Below are descriptions of the works at the Making_Life exhibition.
Banana peels, beeswax, birch ashes, canola oil, coconut oil, cigarette ashes, olive oil, pork fat, rainwater, Taiwanese Joss paper
Charli Clark, Martin Hanczyc, Luis Hernan, Mari Keski-Korsu, Pei-Ying Lin, Carolina Ramirez-Figueroa, Johanna Rotko, Helena Shomar
Living Ashes performs an oblique exploration of the concept of synthetic life by challenging the divide of inert and animated matter. Synthetic Biology is predicated upon the possibility of standardizing and controlling life. Yet, the concept of life itself is an arbitrary construct. Over and beneath our existence, all climbs and descends a ladder of animation—everything moves, even the most ordinary of things. Banana meets fire, and is reduced violently to ashes. Ashes meet palm oil, and for a second they disappear and reassemble into a synthetic cell, moving about, gloriously resurrected.
A chemical process transforms matter from living to ash, then reanimates it in the form of a Protocell evolving into soap—a banal item of our modern existence. Molecule meets molecule and awakens, an interchange between ashes and life. Perhaps this means that we must stretch our conception of life, perhaps everything is constantly vibrant.
An Interstellar Zeitgeber ('time-giver')
Cyanobaceria (S.elongatus PCC 7942), continuous culture device, acrylic, electronics
Stephen Fortune, Andy Gracie, Markus Schmidt, Georg Tremmel
Star Beasts subjects cyanobacteria ('blue-green algae') to artificial evolutionary pressures in order to modify their circadian rhythms to the day lengths of exoplanets in foreign solar systems. Each payload of a theoretically space-destined probe houses a continuous culture device, designed to travel into space before separating, and continuing towards their individual destinations. Cyanobacteria are a model organism for circadian rhythm research, and were fundamental in providing a breathable atmosphere on the early Earth.
The microorganisms are kept in a constant state of growth, change and eventual adaptation to their future environment. While the device does not directly modify the algae genome it changes the environmental conditions (such as day length) that forces the algae to genetically adapt. In this gallery instance, the periods of light and dark have been accelerated to synchronise with terrestrial human attention spans.
Your Synthetic Future (at the speed of light)
Custom made hardware, Zeiss microscope with sample, computer, custom made software
Thierry Bardini, Laura Beloff, Erich Berger, Cecilia Jonsson, Antti Tenetz
This piece joins together three ecologies into a prophetic machine: a live medium with aquatic creatures under a microscope, a digital ecology with simulated flocking creatures, and a human-machine user interface (microphone, switch and screen). The questions of the visitors are spoken aloud and transduced in order to serve as inputs for guiding the flocking movement of the digital entities. In the tradition of using animals, in whole or parts, dead or alive, to predict the future, we are thus using today¹s synthetic ecologies to serve as an oracle. In agreement with the principal tenet of synthetic biology, we mean by that ecologies that actually breach the once clear boundary between the analogue and the digital modalities of existence. The piece will thus encourage the visitors to reflect on the contingent futures of synthetic biology: its main value is in the questions themselves.
Vanitas / Dead Growth
Bones, eggshells, seashells, limestone, acids, aquarium, steamer, heating lamp.
Juha Hilpas, Emilio Zamudio
Bones could be described as the universal symbol of death. Died out, dried out and well, dead, bare bones hold no living content in them anymore and in their fossilized state, not even traces of living matter are present except for their form, taken over, substituted by minerals.
In living vertebrates bones are the support on which they grow. They carry the weight of the living and as such constitute a great deal of the mass of an animal.
The details of the biochemical processes behind bone formation are still not fully understood, but mastering it synthetically would eventually allow us to construct self-repairing building materials and develop more effective bone replacements for medical use. We have focused on one aspect of bone growth: the crystallization of tricalcium phosphate, the main mineral providing bone tissue its rigidity.
We are combining nonliving matter with the dead, to reanimate them in the process of crystal growth.