Pavilion part of the Edinburgh Art Festival and the Fringe with the Future Play Festival.
Freelance for Design Informatics
Edinburgh, Scotland 2017
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.
Pictures of the Pavilion by YUXI LIU
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.
More informations in the report produced along the process.
I imagined an activity composed of cards that allows participants to ‘create’ personalised engineered ‘thing’. They first would have to choose an ‘organism’ and then create a sequence in order to modify it; and finally explain the story behind their creation. Encouraged to reflect on the implications and outcomes (positive and negative) of such creation, it would give both insights of what the general public inspirations for synthetic biology are and a vision of the hopes and fears of the society. Moreover, it would introduce the basic grammar of DNA and its visualisation.
The aim of this activity is not only to inform participants about the processes of DNA design but also to invite reflection on what it means to design through living organisms.
I have conducted a series of interview with biologists to determine what how they would communicate the DNA design process to the general public: how to keep the process simple but accurate and what could be an interesting interaction to understand the principles of synthetic biology (the same interviews helped to develop the ‘Dominoes’ project).
The final design is a set of cards composed of 25 organisms cards (plus 15 blank ones), 8 promoters, 15 coding sequences (CDS) (plus 15 blank ones) & 8 terminator, as well as 53 story cards, allowing the participants to explain the story behind their creation.
I have tested them during 5 sessions (more than 20 people from designers, artists, biologists, engineers, technicians…) and twice during Louise Mackenzie ‘Transformation – Thinking Through Making With Life transgenic bio-art’ workshops at ASCUS lab Summerhall as part of Edinburgh International Science Festival 2017.
In total I collected: 36 stories, 10 new CDSs and 5 new organisms.
There is no clear tendency in the answers, same range of fantasy story (8%) than proposal for health (7%). Being able to gather more data would help to identify a trend (if there is one). I could imagine developing a webapp, where users could create in the same way (with drag and drop) sequences and write stories link to them. Then, they could share them on social media.
In addition, it would allow to collect thoughts, reactions from the comments and like section. A very small questionnaire after the activity could also help to gather the data from the type of story produced, allowing live data analysis.
Half of the stories are human-centred, while only one quarter would modify human. It suggests that most of the modi cation imagined would be beneficial for humans even if an animal or a plant is the target of the modi cation.
Even though I encouraged to reflect on the consequences (advantages, risks…) on the story card, only 3 stories have a sentence about it. To get more insight on this aspect and encourage broader reflection, designing a longer activity would be necessary.
The sequence and the story would be the first chapter, then the participant of the workshop could have to spot what are the elements part of the ecosystem of this organism and relations with some aspects of human society: cultural effects, group behaviour, social change, social trade-offs, political and economic systems, social conflict, global interdependence… It would be asked to reflect on these connections and establish where could be the potential risks, dangers, uncertainties but also advantages, benefits or values. Each group could analyse the sequence of other groups. From that – chapter 3 – they would come back to their original design and have to change it, taking into consideration the observations from chapter 2. A second iteration of
the second chapter and a third iteration of the sequence could be considered. It would help to illustrate that each choice creates new conditions and entanglements with other factors which result in more constrains in the design.
The aim would be to emphasise the interconnectivity of ecosystems and human society, and how synthetic biology could become an important source of disturbance and that each new design should be carefully considered.
In order to allow to reflect on some of the stories already created, promote the project and share the ideas, I have decided to illustrate some of the cards. We could imagine a series of ‘postcards from the future’ as a series of illustration, promoted on a dedicated website or in an exhibition during a scientific conference, where these stories could be the starting point to discuss public opinion and ideas on synthetic biology as well as the implications of the discipline in human society and on natural ecosystem.
The next step in the development of this project would be to redesign the cards and create a game. Some aspects have already been explore with the help of Erika Szymanski, Research Fellow, Science, Technology & Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
I created a poster for James McCallum, who broke the record for riding the North Coast 500 non-stop, back in June. It’s a 516 mile route which takes you round the very north of scotland starting and stopping in Inverness. He broke the record by 7 hours. He completed the ride in under 31 hours spending only just under 29 hours in the saddle, riding through the night, raising over £15000 in the process in aid of thrombosis UK (more about the exploit here).
I have been commissioned to create a print to commemorate this achievement and using the huge amount of data collected along the way (power numbers, speed, gradient’s etc…). Ultimately they wanted “something that looks visually simple, that tells the story of an epic journey but that when you stare a little bit longer there is some hidden detail” Gareth Edwards.
I used the route codified with colour gradient corresponding to the average speed speed, almost like a heat map. Along the route I symbolised the elevation and the time stamps and time of the day, while using grey scale on the route to represent when he rode in darkness. I used the colours scheme from their promotional website Ride for Charlene.