Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Interesting and somewhat scary article in Seed Magazine on Art from living Tissues

From Seed Magazine April 12 2009
Paola Antonelli of MOMA
Photographs on

Paola Antonelli is the senior curator of design and architecture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and writes the DESIGN column on the interface of science and design.

Art and design cannot be told apart according to formalist criteria. A chair does not necessarily design make, and a bas-relief in molded resin that looks like abstract expressionism could actually be the germ of a new mass-produced design for a building façade. To find a subtle principle of distinction, one has to transcend aesthetics and fly into the sphere of ethics: While an artist can choose whether or not to be responsive and responsible towards other human beings, by definition a designer must be. In good design, ethics are as important as aesthetics.

The ethical reverberations of design are part of its nature — positive, progressive, economical, necessary, beautiful, modern. And yet so much contemporary design is about experimenting and tinkering, looking for answers that might not yet have questions attached. Moreover, with new fields of design affecting people at deeper levels — think of the psychological impact of a chair versus that of an interface or an interaction — designers can learn a lot about how to grapple with ethics from scientists.

Two case studies provide us with distinct yet complementary insights: SymbioticA, an artistic laboratory dedicated to the study and critique of life sciences located within the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia, and Dunne & Raby, a unique design practice based in London.


Revolutionary Minds: Design + Architecture

Seed Design Series

Oron Catts, the artistic director of SymbioticA, studied product design before undertaking a more dedicated and nimble exploration of deep ethical issues. He is now an artist. Together with Ionat Zurr and Guy Ben-Ary, he started the Tissue Culture and Art Project, an influential think tank that gives life to some of our most deep-seated dreams and nightmares: autonomous products made of living cells that are not organic replacements of body parts, but rather new designs that use the same tissue engineering technologies. They call them “semi-living entities.” The value of this research is immense and flows into worldwide biotechnology efforts, providing much-needed design support for scientists while stimulating designers’ minds. Equally valuable is the debate that SymbioticA’s creations incite.

In “Design and the Elastic Mind,” the 2008 exhibition at MoMA which I curated, SymbioticA presented two projects: Pig Wings, a group of three mummified wing-sets that had originally been harvested on scaffolds out of pigs’ mesenchymal cells, and Victimless Leather, a semi-living entity. I will never forget VL — I shouldn’t have given it a name, I guess, but as it turns out, that is exactly how the artists expected me to react. VL was the small-scale prototype of a “leather” jacket grown in vitro. Like all in-vitro tissue, it was a living layer supported by a biodegradable polymer matrix, only in this case that matrix was shaped like a miniature coat. The artists started the project in a bioreactor at Columbia University and then brought it to MoMA, where it was installed in the exhibition galleries within its own incubator, fed nutrients, and monitored. At some point during the show, VL started growing too fast and one sleeve almost came apart. It was time to stop it, the artists decided. But did that mean killing it? Was that a transformation from semi-living to undead? That first question was the inkling of an awesome chain reaction, just the first button the artists were able to push. Their work asked: If the things we surround ourselves with every day can be both manufactured and living, growing entities, will we “begin to take a more responsible attitude toward our environment and curb our destructive consumerism?” There were many more buttons, as it turns out, and the conversation about VL became very public and extraordinarily opinionated, involving not only ethical but also religious points of views, along with some misconstructions — VL was not made of stem cells, as some argued. The discussion continues today and VL is now immortal, at least in people’s minds.

As such technologies progress, VL and other entities will undoubtedly raise questions about the cultural and aesthetic implications of biotechnology’s ability to manipulate living systems for human- centered purposes, ranging from vegans eating in-vitro meat to, very simply, the meaning of life. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby are among those responding. For many years, they have focused on a new form of design practice that some call Critical Design, others Design for Debate. Dunne has described it as “...a way of using design as a medium to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life.”

Design for Debate does not seek to produce immediately “useful” objects, but rather meditative, harrowing, always beautiful object-based scenarios. In an early-2008 interview, Dunne explained, “Usually, designers would make technology more user-friendly, easier to use, more attractive. But as technology is becoming more complex, and the impact it might have on our lives becomes more dramatic, designers are starting to use imaginary design products to debate and discuss future possibilities. Design in that way can facilitate a debate about whether we want these futures or not.” In “Design and the Elastic Mind” Dunne & Raby presented a group of needy and moody robots, light-years from the Jetsons’ superefficient caretaker Rosie, whose neuroses mixed with ours to create a new domestic psychological landscape that 20 years from now could be great fodder for French movie directors. Of course these projects only scratch the surface of Dunne & Raby’s archive, which has had tremendous influence on contemporary design practice worldwide.

As a matter of fact, the duo is also responsible for shaping some of the brightest young design minds on the planet through their role at the Royal College of Art in London, where Raby teaches and Dunne is the head of the design interactions department. In 2007, Dunne presented the students with SymbioticA’s research and launched them into an acrobatic bio-design and ethics exercise, asking them to design the Meat of Tomorrow, based on SymbioticA’s first in-vitro patty. One of the students, James King, designed a beautiful steak based on a cow’s MRI scans. “We’re not just talking about new forms of media,” Dunne said, “but redesigning parts of people, redesigning animals using tissue as a component in a product. I think what design can do is fast forward and imagine what happens when those technologies enter everyday life and what kind of new products might emerge.” Dunne & Raby and SymbioticA have shown us that the dialogue between designers and scientists is mutating design and therefore mutating the world. The implications splinter in all directions, the relationship between ethics and aesthetics being only one of them. Stay tuned.

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Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on April 15, 2009 at 12:46pm
Do you know when my father died, I saw him daily in my dreams for two months non stop? it is because my mind was in a state of trauma. It wanted to talk with him & see him daily. I still see him very regularly in my dreams. He was very close to me. These are games our minds & brains play with us. It is a way of overcoming our grief. All people who are in a state of shock due to person tragedies experience such things.I don't attribute any special significance to them.
Comment by Frank Shifreen on April 15, 2009 at 12:20pm
I communicated with my grandfather and granduncle (on the the other side of the family). There is a charity non profit called the Quadrinity Process Or Hoffman Foundation. Fischer was a psychiatrist and Hoffman a businessman. They promised to contact each other after they died. After Fischer died Hoffman started having dreams. Vivid dreams of Fischer trying to tell him something. He finally heard what Fischer was telling him, about a process to heal people psychologically. I did it , very powerful
Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on April 15, 2009 at 11:57am
And maybe one day when I die, you can still communicate with me in the same way! Wow, that sounds really great.
Comment by Frank Shifreen on April 15, 2009 at 11:48am
It might not be real but is experiential and has a logic and meaning. It might be the realm of art.
How about plays and movies? they are not real either.
Comment by Frank Shifreen on April 15, 2009 at 11:46am
Krishna , Absolutely correct, as you know I am a student of science. What I am bringing up is that my subjective experience and many others of course has created a world of beauty and beings that appear real. Just because science tells us that it is aberrations of some kind does not make it "appear" less real to me. It is Phenomenology perhaps and not physical science.
There is a truth perhaps in the brain or underlying structures. It might be a way to access higher brain states
Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on April 15, 2009 at 11:38am
Do you know some electromagnetic waves & drugs cause illusions in the brain? So do rhythmic drum beats which send people into a state of trance. People under the influence of these things "see" & "hear" things! That is what science proved & told us. There is no other explanation.
You believe in what you want to. And I believe in what science tells us. That is okay.
Comment by Frank Shifreen on April 15, 2009 at 11:12am
It is abolutely true. My doctoral exhibition at Teachers College Macy Gallery was called True Stories of Dreams and the Paranormal. In that show I painted paintings that told the stories of my experiences, which are very interesting. The sound has to be steady like a simple drum beat very regular and unvarying. it can be bells, Tibetan bowls that vibrate. In Lapland they have a singing journey, they sing for hours at a time. Almost every society started that way. Korea still has Shamans, parts of China. Mongolia is where the name comes from. South America. Many Indian Native American cultures, almost all of them in fact, were Shamanically based. Information was transmitted from dreams or messages from journeys or other means. There are also drugs, like Mushroomsm or cactuses that put one on an experience which is a powerful journey. I do not use drugs
Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on April 15, 2009 at 10:34am
I can't believe this!
Comment by Frank Shifreen on April 14, 2009 at 3:24pm
I can only tell you my experience. I am not vouching for the truth of them, although some seemed very real to me as they were occurring. spiritis of animals, like Bear, Dolphin, Otter
and even mythological animals Like Unicorn. I put them in the singular because they are experienced as very distinct and quirky beings, they each also seem a personification of their species. I also have had conversations with my Grandfather, and Granduncle who passed on
Goddesses like Gaia and other people. It is usually very positive and uplifting. The worst times are when I cannot go on these journeys or when they lose their luster
Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on April 14, 2009 at 12:29pm
This sounds mysterious! What spirits?



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