Five years after the first Mutamorphosis: Challenging Arts and Sciences (2007) held in tandem with the Enter 3 festival, the 2012 Mutamorphosis: Tribute to Uncertainty revisited 'art-science-society' themes exploring 'mutant futures'. The conference was organised by Pavel Sedlak (CIANT) along with Pavel Smetana (CIANT), Roger Malina (Leonardo), Louise Bec (CIANT) and Roy Ascott (Planetary Collegium). More photographs here.
The conference proved a great place for art-science practitioners and stakeholders to connect or reconnect - such as with those from Mutamorphosis I (2007), Subtle Technologies (2012), Bio Art (2005) & Synthetic Biology (2011) Workshops.
Divided into 21 streams, microthemes were put forward by 28 attractors that included Vegetal Sensoria, Nanotechnology: Instability in an Unpredictable Milieu, Blueprints for the Unknown, Liminal Lives: Life in the Age of Permanent Bio-transgression or Confronting the Bacterial Sublime: Whole Genome Sequencing, Microbiology and Bioart.
From C-LAB, Dr Laura Cinti presented 'Sensorial Invisibility of Plants' in the Vegetal Sensoria session by attractor Dr Monika Bakke with Dr Allison Kudla and Kathy High (via Skype) on the panel. See images here.
Following Bakke's introduction, Cinti's presentation focused on the problem of recognising plants as sensorial and showed in her work, Nanomagnetic Plants (2008/11), how inducing visible and real-time motion in (non-specialised) plants can provoke an ontological challenge. The problem of plant behaviour also adds a valuable critique to bio art in that artists must dig deeper into the sciences if they want their works to better resonate with often suggestive statements. Kudla's artistic practice utilises mechanistic systems to generate plant patterns - that include using algorithms - such as in Capacity for (urban eden, human error). In her talk, she provided an account of the semantic disparities and debates around the emerging notion of plant behaviour, intelligence or the 'neurobiological view' of plants with reference to emergent patterns of behaviour (circadian rhythms) generated in her work The Search for Luminosity.
Howard Boland (arriving a day late in order to also present at the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Awards Ceremony in Leiden) gave a talk on 'Art from Synthetic Biology' in the Blueprints for the Unknown session. The attractor David Benque brought together the panel BCL's Shiho Fukuhara & Georg Tremmel and Špela Petric & Robertina Šebjanic's Towards the (in)Human Spore. Boland outlined the many visual and experiential artworks coming out of his material laboratory research and discussed the challenges of making these public. Fukuhara's current research interest on 'What is Life?' unlocked the curious world of machines made only to switch themselves off (see example). Also from BCL, Tremmel branched into another strange phenomena - this time Esoteric Programming such as the Whitespace programming language where only spaces, tabs and linefeeds have meaning (opposite to most other languages).
Finally, Petric and Šebjanic's brought us back to biology to discuss the speculative scenario of producing human spores - suggesting the inclusion of the human genome inside another and allowing this to be activated under favourable conditions.
Two large dogs 'guarding' the 'walk-the-plank' leading into the hackspace room - much of which was dedicated to gastronomy.
Events and talks were split between the New Stage of National Theatre, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the evenings were hosted in the multi-functional bar Vzorkovna - the Nomadic Science Lab - and home of two amazingly large dogs and the source of many hangovers. See video of the Nomadic Science Lab. More photos here.
Given the often overlapping timetables, we were unable to make many of the sessions (such as TCA's Oron Catts and Dr Ionat Zurr's Crude Matter or Dr Dolores Steinman's Uncertainty of Precision). Arriving straight from the airport to Confronting the Bacterial Sublime: Whole Genome Sequencing, Microbiology and Bioart by attractor Anna Dumitriu, I was met by a live Skype feed with Adam Zaretsky feeding carrots (!) to his co-performer. Next were presentations by Dr James Price, Tagny Duff (via Skype), Dr John Paul and Kevin Cole. Focusing on MSRA and threat of "Superbugs", Price spoke of the similarity between bacteria with humans, the progressive state of genomic sequencing today (just 15 minutes to sequence genome), Paul provided a contextual overview of MSRA while Dumitriu, drawing from Edmund Burke's notion of sublime with reference to pain and fear, showed how these ideas were reflected back onto bacteria and our fear of them through her artworks (i.e. crochet simulating bacterial growth). More pictures of this session here.
After a late night at Hackteria's space, we made it to Roberta Buiani's session Beyond Uncertainty with Alexander Cetkovic, Professor Mike Phillips, Dr Laura Beloff and Tyng Shiuh Yap. (See Buiani's interview by Silvia Scaravaggi).
A very literal attempt of navigating uncertainty was suggested by Yap using augmented reality that alter viewpoints such as attempting to walk in one direction when the vision she is presented with (using wearable computer) is suggesting the opposite.
The last session of the day - Developing Cloud Curriculum in Art and Science - moderated by Dr Paul Thomas with Dr Ionat Zurr, Nina Czegledy, Dr. Ricardo Dal Farra and Professor Mike Phillips on the panel. Here, the question asked is how we may go about implementing an art-science curriculum - right now. For many, such generalisation seemed a provocative statement but intended to be so in order to engage in the process on a pragmatic level of implementation. More images of workshop here.
The Beyond Disciplinary Guidelines by attractor Dr Georg Russegger brought together Ildiko Sophia Maria Meny, Dr Roberta Buiani and Lucas Evers. Buiani's paper-candy throwing session probed at the problem of iconography and representation focusing on viruses and asking how we may overcome what she currently sees as naiive and a distant use of imagery.
Nina Czegledy's session Mutual or Mutant: Where or When Is My Education? brought togther Heather Barnett and Dr Silke Lange (University of Westminster), Dr Joanna Hoffmann (Studio for Transdisciplinary Projects & Research), Tegan Bristow (Wits School of the Arts) and Patrizia Moschella. While primarily providing a showcase of well-working programmes in art-science, the session looked at how current policies are both complicating and at the same time placing art-science on the agenda. For instance, the UK have now increased university fees from £3K to £9K per year and policies suggests that students are therefore bigger stakeholders (or perhaps rather consumers) in the education processes. One problem raised was that the curriculum become static by requiring very specific time allocation in student-teacher interactions. Another discussion looked at the Bologna agreement - allowing educational programmes in Europe to be transferable - but also highlighted that this streamlining would mean that those who don't follow this programme would go under as institutions. See Czegledy's summary.
The closing session of the conference brought in the DIY Biologists and bio-hackers and included Nomadic Science BioHackLab - Dr Marc R. Dusseiller - & Extreme Metabolic Interactions: Cooking for Apocalypse with Denisa Kera, Zac Denfeld and Cat Kramer from The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Dr Brian Degger, HotKarot and Dr Maria Joao Grade Godinho. In many ways this session was a wrap-up of what had been going on in the hack-space and a celebration to DIY biology. Interestingly, much of it was focused on gastronomy probably the most edible way of engaging the public with the topic.