8 February 2013
Luminous Night celebrations at UWA
The University Club of Western Australia
As part of UWA's Luminous Night centenary celebrations SymbioticA showcases work spanning the lifetime of the Centre, including new work from 2012, in print form.
Artists include: ORLAN, The Tissue Culture and Art Project, The SymbioticA research group, BioKino, Loren Kronemeyer, Donna Franklin, Abhishek Hazra, Carmel Wallace, Heley Pynor & Peta Clancy, Audrey Appudurai, Paul Vanouse, Nigel Helyer, Neurotica Collective, Verena Kaminiarz, Tarsh Bates, Guy Ben-Ary & Kirsten Hudson.
Pig mesenchymal cells (bone marrow stem cells) grown over/into biodegradable /bioabsorbable polymers (PGA, P4HB), 4cm x 2cm x 0.5cm each. Scientific Collaborator: Professor Joseph Vacanti, The Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. Photo: Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr, Guy Ben-Ary.
Advances in bio-medical technologies such as tissue engineering, xenotransplantation, and genomics promise to render the living body as a malleable mass. The rhetoric used by private and public developers as well as the media have created public anticipation for less than realistic outcomes. The full effects of these powerful technologies on the body and society have been in most cases, only superficially discussed. Winged bodies (both animal and human) have been used in most cultures and throughout history. Usually, the kind of wings represented the creature (chimeras) as either good/angelic (bird-wing) or evil/satanic (bat-wing). There is yet another solution to flight in vertebrates which seems to be mostly free of cultural values - that of the Pterosaurs.
Tissue engineering and stem cell technologies were used in order to grow pig bone tissue in the shape of these three sets of wings. The Pig Wings installation presents the first ever wing shaped objects grown using living pig tissue. This absurd work presents some serious ethical questions regarding a near future where semi-living objects (objects which are partly alive and partly constructed) exist and animal organs will be transplanted into humans. What kind of relationships we will form with such objects? How are we going to treat animals with human DNA? How will we treat humans with animal parts? What will happen when these technologies are used for purposes other than strictly saving life?
In the Pig Wings project three sets of wings were grown for approximately nine months inside a rotary cell culture bioreactor. The original wings are coated with gold and kept in jewellery boxes.
The Pig Wings project was developed in 2000-2001 during a residency in the Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory in Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Standard model Lifeboat vessel, multiple purpose biological laboratory, LifeBoat online profiling questionnaire, lifeboat.org. Crew members: Jona, Melville, Pearl, St Jacques and Geddy Lee. 4m diameter x 3m. Scientific Collaborator: Stuart Hodgetts, UWA
Photo: Nigel Helyer
The LifeBoat was conceived as a highly self-reflexive critique of both political culture and the culture of biology. The LifeBoat can either function as a positive and optimistic 'survival mechanism' or become a broken mirror, reflecting contemporary colonialist endeavours and carrying the threat of contamination and Imperial cynicism (implicit in the collision of Cook’s vessel with the South Pacific). In this respect LifeBoat may not be the panacea that at first it might appear; rather it could as easily represent yet another Utopian and ill-conceived scheme.
LifeBoat is a prosaic title indicating both the physical reality (the project is contained within a fully weatherproofed ship's lifeboat) and somewhat more conceptually, as the lifeboat became home to a Biotechnology lab; a home to the processes of life itself. On a metaphorical level, this project was designed to deal with concepts of sustainability, survival and notions of biological, cultural and ideological re-generation, and naturally its obverse, the degradation of life and all its manifestations.
The LifeBoat laboratory focused on tissue culture of elements of the local marine environment. The lab produced small biological survival packs as well as ‘provocative instructional’ starter packs for re-establishing and/or deconstructing cultural and political structures (e.g. starter packs for alternative democracy might be appropriate in the current political climate!).
Once on board (and still available online) passengers undergo a high pressure interview consisting of 64 profiling questions designed to identify their ethical, political and cultural position, the answers being coded as DNA strings and then used to generate a unique sonic DNA fingerprint.
Other features included the donation of biological samples for the Meta DNA stored on board the LifeBoat. The Total Biological and Psychological processing system included psychological profiling and coding system that generated an audible soundtrack of individual’s tendencies and produced custom colour-coded musical CDs included in the LifeBoat Passport. MORE INFO
Cultured nerve cells, robotic drawing arms, software, Robotics. 240x240x200.
Scientific Collaborators: Steve Potter & Douglas Bakkum, The Steve Potter lab, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. Photos: Phil Gamblen and Steve Potter Lab.
MEART – The Semi Living Artist is a geographically detached, bio-cybernetic research and development project exploring aspects of creativity and artistry in the age of new biological technologies developed and hosted by SymbioticA, UWA.
MEART is an installation distributed between two (or more) locations in the world. Its “brain” consists of cultured nerve cells that grow and live in a neuro-engineering lab, in Georgia institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA (Dr. Steve Potter's lab). Its “body” is a robotic drawing arm that is capable of producing two-dimensional drawings. The “brain” and the “body” will communicate in real time with each other for the duration of the exhibition.
Skin, Sperm, cornea cells as living screens, Bio-projector, 170cm x 170cm x 140cm.
Photo: Bruce Murphy
The Living Screen project explores the possibility of projecting self-created nano-movies onto one single cell or living cell tissues. Tanya Visosevic, Guy Ben-Ary and Bruce Murphy explored the possibility of developing an apparatus ('The Bio-Projector') that would allow a series of self-created nano-movies to be projected through a microscope onto one single cell or living cell tissues. The nano-movies specifically related to different film theories ranging from the Lacanian inflections of Slavoj Zizek, to the phenomenological interpretations of Vivian Sobchack, through to the corrosive impact of Gilles Deleuze.
Digital Print. Collaborators: Centre for Integrative Bee Research UWA and Bee Lab Sydney.
Photo: Loren Kronemeyer
MYRIAD is an artistic exploration of insect communication, framed by relationships of control and exchange. It is the result of a year spent researching social insects with the aim of achieving a form of interspecies dialogue. The experimental process has approached communication as a form of drawing, creating lines through a range of techniques from pheromone manipulation to environmental intervention. The resulting images are living drawings that transform under the shifting influence of insect and human intelligence.
By turns evocative, profound, and absurd, they represent attempts to cross evolutionary boundaries and create new forms of awareness between humans and the organisms we live intimately with.
Biodegradable polymer matrix, Foetal Calf Serum, glass. Scientific Collaborator: Professor Arunasalam Dharmarajan from the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, UWA.
Photo: Ionat Zurr and Oron Catts.
A small-scale prototype of a “leather” jacket grown in vitro, Victimless Leather is a living layer supported by a biodegradable polymer matrix shaped like a miniature coat, offering the possibility of wearing leather without directly killing an animal. Catts and Zurr believe that “biotechnological research occurs within a particular social and political system, which will inevitably focus on manipulating nature for profit and economic gain.” They argue that if the things we surround ourselves with every day can be both manufactured and living, growing entities, “we will begin to take a more responsible attitude towards our environment and curb our destructive consumerism.”
Orange bracket fungi (Pycnoporus coccineus), silk organza, perspex, wood, 198 × 75 × 75 cm. Scientific Collaborator: Gary Cass, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, UWA.
Photo: Robert Firth
“...a white dress 'colonised' by a fungal growth. This encrustation was in reds, oranges, pinks and dull greens, transforming the white purity of the cotton fibre into a living fabric of dazzling beauty... The invasion of something so closely connected with self by a beautiful but alien life form was wonderful but alarming – like the earth reclaiming the body after death.”
-Simon Blond, The West Australian Arts Review, 25 September 2004
Degradable polymers (PGA and P4HB), surgical sutures, living cells, micro-gravity bioreactor, Foetal Calf Serum. Scientific Collaborator: Professor Joseph Vacanti, The Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
Photo: Tissue Culture and Art Project.
The Semi-Living Worry Dolls were the first tissue engineered sculptures to be presented alive in a gallery eleven years ago. Inspired by the Guatemalan worry dolls given to children to whisper their worries and concerns to, these worry dolls were hand crafted out of degradable polymers (PGA and P4HB) and surgical sutures. The dolls are then seeded with living cells that, throughout the exhibition, will gradually replace the polymers within a micro-gravity bioreactor that acts as a surrogate body. The worry dolls become partially alive. These semi-living dolls represent the current stage of cultural limbo, characterised by childlike innocence and a mixture of wonder and fear of technology. This work invites you to whisper your worries to the worry dolls—will they take your concerns away?
Human Breast Milk, various Chemical Reagents, dimensions variable, Collaborator: Dr. Will Stanley (School of Plant Energy and Biology, UWA). Photo: Abhishek Hazra.
Imagine a not so distant future where rogue nation states are harnessing human biomaterials to create explosives. This work attempts to produce ammonium nitrate from breast milk. Using a process called deamination to extract ammonia from breast milk, the work interrogates popular perceptions around ‘good’ and ‘bad’ material. Staged as a failed experiment, the work draws attention to the constraining logic of utility that frames scientific research. Milk donated by The Human Milk Bank, Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh.
Digital Photo, 42cm x 59.4cm. Scientific Collaborators: Steve Parkinson & Guy Ben-Ary.
Photo: Carmel Wallace.
Carmel Wallace’s research as part of SymbioticA’s Adaptation project focused on the thrombolites populating Lake Clifton. Wallace examined the surface and internal structure of a particular thrombolite sample as well as the water-borne organisms that surround these life forms at the lake. Seeking to visualize a journey into the past, from the outer layers to the centre of a thrombolite, Wallace's investigation encompassed the aesthetics of microscopic detail as she explored ways of transferring knowledge gained scientifically into her visual vocabulary and artworks. Outcomes included her Lake Life suite of digital prints, and the short film Lake Life, edited by Peter Corbett.
5-channel video projection, heart perfusion device, single video screen, soundscape, pig hearts performances. Collaborating cardiac physiologists: Professor John Headrick and Dr Jason Peart, Heart Foundation Research Centre, Griffith University. Sound: Gail Priest. Installation dimensions 23 x 15 m. Photo: Geordie Cargill
The Body is a Big Place by Helen Pynor and Peta Clancy was researched at SymbioticA during 2010 and explores the fluidity between bodily boundaries inherent to the organ transplantation process. The work explores the ambiguous boundary between life and death, and the complex and multilayered responses reported by organ transplant recipients. Performances featuring the reanimation of a pair of fresh pig hearts were held intermittently during the exhibition at Performance Space, Sydney, Nov 2011
Digital Print of biological sample photographed using transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Photo: Audrey Appudurai
The visual system, particularly the cells that recognize colour and light are extremely diverse in many organisms. The lungfish, considered a 'living fossil' in evolutionary terms, is an example of one of these animals. Audrey is exploring the visual system of these organisms, so greater knowledge of sensory adaptations can be ascertained. This in turn, will also illustrate the narrow spectrum of our perceived world, and explore the range of realities found there.
DNA samples, reactive gel and electrical current. Scientific collaborator: Dr Susan Barker UWA School of Plant Biology. Photo: Paul Vanouse
Latent Figure Protocol (LFP) is an installation that uses DNA samples to create unique images, employing a reactive gel and electrical current. In the first LFP a copyright symbol is derived from the DNA of an industrially produced organism (a bacterial plasmid called “pET-11a”), illuminating ethical questions around the changing status of organic life and the ownership of living organisms. The LFP imaging process relies on cutting DNA to the sizes needed to make the correct image. This is essentially doing molecular biology in reverse. Usually scientists use imaging techniques to determine an organism’s genetic sequence, whereas LFP utilises known sequences in online databases to produce “planned” images. A “DNA fingerprint” is often misunderstood to be a single, unique human identifier. However, there are hundreds of different enzymes, primers and molecular probes that can be used to segment DNA and produce banding patterns. These banding patterns that appear tell us as much about the enzyme/primer/probe as the subject that they appear to reproduce.
100 Cricket cases, 200 crickets, 25 Laboratory stands, 2 DVD projections. Footprint variable, individual units 2m x 2m x2m. Scientific collaborator: Dr Stuart Bunt. Photo: Patrick Bolger, Science Gallery 2011
The Host project suggests that for a moment we abandon our anthropomorphic worldview and think about life (well actually think about sex) from the perspective of an insect. We are invited to join an audience of 400 live crickets, who are attending a very serious scientific lecture on the sex life of insects, which we quickly realise is rather more complex and interesting than our own! One screen shows the heavily pixelated talking-head of the scientist, the other an image of an oscilloscope signal. The oscilloscope image with its crackling sound-track was obtained under laboratory conditions and is a direct recording of the electrical activity in the aural nerve centre of a cricket listening to the sex lecture. From one perspective the creature becomes a type of electro-physiological microphone—but at a deeper metaphorical level we are asked to re-consider our own perceptual assumptions about the world.
Cultured nerve cells, 32 robotic poles, pen, paper robotic, software, various. 8m x 8m x 2.5m.
Scientific Collaborators: Steve Potter Lab, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.
Photo: Phil Gamblen
Silent Barrage declares its presence in scale and sound. This architectural scale arrangement of noisy pole robots is more than a mere amplification of neuronal activity in a remotely located culture dish. Silent Barrage investigates the nature of thoughts, free will, and neural dysfunction. The work focuses on the bursts of uncontrolled activity of nerve tissue, a typical characteristic of epilepsy and cultured nerve cells. Silent Barrage uses audience movements in and responses to the architectural space of amplified neuronal activity to feed it back to the cultured nerve cells in an attempt to silence the barrage of electrical impulses. The scientists hope that this might help them understand better how to quieten the activity in the culture dish and this in turn would assist in treating epilepsy.
Plaster of Paris, 8cm x 6cm x 4cm. Photo: Verena Kaminiarz
Verena Kaminiarz's research during her Master of Science (Biological Arts) was focused on laboratory mice, specifically disease model mice. For this project she asked the researchers using mice in their work to lend her the sacrificed animals (after they were finished with them, prior to their disposal) so that she could create death masks of these animals. She made 78 death masks over the course of two months.
Death Masks was a preliminary project within Kaminiarz's major research project May the mice bite me if it is not true. It takes the form of a research experiment that explores the possibility of disease model mice functioning as a medium for experimental portraiture. May the mice bite me if it is not true opens up a conceptual space for a philosophical inquiry forcing consideration of four individual animals, their place within Kaminiarz's research and artistic production and the place of laboratory animals in general within scientific research.
The work consisted of four mice positioned as living portraits of people who have died from conditions that these mice were developed to model. The resulting mouse portraits are of: Franz Kafka (lung cancer), Joseph Beuys (natural causes), Felix Gonzalez-Torres (compromised immune system) and Gilles Deleuze (lung cancer). The project mimics some elements of biological research (the location and care the mice receive) and deliberately alters others (the housing, the enrichment materials and the focus of their identities as individuals). This project was exhibited at the University of Western Australia until 2011 (the anticipated life-span of the mice).
In vitro skin cells, marsupial fibro blast cells, petri dishes, colouring. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Harlequin Coat (Manteau d'Arlequin Bioreacteur), presented the realisation of a composite, organic coat, made from an assemblage of pieces of skin of different colours, ages and origins.
This prototype of a biotechnological coat, consisting of in vitro skins in coloured diamond shaped petri dishes, was made to symbolise cultural crossbreeding. This project continued ORLAN's investigation into hybridisation using digital photography. Her series, entitled Self-Hybridation: Précolombienne, Self-Hybridation: Africaine and Self-Hybridation: Indiens dAmérique endeavoured to crossbreed beauty canons of other cultures and other media (sculpture, photography, painting) with the artists own image.
The Harlequin Coat project developed and continued the idea of crossbreeding and hybridisation, using the more carnal medium of skin cells. This work on the figure of the Harlequin was inspired by the text "Laicité" written by French Philosopher Michel Serres, in which he used the Harlequin as a metaphor for multiculturalism. Harlequin Coat seeks to raise various questions: "Can skins of different colours be cultivated? What kind of information can be obtained from the donors? Can a person still be the owner of his or her cells? Does self-ownership continue to exist at the fragmented level? How are such issues perceived in various countries, and especially in the context of a non-western viewpoint?
Mixed media (Foreskin cells, Stem cells, reprogrammed neurons, tissue engineering, electrophysiology, computer controlled devices and sound, foreskin cells, stem cells, neurons). 165cm x 55 cm. Collaborating Scientist: Stuart Hodgetts. Design and construction: Mark Lawson. Photo: Guy Ben-Ary.
Interested in how art has the potential to problematise bio-technologies’ influence on understandings of “life” and the materiality of the human body, In Potēntia is a quasi-human hybrid; a result of experimenting with disembodied human material and stem cell reprogramming technologies. Beginning with foreskin cells purchased from an on-line catalogue, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology were used to reverse engineer foreskin cells into embryonic (like) stem cells and then further transform them into neurons. What results is In Potēntia: a real functioning neural network or “biological brain” encased within a purpose built sculptural incubator reminiscent of eighteenth century scientific paraphernalia. Complete with automated feeding/waste retrieval systems and a custom-made electrophysiological recording setup, In Potēntia converts neural activity into an unsettling synapse-activated soundscape that challenges understandings of “life” and the malleability of the human body.
Hijacking and redeploying living biological material, tissue engineering and iPS technologies, In Potēntia Pogenerates dialogues about our embodied future by critically negotiating the transformational potential of human flesh. Symbolising our worst nightmares regarding the destruction of clear-cut categories of the human body and challenging definitions surrounding embodied material wholeness, In Potēntia’s alchemic transformation of living material makes us wonder: what does it mean culturally, artistically, philosophically and politically to play with the “blank domino” potential of biological matter in culturally unauthorised ways? What is the potential for artworks to activate responses in regards to shifting perceptions surrounding understandings of “life” and the materiality of the human body? And what does it mean to make a living biological brain from foreskin cells?
Candida albicans, agar, glass, wood, perspex. 132x47x47cm. Candida generously supplied by The Tea Tree Oil Research Group, UWA. Photo: Tarsh Bates.
How do we change when we care for other bodies?
in vitero was an artistic research project contributing to Bates’ Master of Science (Biological Art) at SymbioticA, which examined the evolution of ‘somatic semantics’ or ways of understanding through bodies. The project was an experiment in the aesthetics of care, which investigates the potential that sustained proximity and care can offer in exploring the relationship between the carer and cared-for. Aesthetic experiences of care were explored through prolonged engagement with eight other species of living organisms housed in customised glass vessels. The organisms, commonly used in reproductive biology, included fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), thrush (Candida albicans), thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), red bread mould (Neurospora crassa), soil nematodes (Caenorhabditis elegans), water fleas (Daphnia pulex), slime mold (Physarum polycephalum), hydra (Hydra vulgaris) and Tarsh (Homo sapien sapiens). in vitero was a durational performance occuring in two locations: a scientific laboratory at UWA and a public studio at PICA. The organisms were installed in the gallery in their customised vessels and Tarsh lived in the gallery with them. Tarsh engaged in necessary and often mundane activities required for the care of the organisms and herself. Audiences were invited to spend time and care for the creatures.
What does it mean to care for fruit flies, slime mold, daphnia, hydra, or soil nematodes in a gallery? Is it possible to develop a different relationship between Candida albicans (commonly known as thrush) and humans by caring for it? How do we care for creatures that are not cute, furry or even visible? Is it appropriate – or ethical – to contain organisms in glass terrariums and keep them for our own purposes, aesthetic, cultural, educational or scientific? These were just some of the questions under investigation… in vitero was an ArtScience research project enabled by SymbioticA and Perth Institute of Contemporary Art.