Last week I spoke at What Design Can Do, the design conference that explores new visions and roles for design. The Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science Jet Bussemaker opened the conference calling for a new design persona: the ‘competent rebel.’ Bussemaker describes this designer as one who can change the way we look at things. As What Design Can Do writes, Bussemaker "wants to ensure the education of ‘competent rebels and specialists side by side. Our technical capabilities combined with our hopes and dreams.’"
I talked about merging of fictions and reality at the interface of design and synthetic biology. Here's my talk.
Our biological takeover of the V&A was a fantastic launch for the Synthetic Aesthetics book at last week’s Friday Late. Over the evening, more than 4000 visitors experienced over 20 workshops, installations, talks and chatted with Imperial College’s synthetic biologists working in the Live Lab right in the V&A Atrium. The programme is here, and see photos from the event here. David Willetts, the UK Minister for Science and Universities, introduced our authors' talk and panel, chaired by The Economist's Oliver Morton.
Some of the events:
Spotlight Space, Grand Entrance
A functioning synthetic biology lab in the grand entrance places this experimental field front and centre within the historic home of the V&A. Conducting experiments and answering questions from visitors, the lab will be run by synthetic biologists from Imperial College London’s EPSRC National Centre for Synthetic Biology & Innovation and SynbiCITE UK Innovation and Knowledge Centre for Synthetic Biology.
What would it mean for our daily lives if we could grow our objects? Xylinum Cones presents an experimental production line that uses bacteria to grow geometric forms. Meet designers Jannis Huelsen and Stefan Schwabe and learn how they are developing a renewable cellulose composite for future industrial uses.
Poynter Room, Café
This film tells the story of how biologist Christina Agapakis and smell provocateur Sissel Tolaas produce human cheese. Using swabs from hands, feet, noses and armpits as starter cultures, they produce unique smelling fresh cheeses as unusual portraits of our biological lives.
THE OPERA OF PREHISTORIC CREATURES
‘Lucy’, the extinct hominid Autralopithecus Afarensis, performs an opera just for you. Marguerite Humeau recreates her vocal tract and cords to bring you the lost voice of this prehistoric creature.
ELECTRO MAGNETIC SIGNALS FROM BACTERIAL DNA
Can we imagine what it sounds like inside the molecular structure of a DNA helix? This composition is inspired by theoretical speculation on bacteria’s ability to transmit EMF signals, played amongst the V&A’s cast collection.
SYNTHETIC AESTHETICS ON FILM
The Lydia and Manfred Gorvey Lecture Theatre
DNA replication, Bjork, swallowable perfume… these eight films demonstrate a myriad of cultural crossovers; synthetic biology at its aesthetic finest.
Dunne & Raby – Future Foragers (2009)
Tobias Revell – New Mumbai (2012)
Lucy McRae – Swallowable Parfum (2013)
UCSD – Biopixels (2011)
Zeitguised – Comme des Organismes (2014)
Drew Berry for Bjork – Hollow (2011)
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and James King – E. chromi (2009)
Mediated Matter, MIT Media Lab – Silk Pavilion (2013)
Learning Centre: Art Studio
Extract your own DNA in the V&A’s popup Wetlab and chat with synthetic biologists from Imperial College London. Synthetic biology designs life at the scale of DNA, and tonight you can take the raw materials of life home with you. With thanks to Imperial College London’s EPSRC National Centre for Synthetic Biology & Innovation and SynbiCITE UK Innovation and Knowledge Centre for Synthetic Biology.
April’s Friday Late at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum celebrates the launch of Synthetic Aesthetics as artists, designers and scientists explore our biological future. On April 25th, the V&A will be transformed for an evening into a space of biology and design, with films, talks, workshops and debates and hands-on lab experiments, from 6.30pm-10pm. The Synthetic Aesthetics Late is sponsored by Mastercard with support from the EPSRC, and is programmed by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg with the V&A. More information will be posted about the evening on the V&A Friday Late webpage.
I’m thrilled to say that our book, Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature is now available to order in the USA direct from The MIT Press or Amazon, and will be available elsewhere from mid-April. Documenting a research project that first began in 2009 at an EPSRC/NSF funding ‘Sandpit’, this interdisciplinary, internationally collaborative book sees synthetic biologists, artists, designers, and social scientists investigating synthetic biology and design. Read more about the project and the book, or visit the Synthetic Aesthetics project website.
We’ll be launching it in London at the V&A Museum on April 25, with further talks and events to come.
Christina Agapakis and I met for the first time at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition jamboree, back in 2009. iGEM is an undergraduate-focused design competition in synthetic biology, which began at MIT in 2004. I was there as a designer with the 2009 University of Cambridge E. chromi team, carrying a briefcase of coloured poo, the Scatalog. Christina was a biologist at Harvard and a competition judge. Ever since our first conversations that year, when this biological engineering competition unexpectedly saw artists entering for the first time (ArtScienceBangalore), and designers showing work (our E. chromi guerilla intervention), Christina and I have continued to collaborate across science, design and art, from the Synthetic Aesthetics project, to conferences, exhibitions and publications.
Five years later, we are excited to have been invited by iGEM HQ in the spirit of art/design/science collaboration to develop Art & Design at iGEM for the 2014 competition. This year is the tenth anniversary of iGEM, and the annual ‘jamboree’ will be held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston in November. To celebrate the diversity of teams and disciplines that come together at iGEM, this year's competition will include a range of special tracks and prizes to include as many participants as possible. We are launching a new Art & Design Prize and Art & Design Track. Our motivation is to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration at iGEM and beyond.
There are two ways to get involved:
An Art & Design Track for teams that are primarily undergraduate artists and designers, although it is open to master’s students and non-degree candidates as well. The track is essentially a mini-competition (other iGEM ‘tracks’ cover ‘software’ or 'environment'). There will be a Track Award for the best team within the track.
There is also a new Art & Design Prize, open across the iGEM competition to all teams. We hope this prize will encourage art and design students to collaborate with science and engineering teams in mixed groups (even from different universities). To find a team close to you, check out the list of teams already registered.
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The V&A Atrium at the Friday Late: Synthetic Aesthetics. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum.
The iGEM 2009 jamboree