show the blood-to-data process. All photos were taken by Erik Borst, with which I discussed how the images should look.

After generating a few blood samples the biological DNA was extracted from my blood. The sequencing itself took two full weeks, this was due the fact that my DNA data was sequenced in a 30-fold depth, meaning it was of laboratory quality. When the sequence was finished the data was checked by bioinformaticians, with which I discussed before hand what kind of output I needed for the artwork. The staff was extremely helpful and interested as they saw this work as an opportunity to communicate about their work and DNA in general.


Jeroen van Loon, Cellout.me, exhibition view at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

I’m also curious about the aesthetics of the piece. The final installation looks like a normal server cabinet, it could host any type of data. What guided your artistic decision to showcase and communicate the process this way? Was it just the most practical option?

One of the most difficult tasks during the production of the work was to think of the medium in which I wanted to show the DNA data. I found it very difficult to create a visual link between the auction and the actual data. In my mind, the medium in which I wanted to show the work didn’t need to be an artistic representation or imagination. The work is not a visualisation, it is a documentation. I struggled with this because I was mainly thinking about how it was going to look inside a gallery. I thought of tripods, pedestals, mounted screens, framed harddisks, printed DNA code and so on, all terrible.

The night before I had to finished my proposal, I got the idea of using a server cabinet (don’t remember how I got the idea), I found it the most honest way of documenting the auction and the data since I could use a screen for each. Showing the actual raw data file on one screen and the realtime auction results through the website www.cellout.me on another, all inside the same object. The tall blackish server cabinet itself is beautiful; it’s nearly the same size as me, the glass door reflects you when your looking at the data, it’s an object that people know, they relate it to data, datacenters, google, facebook and so on. It’s a closed cabinet with the data inside as if it’s an box waiting to be opened. It was the perfect medium to communicate my thoughts, and indeed a very practical one.

What are you showing at Aksioma exactly? The full installation? Other materials?

I’m showing, with the help of the Verbeke Foundation, the full installation.
The presentation consists of the server cabinet, the blood-to-data photo series and the four texts written by Christie’s, ErasmusMC, KPMG and Fox-IT – which have an English translation that the audience can take home.

Thanks Jeroen!

Cellout.me, Jeroen van Loon’s solo show is at Aksioma in Ljubljana from 21 March until 20 April 2018. The opening and artist talk titled “The selling of human DNA data” take place this Wednesday 21 March at 7 pm.

Other works by Jeroen van Loon: An Internet featured in How artists and designers are “materialising the Internet.”

Artists explore the ethical aspects of commercial DNA ancestry testing

Last month, i attended an evening of ethical debates and artistic comments related to ancestry DNA testing, a commercial service offered by competing private companies to individuals who are eager to know more about their ethnic roots or who are searching for distant relatives.


A Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, Finding Fanon, 2015

The evening, titled Trust Me I’m An Artist – DNA Ancestry Testing with Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, took place at The Arts Catalyst‘s new and cozy location near Kings Cross. This was the last public event of Trust Me I’m an Artist, a project set up by partners across Europe to investigate how artists and cultural institutions can creatively and ethically engage with biotechnology and biomedicine. The format of the event is as follows: the artist (or artists) present(s) their project, a specially convened ethics committee deliberate upon its feasibility and value, a conversation between artists, committee and audience ensues.


Larry Achiampong, Glyth, 2013 – 14


An embarrassingly bad photo i took during the evening Trust Me, I’m an Artist: DNA Ancestry Testing with Larry Achiampong and David Blandy at The Arts Catalyst. From Left to right: David Blandy, Larry Achiampong, Nicola Triscott from the Arts Catalyst and Lucas Evers from Waag Society

The artists presenting their project that night were Larry Achiampong and David Blandy. The last time i had seen Blandy’s work it was all about manga and personal identity. As for Achiampong, i only knew about the magnificent pan-Africa flag he had raised last year over Somerset House. It turns out that the two artists have been collaborating for a couple of years, using game and fiction to explore issues such as racism, capitalism, immigration, veteran incarceration, etc.

What brings them together, apart from creativity and a certain taste for topical concerns, is that they are both interested in breaking down their personal histories.

And that’s exactly what the project they presented at The Arts Catalyst promises to do: unravel their genetic roots and see how DNA analysis fits into the story their respective families have told them about their ancestry.

Because the project is still in its infancy, it’s difficult to evaluate its artistic merits and ethical challenges but the theme the artists decided to explore brings to the fore all sorts of reflections and debates related to race, relationships, identity and privacy.

Each artist took a series of three ancestry DNA tests. They compared the results and discussed whether or not the tests had any significant bearing on their own sense of identity, on their present and future. They wondered if the tests could be used for exercises in forensic anthropology: would the results be enough to be able to build virtual versions of themselves?

The kits, once they had been processed, give you a (more or less) detailed view of your ethnicity, breaking it down into regions and sub-regions. Some of the tests come up with a Neanderthal Ancestry report that informs about how much of your ancestry can be traced back to our long extinct relative. Finally, the data can also be used to discover distant relatives who have used the same service. In fact, if you’re interested in filling in the gaps in your ancestry history, it can be quite enlightening to meet genetic relatives and exchange stories with them.


Photo: AFP/Getty Images, via

These DNA kits are big business. Back in December, they were popular Christmas presents. In the U.S., for example, African American buy the kits to get a better idea of their roots. White supremacists do the same tests but with the objective of demonstrating that they are as ‘pure’ as can be. Which sometimes results in denial and disappointment.

During the evening, Achiampong and Blandy presented the result of the tests to the audience and to the ethics committee chaired by expert in medical ethics Professor Bobbie Farsides, with curator Annie Kwan, researcher Debbie Kennett, and artist Trevor Mathison of Dubmorphology.

It turned out that while Blandy’s origins can be traced back fairly precisely to several regions and sub-regions of the UK as well as to a couple of European areas, Achiampong, whose genes are 98.5% African, received a very rudimentary overview of the geographical origins of his family.

I found that information fascinating. This difference in the quality and quantity of the results seems to point to a lack of a good genetic database in Africa.

Does this mean that, once again, caucasian individuals are privileged compared to other races? Or, as someone in the audience judiciously observed, does it mean that people in Africa are just more cautious when it comes to giving away DNA samples? One of the reasons why Africans might be more suspicious than we are about the motivations of tech companies is that they probably remember a not so distanced past when they’ve been profiled, analyzed, measured and dehumanized in the process. They are wise to be careful and to call for what philosopher and poet Édouard Glissant called “the right to opacity.”

We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone.
—Édouard Glissant

There is however a downside to this prudence: a richer DNA collection would make it easier to study and fight tropical diseases.

Many interesting questions were raised during the evening: Should we be wary of for-profit organization with no interest in the impact that the test results might have on individuals, families or communities? Could you launch a similar service based on ethical and political values instead of having money as your only incentive? How do you protect people? How do you manage their expectations and possible disappointment? Could the data be hacked into and leaked? What would the consequences be? Can genetic data be used to revoke the right of an individual to reside in a territory?

But the most interesting (to me) ideas that emerged during the discussions were the following ones:

– These DNA tests highlight the differences in our DNA. Yet, we are all related to each other: 99.5% of human DNA is identical…
– despite this common DNA, our experiences are radically different depending on our racial origins: being (for example) black is not just about genetics, it’s political. In fact, our identities are fluid and socially constructed by sex, social background, education, etc.

– Some people think that DNA tests pose a threat to privacy. Yet, they contain far less information about who we are and what we do than our supermarket loyalty card, our internet search history or Facebook activity.


Mission//Misplaced Memory (Gary Stewart, Trevor Mathison, Zaynab Bunsie), Dreamed Native Ancestry [DNA], 2017

The whole conversation was audio recorded (i believe there will also be a video soon.)

The DNA ancestry evening was part of Dreamed Native Ancestry (DNA) by Mission//Misplaced Memory (Gary Stewart, Trevor Mathison, Zaynab Bunsie.) Thi installation and participatory project celebrates migrations, hybridity and diversity.

Trust Me I’m an Artist. Ethics surrounding art & science collaborations (part 1)


Kira O’Reilly and Jennifer Willet, Be-wildering performance. Photo: Bas de Brouwer


Trust Me, Im an Artist. Opening of the exhibition at Het Glazen Huis, Amstelpark, Amsterdam. Photos by Bas de Brouwer

Do artists using biotechnological materials and scientific processes have the same obligations, rights and responsibilities as scientists? Or should they enjoy more liberties and particular prerogatives? And finally, do art and science collaborations bring about new ethical dilemmas, new debates and challenges?

A group exhibition open until Sunday evening at Zone2Source’s Het Glazen Huis in Amsterdam is engaging with all these questions through artworks that explore issues such as the ethical complexities of gene editing, the communication of nuclear culture over thousands of generations, the risks associated with medical self-experimentation, the difficulty to empathize with plants, etc.

The exhibition is the result of a European research project that aims to help artists, cultural institutions and audiences understand the ethical issues that arise in the creation and display of artworks developed in collaboration with scientific institutions.

The model followed by each of the artwork participating to the Trust Me I’m an Artist project is as follows: an artist or artist collective is teamed up with a research center to create a work that investigate the ethical limits of innovative (bio)technologies. The work is then exhibited. So far, so very usual.

What makes Trust Me I’m an Artist different from other science & art collaborations is that, as is practice for scientists, the artists need to present their work in front of a specially formed ethics panel made of scientists. Because the whole process takes place in front of an audience, the project also brings into the public sphere a series of mechanisms and discussions that are usually kept hidden.

As i mentioned above, the exhibition closes soon but don’t despair if you can’t make it to Amsterdam over the weekend! The whole project has been splendidly documented on the website of Trust Me I’m An Artist, in a book, in a series of podcasts by art critic and curator Annick Bureaud (who also chronicled the project in a diary in french) and in videos.

I’ll get back to you with a second story detailing other projects exhibited at Zone2Source’s Het Glazen Huis, but here’s the ones i managed to delve into since i returned from Amsterdam:


Howard Boland, Cellular Propeller, 2013


Howard Boland, Cellular Propeller, 2013

Howard Boland, Cellular Propeller, 2013

Cellular Propeller, Howard Boland’s provocative project, explores the possibility to recruit bio matter to perform novel tasks and behaviours unintended by nature. In particular, the artist hopes to use his own sperm cells to spin and thrust forward a thin wheel about the size of a ten pence coin.

Inspiration for the project came from the famous scientific paper describing how bioengineers had used heart cells of a rat to create an artificial swimming jellyfish.

Howard Boland kicked off his research during his experimental laboratory residency at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. He first wanted to experiment with heart cells from newborn rats to make motile scaffolds. Unfortunately for the artist, obtaining these cells is not only difficult as they are sought-after materials in laboratories, it also involves a very cruel procedure. Hence, his decision to use his own sperm cells to propel the synthetic material.

The project is still ongoing and it might look ludicrous at first sight. However, it provides an invaluable starting point to reflect upon issues such as: How do you perform self-experimentation in an institutional setting? How can sperm function in an artificial environment and what are the fundamental laws that govern its behaviour? What is the status and definition of this bio hybrid artefact? If it moves and is powered by human cells, is it human? Etc.


Gina Czarnecki and John Hunt (with Saskia and Lola Czarnecki-Stubbs), Heirloom, 2016

Gina Czarnecki and John Hunt (with Saskia and Lola Czarnecki-Stubbs), Heirloom, 2016


Gina Czarnecki and John Hunt (with Saskia and Lola Czarnecki-Stubbs), Heirloom. Credit photo: Florian Voggeneder


Gina Czarnecki and John Hunt, Heirloom. Credit photo: Florian Voggeneder

Artist Gina Czarnecki collaborated with John Hunt (a professor of clinical sciences who worked with John O’Shea a few years ago to create the famous Pigs Bladder Football) to create living portraits of her two daughters using cells collected from inside their mouths. The cells, bathed in a nourishing liquid, grew on glass casts of the girls’ faces until they reached the thickness of tissue paper.

Heirloom redefines the boundaries of the art of portraiture in a fascinating way. It is not made of oil nor clay, yet it replicates the face of the young girls as any photo or painting would.

The use of human material of a subject also raises the issue of privacy. As she explains in an interview with Annick Bureaud, Czarnecki never posts photos of her children online out of concern for their privacy. Yet, as she added, would displaying the portraits in their hometown of Liverpool be too invasive, even if her daughters are comfortable with the exhibition? And isn’t biological material more intimate than pixel? Since they are disembodied, can these cells be perceived in the same way as any other material traditionally used in art? Is Heirloom the new selfie?

Finally, this process of creating a living 3d architecture of face points to a future of personalized medicine where it will not only be easier to perform facial reconstruction and cosmetic modification on people who have been disfigured but it might even become desirable for some to go back to the face they had when they were 20. How far will obsession with an eternally youthful appearance lead society?


Anna Dumitriu, Controlled Commodity, 2017. Exhibition view of the Trust Me, Im an Artist at Het Glazen Huis, Amstelpark, Amsterdam. Photos by Bas de Brouwer


Anna Dumitriu, Controlled Commodity, 2017. Exhibition view of the Trust Me, Im an Artist at Het Glazen Huis, Amstelpark, Amsterdam. Photos by Bas de Brouwer

Anna Dumitriu’s piece explores the “fundamental threat” to global health and safety posed by antibiotic resistance. The works also commemorates the 75th anniversary of the first use of penicillin in a human patient in 1941. This patient was Albert Alexander, a policeman with a severe face infection. Within 24 hours of being given an intravenous infusion of the antibiotic, his condition improved significantly. However, due to the instability of penicillin and the war-time restrictions, only a small quantity of the drug was available, and the patient died when the pathologists ran out of supplies. Nowadays, securing the drug is easy in most parts of the world. However, penicillin and other antibiotics have become less effective, they’ve been overused (to treat humans but also in animal farming) and a number of pathogens have now evolved resistance to these drugs.

Dumitrius’ traveled back to the early 1940s through an antique wartime dress. She patched up any hole or stain in the fabric with cloth that contains genetically modified E. coli bacteria. The genomes of these E. coli bacteria have been edited using CRISPR gene editing technique to remove the gene that provides modern day bacteria with resistance to antibiotics. The deleted sequenced was then replaced with the WWII slogan Make, Do and Mend encrypted with ASCII code and then translated into DNA code.

“In a way it is conceptually and poetically true to say that, with this artistic genomic edit, Anna Dumitriu and her collaborator Dr Sarah Goldberg have used today’s latest technology to ‘mend’ the organism back to its pre-1941, pre-antibiotic era state.”

The title of the work, Controlled Commodity, refers to two facts. The first one is that the wartime women’s suit was labelled with the British Board of Trade’s logo CC41, or ‘Controlled Commodity 1941’, which ensured that the use of materials met the government’s austerity regulations. This contrasts with our current antibiotic stocks which have not been protected as the ‘controlled commodities’ they should have been.

More images from the opening of the exhibition:


Erich Berger and Mari Keto, INHERITANCE, 2016. Trust Me, Im an Artist. Opening of the exhibition at Het Glazen Huis, Amstelpark, Amsterdam. Photos by Bas de Brouwer


Trust Me, Im an Artist. Opening of the exhibition at Het Glazen Huis, Amstelpark, Amsterdam. Photos by Bas de Brouwer

Also part of the exhibition: Inheritance, a precious heirloom made of gold and radioactive stones.

Trust Me, I’m an Artist is curated by Anna Dumitriu and Lucas Evers along with project partners Nicola Triscott, Louise Emma Whiteley, Jurij Krpan. The exhibition remains open at Zone2Source’s Het Glazen Huis in the Amstelpark in Amsterdam until Sunday, the 25th of June.

The Waag Society has a flickr set of the exhibition and of the Be-wildering performance. I also uploaded a few images online. The photo on the homepage is Heirloom by Gina Czarnecki and John Hunt. Credit: Gina Czarnecki.

The project Trust Me I’m an Artist: Towards an Ethics of Art/Science Collaboration was set up by artist Anna Dumitriu and Professor of Clinical and Biomedical Ethics Bobbie Farsides in collaboration with Waag Society and Leiden University.

Artefact: are technology and magical thinking really incompatible?

Final chapter of my report from the Artefact festival which is closing tonight at STUK in Leuven (this way for the previous posts, ladies and gentlemen —> Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Artefact festival: Magic and politics.)


Suzanne Treister, Cybernetic Séance (MACY CONFERENCES ATTENDEES), 2011


Troika, Squaring the circle, 2013 + Troika, All Colours White, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

This year, the event looked at magic, its meaning, reach and role in contemporary culture and society. The topic was analyzed through various lenses: entertainment, politics, finance, technology, etc.

The relationship between technology and magic is a particularly puzzling and interesting one. You’d think that progress in science and technology would automatically mark the demise of our interest for magical thinking and occult forms of knowledge. Far from it. It seems that humans have an inherent need to leave some space in their world for the unaccountable and the supernatural. That’s why progresses in science and technology have often been accompanied by the arrival or renewal of paranormal phenomena. The advent of photography, for example, saw a rise in the popularity of spiritism and photography was even used as a proof that ghosts and other spiritual entities did indeed exist.

A series of artists in the festival present work that explore these complex connections between magic and technology/science. Some built machines that question our firmest beliefs in technology, other probe alchemy or look to quantum theory to make us query our own understanding of the world. Whether or not you believe in Arthur C. Clarke’s third law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic), the Artefact exhibition gives you plenty of opportunity to ponder upon it.


Verena Friedrich, The Long Now, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Verena Friedrich, The Long Now, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

Verena Friedrich, The Long Now, 2015

In Western European paintings from the 16th and 17th century, soap bubbles were used as a metaphor for the transience of the moment and the fragility of life.

With The Long Now, Verena Friedrich turns the famous vanitas motif into a symbol of the artificial prolongation of life made possible by science and technology. At the core of the installation is a magical machine that defies the laws of physics such as surface tension and gravity and keeps soap bubbles in suspension for as long as possible.

The mechanism slowly creates and releases a perfect, fat bubble into a controlled atmosphere chamber. The bubble is kept floating inside the plexiglass cube for much longer than the laws of nature would normally allow. The bubble will eventually burst and the process will start all over again, demonstrating that technology’s control over ephemeral life is not as infinite as we would like to believe.


BCL, Ghost in the cell, 2016 + Jonathan Allen, Magic Shop, 2002. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

Hatsune Miku started her life as a vocaloid, a voice synthesis computer program. The anime character has reached iconic status in both Otaku and mainstream culture. She has been featured in J-pop music videos, games, starred in mangas, an opera, concerts, was invited to the David Letterman show and was materialized as figurine. She is a new kind of semi-living entity that blurs the space between idols made of flesh and idols made of pixels.

In Ghost in the Cell, the virtual superstar Hatsune Miku is given an organic dimension.

The artist collective BCL created a synthetic genome of the character, based on an average Japanese female genome. From this synthetic genome some relevant parts were biologically synthesised and inserted into human induced pluripotent stem cells (also known as iPS cells or iPSCs), which were then differentiated into beating heart cells. These cells stand as a pars pro toto for her heart, her whole physical body.


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, 2016 (a newly commissioned work by STUK-KU Leuven coproduction, with the support of STRP). Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

The Finite State Fantasia visualizes the space mapping behaviour of a smart, but invisible, machine. The machine moves erratically around the exhibition room, using its sensors to measure distance and bumping into obstacles (some of them temporary) to progressively build a model of the space.

Visitors can only apprehend the existence of the machine through the representation of its senses; its flickering infrared trails and ultrasonic locators that are projected on the walls of the space.

It’s a surprisingly moving spectacle. You suddenly come to realize that, just like us, machines depend on a limited set of information to experience the world. However, they often rely on different tools and respond to different stimuli than us in order to perceive their surroundings. As a result, we are left as disoriented as the invisible robot when we try and interpret the lights on the wall in order to guess its location.

“The Finite State Fantasia draws out the dissonance between the ‘magic’ of technology and the technical reality by showing us how the trick is done while simultaneously re-representing the seemingly supernatural machine sensorium.”


Troika, All Colours White, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Troika, All Colours White, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

All Colours White consists of a mechanism which projects red, blue and green light onto a canvas sculpture. The colours slowly bleed into each other, creating a spectrum until their amalgamation results in pure white light.

“All Colours White lays bare the technology and invites the curious viewer to consider the idea that understanding and enchantment can exist in the same universe.”

More works from the exhibition:


Jens Brand, Disappearance of Media, Manifestation of Elephants, 2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Jens Brand, Disappearance of Media, Manifestation of Elephants, 2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Witches Cradles, 2009. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Center for Tactical Magic, Witches Cradles, 2009. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Femke Herregraven, Subsecond Flocks, 2016 + Femke Herregraven, Rogue Waves, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Femke Herregraven, Subsecond Flocks, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tim Etchells, Mirror Pieces, 2014. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Tim Etchells, Mirror Pieces, 2014. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Suzanne Treister, HEXEN 2.0, TAROT CARDS, 2009-2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Suzanne Treister, HEXEN 2.0, HISTORICAL DIAGRAMS, 2009-2011. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Jonathan Allen, Twenty First Century Silks, 2016. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Marjolijn Dijkman, Cultivating Probability, 2015 + Dijkman, In Our Hands, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Marjolijn Dijkman, Cultivating Probability, 2015. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken


Jonathan Allen, Magic Shop, 2002. Installation view at STUK in Leuven for the Artefact festival. Photo © Kristof Vrancken

Artefact : The Act of Magic is at STUK – House for Dance, Image & Sound, in Leuven, Belgium until 9 March 2017. The exhibition was curated by Karen Verschooren from STUK & Ils Huygens from Z33.

Also part of the show: Dataghost 2. The kabbalistic computational machine and Artefact festival: Magic and politics.
Previousy: The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic. An Illustrated History, HEXEN 2.0 and Interview with The Center for Tactical Magic.

More installation views of the exhibition Artefact : The Act of Magic. And yet another quick demo on my flickr album that i am indeed the worst photographer in the world.

Photo on the homepage by Victor S. Brigola: Verena Friedrich, The Long Now.

Albedo Dreams. Experiments in DIY climate manipulation

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Mari Keski-Korsu, Albedo Logger (part of Albedo Dreams)

Albedo is the measure of the “whiteness” of a surface and its ability to reflect the sunlight. When applied to the Earth, the albedo effect is a measure of how much of the Sun’s energy can be reflected back into space. Sophisticated, large-scale goeengineering research projects are looking into ways to efficiently do that and thus manipulate climate and put the brake on global warming.

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Mari Keski-Korsu, Albedo Dreams Rock Bed, part of Albedo Dreams in Reykjavik, Iceland, 2013. Photo

Since 2012, artist Mari Keski-Korsu has been looking into the DIY strategies that citizens could deploy in order to manipulate climate. She discovered a research paper from engineers at Concordia University who estimated that if cities all over the world increased their surface albedos by adopting white rooftops and light-colored pavements, the global cooling effect generated would be the equivalent of reducing CO2 emissions by 25–150 billion tonnes.

What if citizens joined forces and geoengineered climate on a small scale, both in forests and urban areas? Could they have an impact on the climate without ever needing to resort to costly innovations? Just by using kites, suits for men and semi-domestic forest animals, car covers and other low/no tech guerrilla interventions?

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Mari Keski-Korsu, Reindeer in albedo suit (Stuffed reindeer, recycled textile and mosaics.) At Prima Materia exhibition, 2012

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Mari Keski-Korsu, Albedo Dreams Kites flying in Reykjavik, Iceland. Photo: Asgerdur G. Gunnarsdottir, 2013

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Mari Keski-Korsu, Albedo Logger (part of Albedo Dreams)

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Mari Keski-Korsu, Albedo Logger (part of Albedo Dreams)

Keski-Korsu was showing one of her DIY strategies in climate change at the HYBRID MATTERs exhibition which closed a few days ago at Forum Box in Helsinki. This one was a video work showing a suit prototype for forest loggers (i could not embed the video but you can watch it here.) The albedo suit is designed to increase the sunlight reflectivity and thus the albedo value of the forests, cooling the climate in the process while allowing the logger to work as usual. The suit even features a stunning white cape that can be spread out during work breaks and rolled up on the back afterwards.

Of course covering the surface of the Earth in whiteness is all a bit absurd (even though i’m sure Trump would think that a whiter world is the way to go) but that’s why the project echoes with so much sharpness and irony the current research in climate manipulation. Ongoing geoengineering projects often display the typical human hubris that assumes that the best way to save the world is by deploying more technology, more innovation, more energy-devouring ‘solutions.’ And not by taking the problem at its roots: by reflecting on our unruly use and abuse of the planet, by trying to show more respect to all the living entities that populate it.

Albedo Dreams started as a collaboration, organised with the help of Bioart Society and HENVI – Helsinki University Centre for Environment, with forest researchers Frank Berninger and Nea Kuusinen.

Mari Keski-Korsu is collecting all her research and findings in do-it-yourself climate manipulation on her Albedo Dreams website.

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Albedo hut village after a children workshop at the Children Cultural Centre Lastu in Lapinlahti, Finland, 2013

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Albedo Dreams “whitening actions” in Reykjavik, Iceland in February 2013. Photo

The Albedo Logger video was screened at the HYBRID MATTERs exhibition at Forum Box in Helsinki. The show was part of the HYBRID MATTERs Nordic art&science network program which investigates the convergence of our environment with technology and essentially the intentional and unintentional transformation of our planet through human activity. The program took the form of a series of researches, encounters, art commissions, exhibitions and a symposium. I got the chance to attend the symposium and to visit the final exhibition. More episodes about the whole event coming soon!

Previously: HYBRID MATTERs: The urks lurking beneath our feet and The Christmas tree, your typical postnatural organism.

The Christmas tree, your typical postnatural organism

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Laura Beloff and Jonas Jørgensen, The Condition, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

The Condition might look like a standard (media) art installation but don’t let its playful appearance fool you. The deeper you dig, the more you realize how many thought-provoking ideas and issues the work raises: new forms of ‘natural selection’ where it’s the prettiest -not the fittest- that survives, novel ecology in which salmons and tulips are grown à la carte, intersection between the design of biological organisms, aesthetical criteria and capitalistic values.

The Condition consists of a grid of 12 little Christmas trees in white pots. They swirl gently according to an algorithm that translates online space weather data as rotation speeds onto the grid of the boxes. To complicate things even more, some of the trees are cloned trees from Denmark, others are wild Finnish trees. The rotation boxes hung on the wall recall the clinostat, a device designed to negate the effects of gravitational pull on plant growth and development. This installation setup explores how Christmas trees are able to cope in changing environments. Not all thrive equally. Some of the plants are fine, some seem to suffer, some have recovered, others haven’t. Which suggests that even artificial organisms placed in a very artificial setting are subject to some kind of natural selection.

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Laura Beloff and Jonas Jørgensen, The Condition, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

A video posted by @wemakemoneynotart on

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Laura Beloff and Jonas Jørgensen, The Condition, 2016. Opening of the HYBRID MATTERs exhibition. Photo by Anna Autio

The tree used in The Condition is the Nordmann fir. This coniferous tree is not only the most popular Christmas tree in Europe, but also a complex postnatural organism in which organic matter, cultural meaning and the technological coexist.

The typical Christmas tree is a species that is far natural than we might think. If you live in Europe, chances are that your Christmas tree comes from Denmark (where it was originally imported from Caucasius.) Christmas trees are a highly successful business there. The country produces 10 million trees per year (that’s almost twice the population of Denmark), 90% of which are exported to other European countries. But if you leave things in the hands of nature, you end up with a number of trees that are not pretty enough to decorate your living room in December so scientists at Copenhagen University’s Tissue Culture Lab are cloning it, using somatic embryogenesis, a new method where plants are produced from single cells without sexual reproduction. The aim of the research and experiments is to produce ‘perfect trees’ that are grown in the fields of the country before being exported all over Europe. These trees are designed and replicated to match the customers’ wishes.

“Christmas-trees are like humans, they come in all shapes and sizes,” Christmas tree producer Bernt Johan Collet explained to Euronews. “But a supplier wants symmetric trees, because you don`t want to throw away half of them. The French want a little tree, like this one. The Dutch and the Danish want a tree with some space between the branches. Because they can put the decorations in between.”

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Laura Beloff and Jonas Jørgensen, The Condition, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

With their irreverent use of the Christmas tree, artist Laura Beloff and historian Jonas Jørgensen are probing questions such as: What kind of life forms will survive with us or without us in other kinds of conditions than what we currently have on planet Earth? What kind of conditions and organisms are forming at the intersection of technological and biological evolution and human agency?

By exposing the mini forest to changing conditions, the work investigates whether or not Christmas trees can survive in changing environmental conditions; on a different planet, on a polluted place, in closer symbiosis with technology or in an environment that has experienced drastic changes. Besides if the survival and evolution of a plant is determined by Western cultural values and aesthetic preferences, what happens if this cultural basis disappears?

Check out Laura Beloff’s presentation (it starts at minute 27, then comes back minute 49 and and then at 1 hour 10 minutes but i would highly recommend you listen to the other speakers as well) in which she put The Condition into the context of her own research on postnatural organisms and ‘survival of the prettiest’:

HYBRID MATTERs Symposium Panel II. Plant subjectivities, assemblies and assemblages, with Kira O’Reilly, Laura Beloff, Jens Hauser, Monika Bakke. 25 November 2016 at the University of the Arts in Helsinki

(more info in the PDF of the paper.)

The work was part of the HYBRID MATTERs exhibition that closed a few days ago at Forum Box in Helsinki. The show was part of the HYBRID MATTERs Nordic art&science network program which investigates the convergence of our environment with technology and essentially the intentional and unintentional transformation of our planet through human activity. The program took the form of a series of researches, encounters, art commissions, exhibitions and a symposium. I got the change to attend the symposium and to visit the final exhibition. More episodes about the whole event will be on your desk starting tomorrow!

Previously: HYBRID MATTERs: The urks lurking beneath our feet.

Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 5. Working with HeLa cells, microflora and other biomedical material)

Previous episodes of Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art: Part 1. The blood session; Part 2. At the morgue; Part 3: On expendable body parts and Part 4. On skin and hair.

Part five (and i can’t believe how slow i am) of the notes i took during Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art. Materials / Aesthetics / Ethics, a symposium that took place a month ago at University College London. The outstanding event explored how artists use the human body not merely as the subject of their works, but also as their substance.

Session 5 The Extended Body: Biomedicine, Micromatter & the Transhuman was the most eclectic and unpredictable one. It investigated issues as diverse as the use of forensic methodologies in art, the presence of human cells outside of the body and the possible role of bacteria in creativity.

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Mat Collishaw, Bullet Hole, 1988

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Marc Quinn, Self, 1991

In his paper titled The Northern Way to Medical Display: The clinical methodology of Glaswegian artists in the 1990s and Christine Borland’s skeleton-works, Dr. Diego Mantoan (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Department of Philosophy & Cultural Heritage) looked at the different attitudes towards the use of clinical materials in the UK artworld in the 1990s.

The 1990s London art scene dominated by young British artists and their provocative approach to the use of human biomatter has long caused scholars to neglect the presence in the United Kingdom of different ways to treat the display of human remains or medical samples in art. Works such as Marc Quinn’s Self (1991), having the author’s own blood in a plaster cast, or Mat Collishaw’s framed images for Freeze (1988), adopting blown-up autopsy stills, appear rather centred on the public effect they would cause, once the viewer is aware of the material used.

During the YBA years, the only real art counterpart to London was Glasgow, in particular the artists who studied at the Environmental Art Department set up by David Harding at Glagow School of Art. Douglas Gordon and Christine Borland were among the first graduates from the course. Their approach to the use of human biomatter and clinical display was radically different from what Londoners were doing. For David Hardling, “the Context is half the work” and the ethos was reflected in the way Glasgow graduates treated biomatter. The Northerns not only engaged with the medical history and the tradition of clinical display but they also followed scientific protocols when dealing with the use of body parts in artworks.

Douglas Gordon, 24 Hour Psycho (extract), 1993

Douglas Gordon became known in the 1993 with 24 Hour Psycho which as its title clearly indicates is a slowed-down version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film hallmark movie. The work can be seen as autopsy of a hallmark movie.

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Douglas Gordon, Trigger Finger, 1996

After that work, Gordon spent 3 years researching found footage, especially medical footage from the 20th century. He wanted to breathe new life into them, to put non artist material into a context that would make it artistic, playing with ways of showing the material (fast forward, slow down, blow up the images, etc.) and giving it new aesthetic quality. He went to the archives of the Wellcome Trust and came back with 4 series of works that use clinical footage related to traumatic consequence of World War II, especially psychological disorders such as schizophrenia.

One of them was Head, a video installation showing a head which displayed signs of life right after it had been severed. The work echoes a scientific experiment done in 1905 by Dr Gabriel Beaurieux. The French doctor witnessed that the severed head of a guillotined murderer called Henri Languille remained responsive for some time after being separated from the body.

The eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. [After several seconds], the spasmodic movements ceased… It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: “Languille!” I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts. Full text in guillotine.dk.

However, Gordon realized that the images of his video were too powerful and that he had to draw a line:

“I showed Head only once, in Uppsala; I showed it never again, because i was too shocked by the images. I think it worked, but it was very hard.” Douglas Gordon, interview by Hans Haase, 1999.

Maybe that’s why i couldn’t find any image of the work online.

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Christine Borland, After a True Story: Giant & Fairy Tales, 1997. Photo Glasgow Museums

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The skeleton of the 7.5 feet (230 cm) tall Byrne displayed at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London (middle of this image.) Photo: Paul Dean (StoneColdCrazy) via wikipedia

Another artist from the Glasgow school who engaged by bodily matters was Christine Borland. The artist used clinical material (in particular human bones, skulls and skeletons) and clinical methodologies in her exploration of how to display forensic science and medicine topics.

The first project featuring biomatters was After a True Story: Giant & Fairy Tales.
The installation features two skeletons. One belonged to ‘Irish giant’ Charles Byrne, the other to “Sicilian Fairy” or “Sicilian Dwarf” Caroline Crachami. Clay casts of the original skeletons, kept at the Royal College of Surgeons, were used to leave traces in dust upon glass shelves. The skeletons were then removed and light is shone through the shelves represent the human bodies in their absence

Their individual stories of the people and the exploitation of their bodies (both while living and after their death) is detailed in the book, The Harmsworth Encyclopaedia, which lies open as part of the installation.

The piece reflects Borland’s interest in how scientists work with human remains in a way that can disregard the individuals’ identities and personal values.

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Christine Borland, From Life, 1994. Photo: David Allen/Christine Borland/Simon Starling

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Christine Borland, From Life, 1994. Photo: David Allen/Christine Borland/Simon Starling

Another of Borland’s works, From Life, consisted in a forensic reconstruction of a missing woman. She set out to purchase a skeleton (a task far more difficult than expected) and asked a crime scientist specialized in osteology to help her uncover the identity of the skeleton. Based on the forensic reconstitution, the artist made a bronze cast of the head. Her rebuilding of the missing woman aimed at giving a personality and identity back to the anonymous remains.

With that work, Borland also realized that she had reached a point where she went too far and she stopped working so intimately with body matters.

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Christine Borland, Family Conservation Piece, 1998. Photo: The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

The heads of Family Conservation Piece were cast from skulls found in the Anatomy Department of the University of Glasgow. They are made from fine bone china and decorated with colours and motifs that recall eighteenth century style porcelain. The work was originally made for an exhibition in Liverpool and the use of bone china pointed to the city’s history as a producer of china but it was also meant to evoke its role in the Slave Trade.

The works of Borland and Gordon are typical of the almost scientific method of the Glasgow school. What the artists also have in common is that at some point during their engagement with medical material they became aware that they might have gone too far. They were ready to take a step back in order to preserve the dignity of the individuals behind the often anonymous bodily remains.

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Henrietta Lacks, circa 1945–1951. Photo via nbc

In her paper HeLa: Speculative Identity – On the ‘Survival’ of Henrietta Lacks in Art, Maria Tittel, PhD candidate (Universität Konstanz, Literature Arts Media), looked at two artworks that work with the DNA material of Henrietta Lacks.

Tittel writes in her abstract: Those artworks pose urgent ethical questions concerning the relation between artistic work and scientific research. Which aesthetical and ethical aspects are touched in both fields, respectivley, while using human biomatter as material for (art) work and what are the differences?

Medical researchers use “immortal” cells to study how cells work and how diseases can spread and be treated. These laboratory-grown human cells can grow indefinitely, be frozen for decades and shared among scientists for experiments. The first immortal human cell line was created in 1951 using a tissue sample taken from a young black woman with cervical cancer. Called HeLa cells, the cells were the first ones that could be cultivated outside the body. They quickly became invaluable to medical research and are at the origin of many scientific landmarks, including cloning, gene mapping, developing the polio vaccine and in vitro fertilization.

The donor remained a mystery for decades. HeLa are actually the initial letters of the donor’s name, Henrietta Lacks. Because the cells from her tumor were taken without the knowledge or consent of either the woman or her family, the HeLa cells raise a number of issues related to ethics in biotechnology and to the rights of Afro Americans (who in the early 1950s were different from the rights of white Americans.)

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Aleksandra Domanović, HeLa on Zhora’s coat, 2015. Photo: Achim Hatzius

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Aleksandra Domanović, HeLa on Zhora’s coat, 2015 (Detail.) Poto: Achim Hatzius

The first work discussed by Tittel was HeLa on Zhora by Aleksandra Domanović. The raincoats are covered in patterns that seem to be abstract but are actually based on medical images of HeLa cells. As for Zhora, she was a replicant in Blade Runner who searched for immortality but died on her way to find it.

The work explore the blurring boundaries between life (the immortal ones of the cells) and death, between the body and the self.

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Christine Borland, HeLa, 2001. Photo: Medical Humanities

The other work explored in the presentation was Christine Borland’s HeLa installation which features a Petri dish put under a microscope. The live images of the HeLa cells quickly multiplying in the petri dish are relayed to a screen.

While in a biomedical research lab in Dundee, Borland became interested in the HeLa cells and realised that many of the researchers didn’t know anything about the origin of the material they were using in their work.

Similarly, the text that accompanies the installation is not very specific. The visitor is left wondering what the title “HeLa” stands for, where the cells come from, what the medical image is about. With this piece, Borland seems to be emphasizing the aesthetic aspect of medical imaging that often doesn’t take into account the background of the cell culture used.

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Katy Connor, Untitled_Force (Laser engraved porcelain tiles), 2011

In her ‘Untitled_Force’: Becoming Nylon through 3D Print paper, Katy Connor, PhD candidate & visual artist (Bournemouth University, Centre for Experimental Media Research) presented Untitled_Force, a series of digital print and sculptures based on Atomic Force Microscope scans of her own blood.

Despite its microscopic scale, images from this process visually reference satellite photographs of the Earth’s surface, becoming body, landscape, and media simultaneously. Highly magnified, the data is also given form through a series of additive processes; layer upon layer of sintered nylon, these disarticulated fragments lending material shape to these intimate interactions, these entanglements between body and machine.

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Bacterial War Games, Incubation Day 2. Photo: Simon Park

In The Extended Self: visualizing the human bacterial symbiont, microbiologist Dr. Simon (University of Surrey, Department of Microbial Sciences) took us on a tour of his adventures in microbiology and art (they are also documented on his blog exploringtheinvisible.)

Park wrote in his abstract: Whilst often ignored, our bacterial aspect (the microbiome), containing 100 trillion normally invisible cells, and 2 million microbial genes, dwarfs our eukaryotic genetics, biochemistry, and physiology. Moreover, many recent studies have begun to reveal the huge impact of the microbiome in terms of our health, its ability to modulate our own behavior and moods, and even its influence on our ability to learn. This paper will explore my practice in terms of the various processes and artworks that I have developed/made in order to reveal this usually hidden but vital aspect of self. These projects range from simple microvideos capturing the movement and activity of my own microflora, to a method for directly projecting the microbiome into the macroscopic world, and finally to a series of unique and autogenic self portraits that result directly from the activity of my microbiome.

First Park quickly defined a few key terms for us:

The microbiome is the aggregate of microorganisms that reside on or inside the body.
The human microbiome is the genomes of the microbiota (microbiomal genes outnumber our human genes by 1 to 100.)
The holobiont is the host plus all its microbial symbionts, including transient and resident members.

In 2000, the microbiologist got infected by a bacteria and was treated with heavy antibiotics. His microbiome was destroyed in the process. He says that he lost at least half of what was once him. A full microbiome eventually returned but it was not the same as the original one. This new microbiota changed Park forever, both physically and mentally.

Park now suffers from illnesses he never had before. Even his mood changed. Bacteria in the gut can influence the production and delivery of neuroactive substances such as serotonin. Mice that are born in germ free environment, for example, have 60% less serotonin.

Simon Park and Heather Barnett, Cellfies: cellular self portraits

Park then decided to look at what he had lost and started collaborating with artist Heather Barnett to develop a series of art & science projects. In one of them, Cellfies, they used a powerful (DIC) microscope to make selfies of themselves at a cellular lever. The microscope reveals nucleated human epithelial cells, bacteria from the microbiome, and cells from the human immune system.

In other works, they used bacterias as inks, as if they were living paints that move around and interact with each other. Each bacteria have their own characteristics. Some are quiet, others move aggressively. The pieces that the scientist and the artist developed together make visible the complexity of the microbiome: it is dynamic, changes everyday and it seemed natural to Park that it could play a role in art.

Park commented the following slide by saying that we have an internal galaxy inside our bodies. The number of stars in a galaxy can be compared to the number of cells in a colony. The images are similar but one was produced using a macroscope, the other was made with a microscope:

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Simon Park, “A reflection on scale. Hubble Deep Field View of distant galaxies/my own microbiota (bacteria that live in/on me.)” Image: Simon Park

Photo on the homepage: Christine Borland, English Family China, 1998. Photo: imageobbjecttext.

Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 3: On expendable body parts)

Previously: Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 1. The blood session).
Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art (part 2. At the morgue).

Part three of the notes i took during Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art. Materials / Aesthetics / Ethics, a symposium that took place a couple of weeks ago at University College London. The impeccably curated event explored how artists use the human body not merely as the subject of their works, but also as their substance.

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Dr. Laini Burton speaking at Bodily Matters

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Bioengineering, 3D cell printing. Photo: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, via Gizmodo

The third and last session of the day was titled ‘Second Skins.’ I’ve searched everywhere, even inside the laundry bag, but it seems that i’ve lost the notes i was taking during the second part of that session. So all i’m left with is what i scribbled while listening to Dr. Laini Burton (Griffith University, Queensland College of Art.)

Her talk Printed flesh, fashioned bodies investigated how we fashion our bodies and speculated on the many shapes that the human form might adopt in the future with the help of science, technology and engineering. By doing so, Burton is hoping to prompt a conversation about how we value body. She wrote in her abstract of the talk:

Contextualized through a discursive range of examples spanning across art, design and popular culture, this paper will reflect on some of the ethical implications that arise when considering biofabricated flesh as a medium. In particular, it will consider whether the examples enacted in cultural production will transcend the imagination to become adopted within mainstream culture in the future. In doing so, it will ask the question: Will such a development embolden us to redesign our bodies, where we no longer need to commit to one ‘look’ or ‘style’ but can embody a range of features in a fashioning of the flesh?

3D printing technology is particularly promising in the medical field. It can be used to create noses, ears, lips and other facial parts that trauma patients have lost or that have been damaged. It is particularly useful in Australia where skin cancer is rife.

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The 3-D printed parts feature realistic skin color. Photo: Fripp Design via Wired

Because they are made of bio-compatible materials, the 3D printed parts have to be replaced regularly, every 6 to 12 months approx. But the original file can be saved and easily reprinted on demand. Burton sees this as data and flesh grafted together.

The leap in 3D printing capabilities means that one day we might see the technology as a panacea for all physiological problems but we might also start considering living matters as being expendable, as being something that we can swap, recompose and replace easily. Applied outside of the medical field, 3d printing could become an important asset in cosmetic surgeries. Cosmetic fanatics wouldn’t have to commit to one look, to one style.

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Artist Stelarc and his third ear. Photo AFP via The Independent

Burton suggests looking into art and designs as disciplines that stir technological processes into the broader cultural debate.

Early proponents of the recomposed, unstable and reproducible flesh are obviously Stelarc and Orlan. Both are pioneers in the way they invite us to reconsider the relationship between the body and the technologies we use to transform it. Stelarc believes that the way we consider the body is obsolete:

“It is no longer meaningful to see the body as a site for the psyche or the social, but rather as a structure to be monitored and modified,” he wrote. “The body not as a subject but as an object – not as an object of desire but as an object for designing.”

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Henry Damon, left, has altered his face to look like Red Skull. Photograph: Getty

In certain subcultures, transforming the body is a form of self-expression. An extreme case of this is Henry Damon who cut off his nose, had subdermal implants in his forehead and tattooed his face red to look like Marvel villain Red Skull.

We could also add the examples of the Human Barbie and the Human Ken Doll.

With the arrival of 3D printing prosthesis using bio-compatible material, we might see more and more of these extreme body modifications reaching the mainstream. What could once only be imagined is now only a matter of time. In the future, designer flesh could be a fixture of beauty and fashion.

Burton also noted that when she is talking about modification, she’s not considering elective amputation which is often the result of Body Integrity Identity Disorder called apotemnophilia.

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Aimee Mullins in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle

Hyper sophisticated and customizable prosthetic body parts could give rise to prosthetic envy. Athlete and model Aimée Mullins has inspired many artists and designers. She appeared in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3 as six different characters. She owns a wardrobe of different sets of lower legs (including the wooden ones made for her by Alexander McQueen) that she picks up according to her mood. The famous “Cheetah” carbon-fibre sprinting legs (still worn by athletes nowadays) were designed for her in 1995.

Viktoria Modesta, Prototype

Viktoria Modesta, “the world’s first amputee pop artist”, also chose to embrace alterity. An article about the artist in The Guardian explains that her prosthetics are made by the Alternative Limb Project. Company founder Sophie de Oliveira Barata says about her clients: “They appear to hold themselves more proudly. I think this is a combination of how it feels to wear the piece itself and the fact that they have been so involved in the process. Generally, when [my] clients wear their prosthetic limbs, they receive positive attention, as it breaks down barriers. Rather than pity, people view them with curiosity, and in many cases have even shown signs of genuine envy, all of which is empowering for the wearer. Some clients reserve their alternative limbs for special occasions, and in those moments they can explore an alter ego. Others see it as part of their day-to-day identity.”

These two cases, as well as the high performances achieved by athletes wearing prosthetic legs point to a future where prosthetic limbs will been seen as having more advantages than the ones made of flesh. They don’t tear, they don’t fatigue, they never get weak. In this future, limbs will not just be repaired, they will improve us. And make us think that the natural us are ‘disabled.’

3D printed body parts and other prosthetics allow for more creative construction of the body, for an altered topography of our own flesh. So maybe in the future the natural body will not be enough and there will be a huge market for human enhancement.

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Nicky Ashwell with her anatomically accurate new hand. Photo: Laura Lean/PA, via The Guardian

And with that will come techno fetishists who are too fascinated by new technologies to take into account the daily reality of wearing prosthetic parts. Patients who have received bionic limbs, such as Nigel Ackland and Nicky Ashwell talk of the excitement of being able to enjoy all their limbs again but also of the real physical pain wearing them produces.

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WhiteFeather Hunter, Crafting Biotextiles

The other talks of the day were:
Touch and Trace: Ethical methodologies for encountering Körper skin in critically reflective design practice by Dr. Tarryn Handcock (RMIT University, School of Fashion and Textiles.) She talked about The Anatomy Museum and The Dust Project, two works which look at dust and in particular dust made of human skin as a context for designing and wearing artefacts of dress, which is underpinned by the conceptual framework of a skin that wears.

In The witch in the lab coat: Conjuring flesh into mesh, artist WhiteFeather Hunter presented the works she developed during three years of laboratory-based residencies focusing on tissue culture. This work, situated within the framework of Feminist Materialism, analyzes the “craft” practice of tissue engineering as a form of haptic epistemology—that is, an embodied enactment/mimicry/redesign through creative and scientific means of the inherent haptic intelligence of the body and its biological systems of growth, repair and regeneration.