“Design meets Synthetic Biology” has been selected to be part of the session“Futures” during the BLACK BOX Pop-up Cinema event @ Bio-Medicine West Wing Foyer, Newcastle upon Tyne, from 4 Feb – 1 Mar 2019.
Thank you to Louise Mackenzie for giving me the opportunity to show this Video clip I made while I was a Research associate @ Design Informatics in 2016.
It was the first time this video was publicly shown, and even thought I could not attend the screening, I am very proud and happy that this creation finally made it out from my computer 🙂
On 12th July 2016, in Edinburgh, during ‘Design meets Synthetic Biology workshop‘, biologists, engineers, designers, artists and social scientists were invited to discuss issues of representation, access and perception of synthetic biology. We asked them to share their vision of the future synthetic biology, their hope and fears… This video aims to represent the voices of a range of practitioners gravitating around the discipline but disconnected from each other. Far from a single united vision, it depicts the complexities of working with living material (working and understanding living materials, prediction of long term effects, ethic concern…) and paradoxical opinion surrounding the discipline (complex boundaries between positive outcomes of the research and dangerous usage…).
I designed this stand for Edinburgh College of Art with sustainability and usability as the core concepts.
Recycled & Recyclable Core
The core components (paper tubes and plastic sheets) are already recycled materials, linked together with paper clips and screws, making it easy to assemble, dismantle and reuse in another configuration. This also leaves the materials clean, free from glue or paint that would end their recycling cycle. The coat hangers are also made out of cardboards, except for the metal hooks and clips obviously.
Taking the concept further, additional storage boxes and decoration of the stand have been made from Graduate Fashion Week 2018 waste, collected on site from skips.
The different heights of the tables make the stand accessible, as well as the shaping the space. This is enhanced by the lightning which brings up the portfolios and creates a unique, warm, boutique atmosphere. The petals have different heights to showcase different length of garments, and also giving every students equal opportunity to showcase their work.
The design was though through to limit the amount of waste & lost raw material to a minimum; every millimetre counts!
The left over of the tubes used to create the hangers have been used to make the ‘heads’ of the mannequins and the lamps are designed using the centre of the petals.
Almost every elements of the stand will be repurposed for next years’ event or donated to local charities at the end of GFW18, and when the time comes, they can be recycled again at a local waste management centre!
Kalico Plastic sheets UK based company converting waste plastics into colourful, aesthetic boards 100% recycled , 100% recyclable
Paper tubes UK based company 100% recyclable
EDIBLE plants Origin UK Will be donated to the community garden at the Edinburgh Royal Hospital
SCRAP MDF-BULBS-HOOKS-CLIPS EU based companies, local shops To be reused in the build of 2019 stand
Thank you to
Mark Kobine for your help, advices and sharing pains aux chocolats. Emily Ford-Halliday & Mal Burkinshaw for the opportunity and trusting me.
Linda Wilson, Juliet Dearden & Claire Ferguson for your support.
Wendy Bruce for your kindness and making everything easy. Design Informatics for letting me use the studio and workshops.
I am just back from Shanghai, where I had the pleasure and honor to teach Interior Design for 5 weeks at Donghua University representing Edinburgh University. The students have a lot to teach us all over here about passion, hard work and positivity.
It was 5 amazing weeks with my great colleagues and mon amoureux. In our free time we visited lots of galleries (list bellow of some of the best exhibitions I have seen), spend a day walking and riding in Hangzhou around the west Lake and we went for a week end in the mountains. We stayed in xia yan bei village (下岩贝村), hiked 19 peaks (穿岩十九峰), the Hanfei river ( 韩妃江) and dao tuo xue (倒脱靴). And of course had some amazing food: hot pot, dumplings, wonton soups, noodles, Chinese crepes, vegan dishes…
I am starting to learn basic Chinese to prepare our next trip in March, looking forward to it.
chi K11 –.com/.cn
The work exhibited is digital / conceptual art. What we found most interesting for your practice is the building in itself.
MOCA Shanghai – Apple+
✸✸✸ The exhibition highlights Japanese designer Ken Miki’s four decades of practice as well as his unique approach to design thinking and education, summarized in what he promotes as “Learning to Design, Designing to Learn”.
Rockbund Art Museum – Hugo Boss Asia Art 2017
High-profile award that honors emerging contemporary artists in the early stages of their artistic creation and exhibition practices.
Long Museum West Bund– Antony Gormley
The first major presentation of Antony Gormley’s work in China. At its core is Critical Mass II (1995) an installation of 60 life-size cast iron body forms.
Power station of Art – Shigeru Ban & Li Shan
✸✸✸ Shigeru Ban : What is the architectural content to be presented possibly only by exhibitions? The first half of the Exhibition will introduce the disaster relief projects across the world, & the second half of the Exhibition will introduce the projects in progress and the projects in China.
✸✸✸ Li Shan : he gave up his decades-long familiarity with painting, and turned his artistic thinking to topics that are related with bio-science. He claimed to be creating on a canvas once reserved only for the God, and created a new artistic discipline: BioArt.
✸✸✸ Balkrishna Doshi: Celebrating Habitat-The Real, the Virtual & the Imaginary. The exhibition showcases more than thirty pieces of the Indian architect’s notable works, including personal and public housing, community projects, educational institution, urban planning and furniture design.
Modern Art Museum – Hello, My Name is Paul Smith
Touring exhibition showcasing the fashion designer’s journey in building his company, as well as his stylistic tastes and eye for design.
Dialogue In The Dark
✸✸✸ Very exciting life-changing experiences where visitors are guided by blind guides in absolute darkness. You get a chance to experience space and daily environments of life without your sight. Daily routines become exciting and a reversal of role is created where sighted become blind and Blind become sighted. It was a life changing experience.
In 2016, The Design Informatics Pavilion was designed by Biomorphis, an Edinburgh-based architecture practice led by Pierre Forissier. Interested in how digital technology can be efficiently used to design an affordable modular structure, Biomorphis developed an algorithm to test and generate different cellular divisions to form a self supporting lightweight building envelope. For this 2017 edition I have been employed to give it a facelift, inspired by the 70 years anniversary of the Edinburgh Festivals starting from the launch of the first festivals in 1947 to 2017, by the Design Informatics research topics and data from Edinburgh.
The graphs painted on the pavilion give the local context in which the festivals and Design informatics are taking place: the top line graph represents rainfall in Edinburgh in August in 5 year periods between 1947-2017. The bottom of the pavilion represents the elevations of Edinburgh during a walk through the cities most popular venues so starting on George Street and going to the Castle, the Meadows, The pleasance etc.
Then, the idea was to situate the history of the festivals in an international context, represented by technological breakthrough: each panel of the pavilion represents 5 years, creating a time line where icons (vinyls on acrylic) representing carefully chosen innovations, as well as some of Edinburgh festivals. Moreover, it established a link to Design Informatics, where students are trained and researcher worked on developing tomorrow innovations.
The pavilion become a time travel vessel: the outside is displaying the past of innovations, leading to the inside with the exhibition where you can imagine what the future might look like.
To realise this project, I worked in collaboration with Sigrid Schmeisser, to designed the icons. She realised the exhibition graphics, panels and brochure.
The paper especially written for the conference with Larissa Pschetz, will be available soon.
Recent advances in biology and intersecting areas of research have brought a renewed interest in engaging with living materials. BioDesign is becoming increasingly popular, and has included diverse proposals, ranging from products that incorporate microorganisms as new, often considered more sustainable materials, to speculations on future impact of synthetic biology. In this paper we present three objects that incorporate living organisms as a way to reflect on the design process. We discuss how engaging with living materials could be considered a shift in traditional design practices, and the challenges of integrating design in current biotechnology development.
Synthetic biology is the science of designing biological systems.
The term “synthetic biology” has been used during the past century to describe a wide range of projects that bring an engineering mindset to biology.
The science of biology and the practice of engineering (knowing and making) are especially connected in parts-based synthetic biology, where many engineers and scientists seek to “build life to understand it” through the assembly of standardized genetic modules. Many synthetic biologists take inspiration from a statement left on Richard Feynman’s last blackboard at Caltech in 1988: “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” This line captures well the exchanges of “reverse transcription” between science and technology that characterizes much of the current research in synthetic biology: synthetic biologists take apart and rebuild biological networks in order to better understand them.
Edinburgh Genome Foundry
I had to learn about Synthetic biology as I have been for the past year a research associate at Design Informatics , as well as working at EGF : The Edinburgh Genome Foundry, a research facility specialised in the assembly of large DNA fragments using a highly automated platform.
In EGF, I mostly do UI and UX design for their different system, web site as well as Graphic Design to determine the identity of the facility. As a start, I researched different design tool for biologists, analyse the interface and understand the different representation they use to work with DNA: the circular view called plasmid view the linear view with the ACTG they use to design primers for example.
Before understanding that I had to come back to the basics of biology, DNA… watching for example Once Upon a Time… Life the series from the 80s, I had long discussions where biologists where explaining / teaching me how DNA works, what are the steps and basic grammar. I made interviews…
I had the great opportunity to collaborate with Autodesk Bio/Nano Research Group, to help designing Genetic Constructor : a high level web based design tool for Synthetic Biology. I had the immense privilege to work under Joe Lachoff (Senior Principal User Experience Designer) supervision. Genetic Constructor simplifies sequence design by organising DNA constructs into composable blocks. This keeps the interface clear and friendly even for complex projects, and makes it effortless to re-use parts between projects or to define c.ombinatorial libraries. The aim is to change the way DNA is designed and the methods employed to do it.
From that I had the idea to develop Dominoes (you can see on the front page of Genetic Constructor on the picture above) : a prototype of physical interface for biologists to design constructs, trying to encourage scientists to think about the design and less about the sequence. The next stage would to get picture of the design and import it in Genetic constructor, where it would be possible to upload the sequence afterwards. It could also be used as a game to learn the grammar of synthetic biology.
With Design Informatics the research part of my job started with mapping interests related to biology, the relationship between the different actors, the kind of projects made with synthetic biology : the scientific ones, the one made from iGem (an international competition for undergrad students interested in the field of synthetic biology), critical design, speculative design, product design, art projects… in order to create connection between the disciplines.
With Larissa Pschetz we had the idea of what we called Biological clocks. As designers start to consider materials that evolve through time and as part of complex ecosystems. This idea explores ways for design to employ synthetic biology in order to promote less anthropocentric views of time. We are interested to create biosensors and raises questions of how microorganisms can be designed to communicate issues that are important to a particular ecosystem – e.g.: plates of modified bacteria installed in the urban environment who would change colour in relation to the level of the pollution. Most importantly, it puts the ecosystem at the centre of the equation, helping to reflect on issues of time, design, and coordination beyond the social.
We also questioned the connection between Synthetic biology and human body. While scientist already think to create tattoo allowing to monitor your vitals signs, we are trying to imagine how our body could become an interface: what could we display and what are the ethical questions that will have to be raised if such technology was coming on the market.
I spend a lot of time in the lab to experiment and get familiarise with the living materials, bacteria and yeast, filming the growing process, experimenting to grow microorganisms from my hands, near a trash, on a wall… pick some colonies to get specific colours, duplicated them… playing around with living things.
We organised a workshop with scientists/ biologists / design and social scientists to explore how synthetic biology may affect and be influenced by design. How could access to biological materials be facilitated to artists and designers? What changes when we consider living organisms as a material for design? We interviewed some of the participants asking them about their vision of Synthetic biology and Design, their hopes and fears, how they see the future…
From this workshop and some previous ideas we developed an installation living with living things . In this work we explore what it means to live and design for a world where things have a live of their own, and where the lives of things become integrated with human practices constructing new everyday rituals.We present three concepts, of a) a fabric that evolves according to seasons and human care, b) a knife that is augmented with biological material to support consumption of specific foods and c) a sink that, as a clock, signalises when a particular action is needed. The three concepts reflect on the role of living things for our future lives as a) actively integrated in human routines, b) passive producers of contents for consumption and finally as c) commensal co-habitants of the human environment.
The following section is going to present a condensate of what I find interesting/fascinating in Synthetic biology.
Designing with living organism means two different things:
– you engineer a living organism to make it produce a substance (e.g.: creating milk by modifying yeast to produce the right protein to get milk)
– you engineer a living organism and use it as a product, this means you need to take into consideration new aspect when you are designing such as you need to feed whatever you are using with appropriate nutrients otherwise it would died (e.g.: modifying plants by incorporating fluorescent gene to make them glow).
Keep in mind that most of the work currently made in synthetic biology consist of building the tools of synthetic biology, it is still at an early stage. Most of the crazy idea we can have are still not feasible as working with living organism is very complex. Another thing we have to consider as designer are : how do you design using ‘invisible’ material ? Design with life ? Design against or with evolution ?
More over, there is this different categories of complexity around synthetic biology we should not minimise:
Discipline and data: we can read it, understand some of it, but we still don’t know why some parts of the genomes are important (can be yeast, bacteria… it gets even more complicated with the human genome), or how and why some parts relate to each other…
The heterogeneity and complexity of these relationships means that we may not be able to fully understand, predict, and control the function of synthetic biologies79 in a changing social and natural environment. Instead, we should approach the design of biological systems with more humility and with design principles that are more biological, emphasizing not control but adaptability, not streamlining but robustness, and not abstraction but complexity. Agapakis, C. M. (2013). Designing synthetic biology. ACS synthetic biology, 3(3), 121-128.
Experiments: genetic material is not easy to work with, need special temperature condition at different stages, you do your best to control these conditions but DNA design is about trials, error and assumption.
Until now, virtually every project has been a one-off – we haven’t figured out how to standardize the genetic parts that are the build- ing blocks of this new field. Researchers produce amazing new parts all the time, but much like trying to use someone else’s house key in your own door, it’s been difficult to directly reuse parts across pro- jects. (Biofab, 2013)
Complex boundaries between positive outcomes of the research and dangerous usage: Should we slow the research process because of fear of the unknown and miss important opportunities? Should we not take risk to avoid misused ? How to define boundaries ? It is difficult to see the bigger pictures and have predictions on how the research will be grasped by the industry or to assess the long-term effects.
About the ambivalence of Synthetic biology the early bio-artwork by Eduardo Kac, ‘Genesis’ (1998–9). Tac translated a bible passage into Morse code, and translated the Morse code into DNA base pairs and then finally genetic sequences, which he implanted into bacteria. He placed the genetically altered bacteria in a petri dish under ultraviolet light, which in-person and online viewers could activate. If a viewer disagreed with allowing humans to have dominion over nature as the quote from the Bible suggests, then in order to destroy the manifestation of the idea she could turn on the UV light which would cause mutations in the genes, thereby altering the statement; but in doing so, she would also be asserting her own power over nature. In both early and later artworks, human dominion over the natural world is ambiguously convoluted, since the human-made and the natural are increasingly co-existent and mutually constitutive.
Moreover, synthetic biology blur the distinction between species: using one species gene to modify another specie.
Indeed, while synthetic biology’s bioengineered generation and modulation of living matter has complicated how and what we determine as life, as the boundaries between living and nonliving, natural and artificial, organic and inorganic are becoming increasingly convoluted, we still cannot really say how these conflations and manipulations will fare, impact each other, or evolve in variable contexts, through multiple encounters and exchanges on micro to macro scales. Johung, J. (2016). “Speculative Life: Art, Synthetic Biology and Blueprints for the Unknown.” Theory, Culture & Society 33(3): 175-188.
This is also in relation with a contrast science fiction art projects around synthetic biology and scientific goals: some art and design projects will emphasise on the creation of creepy/monstrous creatures (see picture bellow), while scientists goal is to make more perfect creatures. One is concentrating on the worth case scenario and how the scientific research can become out of control when release from the lab. The other one tends to look only onto the short term, the academic aspect of the research or the bright side.
I will finished by this ‘letter’ for the Open Call Exhibition – For an exhibition titled: Yours Synthetically in the Ars Electronica Center, where they explore “current dialogue with biology, tackling the complex ideas, systems, models and unpredictable realities, in which the results will be long lived, as any changes to the planets biome will be, forever Yours.”
We have to talk.
Let’s just say that our relationship has been a bit challenging lately. We’ve had some ups and downs for sure, the ups of global temperatures and carbon in the atmosphere, and the downs such as the variety of species still sharing our planet.
As you know, I’m a bit concerned about our future. Take this whole area of synthetic biology for example. You say that you understand, that you care, but just because you’ve sequenced a few bits and pieces doesn’t mean you can read me like an open book. Sometimes it feels like I’m just another one of your machines. Is that it? Do you just want to engineer me?
These “synthetic” organisms you’re playing with, what are they going to be when they grow up? A bit of give and take wouldn’t hurt sometimes, not always you you you. My clock is ticking and I really need some commitment from you, what’s your long term plan? Do you even have one?
Yours Synthetically, Life on Earth Open Call Exhibition – For an exhibition titled: Yours Synthetically in the Ars Electronica Center, in Linz Austria, 2013.
The first one called Gender in Artconfronting significant civilisational themes with artist’s interpretation.
Presentation by the museum
Gender is socially constructed sex. Gender studies examine the way history and culture determine sex. Who a man or a woman is in a given world largely depends on the one who manipulates these images. For centuries the conception of gender has remained in the hands of religions, which have imposed ʻproperʼ social roles on the representatives of different sexes. This has been going for so long that it has come to be seen by many as the law of nature. A vast majority of religions have reduced woman to the role of the weaker, more stupid and subordinate sex. To many people this still seems to be ʻnaturalʼ. Currently we are trying to understand the mechanisms behind this manipulation and lead to a situation in which full dignity and equal rights of all genders would be secured. We endeavour to arrive at a point where gender would cease to be an ideological construct and become man’s individual decision that is closest to their sense of identity. The exhibition at MOCAK fits in with the field of these reflections, studies and claims.
The second one Poland – Israel – Germany: The Experience of Auschwitz It was very moving, and maybe for me more powerful to foster the historical atrocity than visiting Auschwitz. Some of the pieces were actually about questioning the fact that it is becoming a touristic destination, where companies are making money and tourists take holidays pictures. They are questioning if it is appropriate in such place.
Presentation by the museum
The exhibition at MOCAK highlights the significant presence of the theme of Auschwitzin the historical, social and cultural discourse. It demonstrates how contemporary artists from Poland, Israel and Germany interpret events from the past. This is not about presenting art broadly thematically related to the Holocaust, rather – about works that deal with the ‘anus mundi’– Auschwitz as a place of genocide, the most tragic man-made symbol there is. The exhibition poses a number of questions. After the last witnesses have died, will Auschwitz become a dark and vacant pop-cultural motif, a pure provocation, a horror Disneyland? Or are such worries exaggerated? Will the second and third post- Auschwitz generations feel a responsibility to carry the memory of these events?
I contributed to install and design the Design Informatics Master degree show this year. I designed the posters (pictures by BinBin), the label of the different works and put together all the video clips to be projected on the big screen.
The results was great, quite different from the other show as it was set up as an exhibition and not as personal stands. It gave unity and reflected the way the department works.
I invigilated Reciprocity exhibition by Patrick Stevenson-Keating and jewellers Jonathan Matthew Boyd and Adam Hendersonat RBS West End Branch in Edinburgh for two weeks this summer.
It was unlikely to have it in a Bank when the topic was about imagining a different way of banking, imagining the future of banking in a quite subversive way.
Description of the exhibition from Design Informatics web site: Can the most mundane of financial transactions be used as a force for good? Designer Patrick Stevenson-Keating tests the possibilities through his imaginary bank with its own notes, debit card and cash dispenser. Highlighting our normally passive role within the global economic system he shows that money and finance are not just tools for buying and selling but for shaping society. Reciprociti was commissioned through the Design Museum’s Designers in Residence programme 2014 and will be the first time it has been shown in Scotland. Alongside Patrick’s installation will be the work of jewellers Jonathan Matthew Boyd and Adam Henderson which questions the perceptions of innate value by considering the materials, processes and concepts which determine it. Curated by Saltmarket Design, the exhibit explores these dynamics by displaying the use of current technologies, questioning physical form and how individuals use technology to create social dialogues.
After the first day of the exhibition one of the jewellery piece has been censored, as a customers argued that it was not appropriated for a bank. The piece is called WEAR A JONNY (gold brooches in the form of unused condoms):
The artists described it as follow: “JONNIES are the strangest commodity. The ultimate one-use product; their use can save lives and prevent disease. They are a cheap and effective product which despite their visual aesthetic should be celebrated. GOLD a commodity, which we hold in the highest value. A gold JONNY, question your values and wear with pride.”