533 results for “Hypernature”

Interview: Patricia Piccinini discusses her latest solo exhibition ‘Embracing the Future’

Freya Hutchings
February 6th 2020

Patricia Piccinini is an artist interested in the relationship between humans and non-humans, the natural and the artificial, science and storytelling. Working with silicone, fiberglass, nylon and human hair, she molds hyper-real worlds in which humans and nature become bio-technologically fused in new and intimate ways. Her hybrid sculptures remind us that we are inherently part of our environment, despite historic efforts to place ourselves above it.

Piccinini imagines how technology may dismantle our perceptions, and creates a space for …

Next Generation: Elissa Brunato’s bio iridescent sequin shimmers with nature

Freya Hutchings
January 29th 2020

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Would you like to see your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Elissa Brunato is a recent graduate of the Material Futures program at Central Saint Martins, London. For her final project, she collaborated with material scientists Hjalmar Granberg and Tiffany Abitbol from the RISE research institute of Sweden, to create shimmering sequins …

Next Generation: Exploring the vegetal cyborg with Marie Declerfayt

NextNature.net
January 20th 2020

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Want to see your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Marie Declerfayt is a recent graduate from Design Academy Eindhoven. What follows is an edited version of her thesis relating to her graduate project, Botanical Bodies. Playing with the boundaries between human and vegetal existence, Declerfayt's speculative project creates space for us to …

Next Generation: Biophilic design with Daniel Elkayam

Freya Hutchings
October 29th 2019

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Meet Daniel Elkayam, a fresh-faced Industrial Design graduate, based in Jerusalem, Israel. For his graduation project MAYMA, Elkayam worked with algae in ways that implore us to "imagine a world in which we harness nature in our favor without harming it," as the …

NATURE: Where biology and design merge

NextNature.net
April 5th 2019

Cube Design Museum in Kerkrade and Cooper Hewitt in New York present the comprehensive exhibition NATURE - in which internationally renowned designers, artists and inventors present their perspective on nature. From biotechnology to datavisualization, from renewable energy to urban farming: NATURE shows the real impact of design and its ability to renew the balance between the born and the man-made.

New narratives

Nature is changing under the pressure of our contemporary human lifestyle. Subjects such as climate change, plastic soup …

In conversation with Studio Drift

Meike Schipper
April 5th 2019

A flock of drones that fly like birds, drifting blocks of concrete, a choreography of opening and closing flowers. The work of Studio Drift is challenging the distinction between the wonders of nature and the creations of man. Their work goes beyond replicating nature; it questions the very essence of it.  

Studio Drift combines the efforts of artists Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn. We are invited into their lively and spacious studio in Amsterdam, that is filled with installations …

How modern technology is inspired by the natural world

John A. Nychka
March 1st 2019

What do a kingfisher, cocklebur pods and a Namibian beetle have in common? Besides being living organisms, they have all served as inspiration for creative human technologies to solve challenging problems.

The kingfisher’s sleek beak spurred the streamlined nose design on high-speed trains in Japan. Cockleburs inspired the hook-and-loop fastener system Velcro. And the Namibian beetle’s back inspired a water-collection plant in the desert.

This is biomimicry. It is an approach to innovation, defined by the Biomimicry Institute as seeking: …

Lessons in bio design with Emma van der Leest

Meike Schipper
February 21st 2019

As a young bio designer at the start of your career, you'll have to overtake all kinds of obstacles. From the collection of living materials to working in a laboratory and collaborating with scientists; bio design is a newly emerging field in which you have to pave your own paths.

Meet biodesigner Emma van der Leest. Characterized by a DIY mentality, her multidisciplinary practice combines craft, scientific research and new bio-based production techniques.

Besides her own design practice, Emma founded …

Discover the art of the living at Centre Pompidou

NextNature.net
February 20th 2019

Go forward to nature at the La Fabrique du Vivant (the Factory of Life), the newly opened exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Exhibiting the recent works of fifty international creators, along with research from scientific laboratories, La Fabrique du Vivant brings together artists, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs in the course of a collective exhibition to examine the tilting concept of nature, as linked to technological production.

As biotechnologies are now a medium (more and more) used by artists, …

Three scenarios for the future of farming

Kelly Streekstra
October 8th 2018

Agriculture may be one of the oldest of our technologies. Over time it has developed, changed, revolutionized, industrialized - or simply put, it has evolved. Today’s farms are nothing like those of our grandparents. All the more reason to expect radical changes within our own lifetime. …

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Patricia Piccinini is an artist interested in the relationship between humans and non-humans, the natural and the artificial, science and storytelling. Working with silicone, fiberglass, nylon and human hair, she molds hyper-real worlds in which humans and nature become bio-technologically fused in new and intimate ways. Her hybrid sculptures remind us that we are inherently part of our environment, despite historic efforts to place ourselves above it.

Piccinini imagines how technology may dismantle our perceptions, and creates a space for viewers to think and feel through traditional divides. By contemplating new kinds of families, groupings and relationships with the nonhuman, she imagines a symbiotic future for technology and nature. As the artist insists, we need to construct new ways of being in a world where "technology has become so natural that it takes on a life of it's own."

We caught up with Patricia Piccinini to find out more about her artistic practice and her first solo exhibition in Sweden, titled Embracing the Future.

When did your fascination with challenging definitions, such as 'natural' and 'artificial', begin?

I have been looking at these ideas since I left art school in the mid 1990s. I have always been interested in bodies and politics and disrupting our dichotomous construction of the world. Over the years I have looked at these ideas with regards to medicine and science, and now it provides an interesting way to look at issues around the environment, biodiversity and sustainability.

What is your personal relationship with the 'natural' world? And how does this influence your artistic practice?

I am very much an urban person. I grew up in a working class family and I never had many opportunities to interact with nature or animals or the natural world. However, I don't think you need to be a backwoodsman to respect nature. I don't need to interact with Orangutans to know that they should be protected. In fact, I think they should be left alone.

Certainly, I have had some amazing experiences in nature and with animals, but that's just my good fortune. I don't believe Nature is here for us, to provide us with resources. I think we need nature much more than it needs us, and I'm just grateful for the world I get to live in. That being said, even throwing the word 'nature' around like that feels a bit wrong. Trying to define where 'nature' stops and we begin becomes increasingly difficult the closer you look at it. 

Regarding your upcoming exhibition Embracing the Future, how does the format of a solo show transform the way you present your work, and the viewers' experience of it?

In a solo exhibition I get the chance to create an entire world for the viewer to explore. It enables me to create an overriding narrative that connects the disparate works. I hope that I can take the viewer out of the everyday world and immerse them in a world that is adjacent to ours - strange but also recognizable.

Your artworks appear both born and made. They evoke the tinkerings of biotechnological labs, of experimentation and synthetic biology. At the same time we see in them a sense of familiarity and naturalness that we recognize. What does this synthesis mean for you?

That is the very shading of the artificial into the natural that is at the core of my work. It is the distinction that I refuse to accept. How do we imagine nature now in a way that doesn't deny our place in it and our impact on it. We are part of nature. Ironically, that is made all the more clear by something like climate change. We are part of nature, a force of nature, like a cyclone. We need to get past this counterproductive nature/culture thing and start to think about what sort of world do we want to live in, and how might we achieve that. There cannot be a return to an imagined pristine nature of prehistory, not one that includes humans anyway, but does that mean we want to live in a world reduced to a small number of industrialised species? How can we find a way to 'go forward together with other animals', as Donna Harraway puts it.

Ideas about family, networks and relationships often frame your work. How can relational ways of thinking and being transform our experience of the world? Particularly when we live in quite an individualistic culture.

I think the individualism of contemporary western culture is one of the key problems of our age. I think the world is deeply interconnected, and whether you look at it in terms of genetics or ecology, the idea that individuals, or even humans in general, can somehow separate themselves out from everything is both ridiculous and counter-productive. It is the separating out of humans from nature that allows us to imagine the world and creatures around us as 'resources' to be 'exploited'. The idea of individualistic culture is that our own happiness is justification enough for anything we do, and that our responsibility is to ourselves rather than others. I feel very differently. I think we have a responsibility to those around us - people, creatures, trees or whatever - and we need to find a way to happiness that does not ignore those responsibilities. It suggests that compromise in relationships is not a failure but a success, and I think that is ultimately more productive.

You have said that you want people to go on a journey from aversion and disgust to empathy and closeness when they the creatures in your work. You strike this balance in wonderful and emotive ways. Are emotions and empathy our most important tools to carry into the future?

I think they are vital. Again not in a dichotomous way. It's not about abandoning the rational for the emotional, it’s more about acknowledging that there is no 'pure rationality'. There are always emotions, it's just a question of whether we acknowledge them or not. Empathy, or perhaps more accurately compassion, are vital tools that arise from when we grant value and agency to others. My creatures are intended to stand in for many sorts of 'others', and the relationship we can construct with these others, these strangers, in the safe space of the gallery can be a model for how we go on to interact with all of the others we share the world with. It's interesting to me that we have the idea of 'xenophobia' but we don't have a word for it's opposite: an emotion to describe the process whereby we warm to something that we are initially disturbed by. Maybe if we did we might find it easier to do.

Is it the responsibility of artists to help shape biomedical ethics and the development of new technologies? If so, how do you do this?

The short answer to that two-part question is: definitely, and I wish I knew! I do think that with art we have the opportunity to create spaces where people can come into contact with new ideas, or new ways of looking at the world, which might prompt them to look at things differently. I certainly don't think that, as an artist, I have all the right answers. However, I do hope that I can ask the right questions. Artists can tell stories that help us to understand the world. Art can connect regular people with ideas from other disciplines, and involve them in the discussion. Artists can be another voice, one that isn't constrained by pragmatics or practical considerations. 

Does the alternative world you present reflect the world you would like to see?

Yes and no. Some works are definitely very hopeful and optimistic. I do think you have to model the impossible positive world that you would like to live in, just to create the idea of it. In other cases the work is the opposite of what I would like for myself and my children. Sometimes it’s also about looking at how people can do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Ultimately the world is always going to be complex and contradictory, and I hope that my work can reflect that while still presenting a positive model to encourage change.

What? Patricia Picinnini’s latest solo exhibition, Embracing the Future
Where? Borås Konstmuseum, Sweden
When? February 8 - May 3 2020 

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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Would you like to see your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Elissa Brunato is a recent graduate of the Material Futures program at Central Saint Martins, London. For her final project, she collaborated with material scientists Hjalmar Granberg and Tiffany Abitbol from the RISE research institute of Sweden, to create shimmering sequins made from an unexpected material: wood.

Bio Iridescent Sequin Swatch

With experience working for both ready-to-wear and luxury haute couture fashion houses, Brunato has witnessed first-hand the disjointed and damaging processes of the fashion industry. Indeed, around 50,000 tons of dye are discharged into global water systems per year, and hidden behind the joy vivid colors may bring to consumers, uneven and exploitative supply chains often prevail. Additionally, sustainable materials for embroidery in particular are extremely limited; they often contain microplastics, and by now we are well aware of the devastating impact of such materials on our ecosystems.  Meeting this urgency, the designer  sought to find a sustainable solution to meet our love for shimmer.

Wondering how the sequins are made? Brunato and her collaborators at RISE  have been working with biotechnologies that made it possible to harness cellulose’s natural ability to interact with light. By extracting crystalline from cellulose, wood-originating matter can imitate the alluring aesthetics of shimmering structural colors found in nature, as seen in peacock feathers and beetle wings. The result is a game changer: a durable, compostible sequin made from natural materials, with a shimmer achieved using nature's technique of structural color.

We found out more about the Bio Iridescent Sequin...

Why make a sequin?

Brunato’s research reveals how sequins tell the story of an age-old “human desire to attain nature’s beauty,” and that “our attraction to glimmering surfaces might even relate back to our primary need for water.” Charting the history of sequins, she notes how they are “deeply interwoven with the cultures in which they exist.” For example, sequins have appeared on the burial garments of Egyptian royals in the form of metal coins, and have adorned the dresses of 19th century nobility in the form of beetle wings.

"While the democratization of the sequin has been positive, the increased use of petroleum has been creating environmental problems."

Today, plastic is the new preference, and mass-produced sequins can be found in every fast-fashion store. Brunato recognizes that “while the democratization of the sequin has been positive, the increased use of petroleum has been creating environmental problems.” However, rather than rejecting this form of decoration altogether, Brunato began her quest to find an environmentally conscious approach to our historic fascination with shimmer.

19th Century garment embroidered using beetle wings

Nature meets technology 

So, how to resolve the conflict of attaining nature’s beauty without harming it? For Brunato, “nature provided the clues.” The designer is inspired by how the nonhuman world is “abundant with examples that demonstrate the dazzling optics of structural colour.” Indeed, pollia berries, bacteria strains and beetle wings all gain their vivid colours from microscopically small nano-structures that interfere with visible light.

"we are part of nature, and technology should become our means to shift our relationship with it."

When it comes to incorporating nature’s techniques into a material application, Brunato sees technology as an essential tool for “re-imagining the landscape of available materials.” She further insists that “we are part of nature, and technology should become our means to shift our relationship with it...we are at a point where biotechnologies can enable us to reshape manufacturing.”

Additionally, as a result of scientific exploration, Brunato explains how “we understand genes, growth and forming so much better than before. We can look into materials on a molecular level and change their behavior.” Certainly, the scientific expertise of her collaborators were essential for shifting the Bio Iridescent Sequin from ideation to a material application: “the collaboration really lifted the project to the level that I imagined, by connecting to other experts, we could lift my idea from being a concept to being a reality,” says the designer.

The Nature of Collaboration

We spoke to the Bio Iridescent team to find out more about the nature of collaboration. From a design perspective, Brunato shares that “the challenge lies in learning other disciplinary ‘languages’, understanding each other’s viewpoints, approaches and interests. However, it happened very organically in this case.”

Tiffany Abitbol, a PhD chemist that specializes in cellulose and nano-materials, highlights the true compatibility of design and science: “scientists and designers have a lot more in common than they may realize. We are creative and driven problem-solvers, interested in the process as much as the final result.” She also adds that “as the issue of sustainability impacts all humans, I think a representative, multi-disciplinary and collaborative group is essential to bring forward real solutions.”

"Scientists and designers have a lot more in common than they may realize. We are creative and driven problem-solvers."

Bio Iridescent Sequin experiments

Hjalmar Granberg, who since obtaining his PhD has worked on creating new bio-based materials, notes how “feedback and new ideas from a design perspective is valuable, and it increases interest in the field of wood-based decoration and aesthetics.” Additionally, he experienced that “new questions and new perspectives arise simultaneously in such collaborations.” For example, Brunato’s insight helped the team overcome the issue of “how to present the results in a way that is attractive beyond a scientific context.”

The Future of the Bio Iridescent Sequin

All members of the team are highly optimistic about the future of the Bio Iridescent Sequin: “we could develop a process to manufacture the sequins on a larger scale, and I think we can also overcome challenges relating to their commercialization. I anticipate textile applications of nano-cellulose in the near future,” says Abitbol.

According to Brunato, the sequin has the potential to inspire a “shift of the fashion industry’s dependence on hazardous chemicals, petroleum and synthetic colourants.” She also sees the Bio Iridescent Sequin as a powerful precedent for the development of “more environmentally healthy alternatives” in the fashion industry.

"A powerful network of voices are re-envisioning a new manufacturing landscape."

Perhaps most importantly, the Bio Iridescent Sequin exemplifies how collaboration is crucial for realigning material processes to meet the needs of the planet. By producing a visually stunning and compostable alternative, the team have signalled a new approach to sustainable shimmering colour, and a waste-free alternative for micro plastics in the fashion industry.

The designer’s final message is this: “we have to link knowledge between disciplines and co-engage more intently to replenish our ecosystems.” Brunato sees today’s design climate as an “exciting time” where “a powerful network of voices are re-envisioning a new manufacturing landscape that links more closely to the ecosystem we are part of.”

Close-up of Bio Iridescent Sequin


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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Want to see your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Marie Declerfayt is a recent graduate from Design Academy Eindhoven. What follows is an edited version of her thesis relating to her graduate project, Botanical Bodies. Playing with the boundaries between human and vegetal existence, Declerfayt's speculative project creates space for us to imagine how plant-human hybridization may transform our ways of engaging and living intimately with ecosystems in embodied ways.

Botanical Bodies: an essay by Marie Declerfayt

Botanical Bodies is a speculative design scenario that investigates the possibility of using plants as a raw material for the creation of human-compatible organs. Scientific progress in understanding complex living organisms has made it possible to engineer life, and the hybridization of species has become a designed process. This project explores how plant-human hybridization might become a necessity for preserving ecosystems endangered by human activity. 

Using bones and wood as a case study for this possible blend, Botanical Bodies looks at the implications of human symbiosis with the vegetal kingdom. Through extracting a wooden bone from a living tree and implantating it into the human body, this work imagines how the distinctions between humans and plants, crowds and forests, bone and wood may fade away towards a new synergy. 

Whereas the post-human is usually imagined as a blend of the organic and the digital, human and technology, the possibility for humans to merge with vegetal life is becoming a reality in today’s scientific landscape. What if the human of the future becomes more plant than robot, more connected with the environment rather than taking advantage of it, more prone to merging with other life forms rather than seeking to stand out?

The vegetal cyborg

Using digital and mechanical prosthesis to repair damaged organs, enhance skills, and acquire new properties is something dominant in current narratives of human improvement. Whilst this direction is slowly becoming a reality (i.e chip implantation, mechanical hearts), other possibilities to enhance the human body are being researched. 

Progress in the field of synthetic biology (design and construction of new biological entities) makes it possible to imagine new ways of modifying the human body. Previously overlooked organisms, ranging from bacteria to plants, can now be engineered to gain new functions and serve designed purposes.

"Previously overlooked organisms, ranging from bacteria to plants, can now be engineered to gain new functions and serve designed purposes."

The similarities in structure between human organs and plants has become a focus for scientists around the world. For example, one study has combined cardiac tissue and spinach (using decellularized plants as perfusable tissue engineering scaffolds, 2017, Gershlak-Hernandez-Fontana, Worcester Polytechnic Institute), and another has explored using rattan wood for bone growth (From Wood to bone: multi-step process to convert wood hierarchical structures into scaffolds for bone tissue engineering, 2009, Tempieri-Srio-Ruffini-Celloti-Lesci-Roveri). 

While scientists are working with very precise questions and with microscopic but functioning samples, speculating about the possibility of modifying the human body with vegetal matter raises all kinds of questions concerning the ways we relate to our bodies, the environment, and what it means to be human.

Wooden bones 

My decision to focus on using bones as a site for human-vegital merging is inspired by their characteristics: they are a structure crucial for our mobility, they are the slowest renewing organs of the human body (taking up to 10 years), and are closely tied to the human immune system. We attribute much importance to our bones; what happens when this importance becomes linked to other life forms?

"We attribute much importance to our bones; what happens when this importance becomes linked to other life forms?"

We are all intimately familiar with our bones in terms of their shape, the movements they allow, the structure they create, however, we don’t visually see them as a material in the way we interact with our skin, for example. Given that they remain unseen, wooden bones have similarities to human bones in terms of their texture, warmth and weight. Although metal is traditionally used to repair bones, it always acts as a support rather than seamlessly blending into the body. Wood as an organic matter seems more likely to be accepted by the body as it can merge with existing tissues.

The separation of species

What changes if we consider wood not as an unchangeable material but as an organic, evolving, growing matter extracted from a tree that can support and grow within the human body? We can then enter another perspective: the possibility of becoming a chimera with a plant.

As anthropologist Anna Lauwenhaupt has written, hybrids between species have historically been perceived as an aberration : 

“Enlightenment Europe...tried to banish monsters. Monsters were identified with the irrational and the archaic. Category-crossing beings were abhorrent to Enlightenment ways of ordering the world. Later on, rationalization meant individualization, the creation of distinct and alienated individuals, human and non-human.

Individualizing our bodies from our environment has created a separation between living beings, where to be human is to demonstrate difference, where taking advantage of other species rather than collaborating with them has become the norm. Therefore, we continue to see trees as a means for the production of wood for heating, shelter, cooking. Conventional uses of wood have become so ingrained that it is difficult to imagine another relation with it.

However, it is interesting to consider how the perceived autonomy of the human body can be easily challenged. For example, there are more foreign cells in the human body (microbes) than human cells, yet I still call myself a human. Moreover, wood and bones share very similar structures on a microscopic level (in terms of mechanical strength, size and structure), making the engineering of wooden bones far from being pure speculation.

"The perceived autonomy of the human body can be easily challenged."

Artist-sholars Elaine Gan and Niels Budandt evoke this perception:

“The imagined autonomy of the individual was tied to the autonomy of the species. Each species was thought to rise or fall on its own merits, that is, through the fitness of the individuals it produced. […] Today the autonomy of all these units has come under question  […] We can’t segregate our species nor claim distinctive status - as a body, a genome, or an immune system. And what if evolution selects for relations among species rather than “individuals”?”

If we understand ourselves as relative to other beings, alternatively we can perceive ourselves as part of a broad, interconnected network of living things, rather than as individuals defined by our seemingly unique characteristics. So, could we engage in a new relationship with the vegetal world by merging with it?

Creating a zero sum game

Why would such a hybridization the way I depict it (transplantation after transplantation, slowly merging into the vegetal world and becoming a new kind of chimera, a blend of tree and human tissues) be desirable?

And how do we reach a level of symbiosis, where all organisms involved gain something from this interaction? From a human perspective, there is a lot we could gain from becoming a bit more plant. On top of being able to replace our bones with organic matter that can be easily cultivated, the possibility to access plant awareness is tempting - we are learning more and more about how trees perceive their environment, how they can communicate with their peers and other species, how they feel pain, and respond to danger.

"From a human perspective, there is a lot we could gain from becoming a bit more plant. "

This broadening of human perception could be a gateway for connecting with all kinds of other species and perspectives, towards readjusting our relations in ecosystems currently endangered by a long history of damaging, anthropocentric activity. As for plants, what would they have to gain if humans felt more like them? Even though we are unable to perceive their needs from our limited perspective, we may be able to interact and exist with vegetal life in profound new ways.

If our symbiosis with other organisms is characterized by care and respect, we can strike a better balance between the worlds of human and non-human others. Indeed, blurring species boundaries might help us go beyond our conception of the vegetal world as a passive, unconscious resource for human use, and towards a shared, embodied existence of cooperation, collaboration and conscientiousness.

"Blurring species boundaries might help us go beyond our conception of the vegetal world as a passive, unconscious resource for human use, and towards a shared existence."


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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Meet Daniel Elkayam, a fresh-faced Industrial Design graduate, based in Jerusalem, Israel. For his graduation project MAYMA, Elkayam worked with algae in ways that implore us to "imagine a world in which we harness nature in our favor without harming it," as the designer puts it.

Delving into the notion of biophilia — the belief that humans have an inherent tendency to make connections and form relationships with the natural world — Elkayam wonders about how humans relate to the natural world, and how the use of living materials may affect these (often consumerist) relations.

Welcome to the Next Generation: Get to know Daniel Elkayam.

What is MAYMA?

MAYMA consists of three tanks that contain formations of modified microscopic algae. Within each tank, the algae is manipulated into unnatural shapes that replicate man-made material fibres.

With the help of Dr. Filipe Natalio from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Elkayam developed a genetically modified outer shell for the algae which allows for the exchange of gases needed to sustain photosynthesis. The result is a living material that is autonomous yet confined, both natural and unnatural.

Elkayam sees MAYMA as a speculative venture into how we can make new connections with nonhuman life. His work explores how we can look afresh and reconnect with overlooked resources when they are presented in new forms.

The development of his project, and the deeper scientific exploration it involved, allowed the young desiger to see algae in a completely new light — as an untapped resource with dynamic possibilities. MAYMA brings together scientific exploration, human desire and the needs of algae in thought-provoking ways.

"How may our consumption habits change if the materials we use are alive? "

Making the unfamiliar familiar

MAYMA evokes familiar archetypes such as the aquarium, house pants and traditional weaving techniques. Elkayam introduces algae in familiar ways to find a middle ground from which people can connect with it as both a potential resource, and as a living being for which humans have a responsibility. This feeling of responsibility is something Elkayam sees as crucial for living with nature in the future.

The designer seeks to ask, "how will the relationship between human and nature change if humans have to take care of the materials that purify the air around us? Would it be the same as taking care of a pet?" and "how may our consumption habits change if the materials we use are alive? Would this new duty of 'care' make us consume less?"

Questions like these encourage us to think more deeply about our current use of natural materials. For instance, how deeply can we connect with a non-living wooden table? What duty of care do we have for it, beyond preserving its aesthetic appearance? What will happen if the natural materials that surround us are not inanimate, silent witnesses to our everyday lives, but alive, responsive organisms that require our care?

Rethinking biophilia

When we think about connecting with nature in a biophilic sense, Elkayam challenges us to think through the contradictions that surround our relationship with nature.

We may see MAYMA as another example of human mastery over nature, and think to ourselves, what’s different here? This is where Elkayam’s work challenges us to dissect our notions of what is natural.

Elkayam aims to create a productive tension between living and static, domestic and wild, touched and untouched. Projects like MAYMA can encourage us to let go of the romantic ideal of unspoilt nature, and see how scientific exploration can re-enchant us with natural materials in unexpected ways.

"Will organisms such as algae become our next co-designers?"

Algae as co-designers

Elkayam’s project can be seen as tentative investigation into where the boundary lies between nature’s autonomy and humanity's desire for connections with it. It opens up discussion about what kinds of relationships we can form with living organisms when we let go of the idea of nature as pure, static, balanced and harmonic.

If biophilia is about making connections with the natural world, then we must learn to connect with new, not-so-natural nature that surrounds us.

In this case, can connections be made stronger when we can experience natural materials in ways that incorporate the needs and desires of both the human and nonhuman?

Will organisms such as algae become our next co-designers, or perhaps, our next natural companions? 

MAYMA consists of three tanks that contain formations of modified microscopic algae. Within each tank, the algae is manipulated into unnatural shapes that replicate man-made material fibres.

MAYMA is one part of Elkayam's two part graduation series SEAmpathy.

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Cube Design Museum in Kerkrade and Cooper Hewitt in New York present the comprehensive exhibition NATURE - in which internationally renowned designers, artists and inventors present their perspective on nature. From biotechnology to datavisualization, from renewable energy to urban farming: NATURE shows the real impact of design and its ability to renew the balance between the born and the man-made.

New narratives

Nature is changing under the pressure of our contemporary human lifestyle. Subjects such as climate change, plastic soup and synthetic biology increasingly intervene with the world of art and design. Creatives reflect on the changing notion of nature and have an interdisciplinary approach to bring humans, technology and nature together.

Seven sections of the exhibition showcase the different ways in which designers and nature can work together: Understand, Simulate, Salvage, Facilitate, Augment, Remediate and Nurture.

Discover

The cover image shows the intriguing work Tranceflora by Sputniko! and Masaya Kushino. Together with scientists and weavers they created a silk textiles by injecting the eggs of the silkworm with the luminescent DNA of jellyfish and corals.

Among the exhibited projects, Dutch designer Shahar Livne contributes to the exhibition with Salvage, which explores the way in which natural materials can be applied in the field of design. Her work Metamorphism offers a fast-forward to our next nature in which we are mining metamorphosed plastics from our landscapes.

Designduo Mischer’Traxler participates with Curiosity Cloud, a project that values diversity and simultaneously emphasizes the fragility of nature with an installation of glass lights. This fits within the theme Understand, that shows projects in which designers accumulate scientific knowledge to come to a better understanding of nature versus humanity.

Alongside these projects, another 60 international designers, artists and scientists such as Teresa van Dongen, Neri Oxman and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg showcase their take on the contemporary challenges and possibilities of nature. Don't miss it!

Visit

NATURE opens May 2019 and will be on show until 19 January 2020 at both Cube Design Museum in Kerkrade (NL) and Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York (US).

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A flock of drones that fly like birds, drifting blocks of concrete, a choreography of opening and closing flowers. The work of Studio Drift is challenging the distinction between the wonders of nature and the creations of man. Their work goes beyond replicating nature; it questions the very essence of it.  

Studio Drift combines the efforts of artists Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn. We are invited into their lively and spacious studio in Amsterdam, that is filled with installations in progress. Surrounded by intriguing sketches and experiments, we talk to Lonneke about their drift to connect – to nature, to each other and to oneself.

Combining drifts

Lonneke and Ralph met at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and started Studio Drift in 2007, two years after their graduation. “It wasn’t really intentional, but we naturally developed a joint style. Our work merged together. And after a while, we started to define our work and initiated Studio Drift,” Lonneke explains.

As Lonneke describes it, their work is about the connection between people and their surroundings. “We all recognize the moment of pure happiness when you have a good conversation and all elements of that moment are in tune. In that same manner, you can be aligned with your natural surroundings.”

“When you look at the clouds passing by in the sky, when you are listening to the sound of the waves arriving at the beach or staring into a fire. These repetitive movements calm us down. We use those movements of nature to recreate this feeling of being in tune – with ourselves, with each other and with nature.”

Studio Drift wants to recreate this feeling of being in tune – with ourselves, with each other and with nature.

Lonneke also finds this state of calmness while harvesting dandelions, which she does every year for their continuous work Fragile Future. “How the dandelion thinks, behaves... there is an intelligence to it, it works as a community. In a single plant, I recognize how we as humans behave. That is the most beautiful thing to discover.”

With Fragile Future III, Studio Drift fuses nature and technology into a multidisciplinary light sculpture.

Technology versus nature

In the era of smartphone addiction and information overload, using technology to recreate the calming effect of nature might seem contradictory. Isn’t technology the thing that distances us from nature? Lonneke passionately disagrees. “Technology in itself doesn’t mean anything. Technology is created by people. It is not overstimulating in itself; it is how we handle it.”

Studio Drift uses technology to bring objects or environments to life, which allows the audience to sympathize with those objects. “But,” Lonneke acknowledges, “it does require lots of research and correct programming to capture the right feeling. Sometimes the movement can be quite aggressive. We continue our work until it hits the right spot. It’s a very intuitive process.”

To her, nature and technology are not oppositional at all. “In nature, there is an endless chain of stimuli and organisms that react to each other. Think about the flock of birds and the predator that disrupts its shape. And as humans, we cut a piece out of the chain and isolate it – that’s what we call technology. We control the input and calculate the output. By using technology, you will learn about the complexity of nature. And essentially, this complexity of nature cannot be captured within the frame of technology. Because there will always be new, unexpected stimuli.”

We cut a piece out of the chain of natural stimuli and isolate it – that’s what we call technology.

Blocks and boxes

Ever since humans are domesticated, technological systems facilitate our modern lifestyle. This isolation of technology from nature leads to the disconnection that we experience. “Some systems feel like they are being forced upon us. They do not feel natural, because there is a missing link.”

To Ralph and Lonneke, it is important to question those systems. Why do we live how we live? And can we bend an existing system into something that feels natural? One of those systems that does not feel natural are blocks and boxes, on which the installation Drifter reflects.

Filmshot from Drifters, a 12-minute film in which the concrete block represents the basic element of our built environment

“Blocks are a system designed by people; they do not exist in nature. A single block doesn’t do anything, it is only functional in combination with other blocks to build something. Especially a concrete block feels inhumane, heavy and merciless. It is an obstacle. But when it starts hovering in the air, it suddenly comes to life. You can relate to the object. The movement gives it a different feel.”

Lonneke is fascinated by the way we structure our lives in both physical and mental boxes. “Boxes are safe, because every corner is visible. You see what you get. But at some point, the box becomes a prison that we want to break out off. That is strange and fascinating to me. We have designed this structure, but it also distances us from our real needs.”

Free the drones

In their own work, they aim to let go of pre-set boxes and set their creations free. “Intervening public space is especially interesting because it creates an audience that normally doesn’t visit galleries or museums. We are actively searching for the audience and how to connect to it.”

Setting their work free becomes literal in Franchise Freedom. The autonomous flying swarm of lighted drones has roamed the skies of Miami, Amsterdam and Burning Man. The drones engage with the natural environment and react to unexpected stimuli.

An autonomous flying swarm of hundreds of drones, Franchise Freedom exposes the tension between individual freedom and safety in numbers.

Franchise Freedom is the result of years of study on the characteristics of flocks of birds. “Flocks of birds are very similar to groups of people, when you look at them from a distance. We are not always in control.” And even though we associate birds with freedom and independence, that isn’t always the case. “Sometimes the birds are leading, sometimes they are following. They pick a direction, but also react to external factors such as predators. They make the same kind of choices as we do, day in and day out.”

Flocks of birds are very similar to groups of people. We are not always in control.

From control to evolution

It becomes clear that plants and animals are moving along with the rhythm of nature, while we as humans try to fight and control it, even though we will always be part of nature. “Technological innovation is part of evolution. A lot of technologies are envisioned and prototyped, but only a few of them work well, resonate with our needs and become successful. To me, that is exactly the same as natural evolution.”

From that perspective, we do not have to be scared of technology taking over. “I trust in human leniency, but Ralph and I don’t agree on that,” Lonneke laughs. “To me, technology isn’t frightening. I hope technology will take some of our workload and create more room to connect with each other.”

New technologies offer a lot of possibilities, such as artificial intelligence. “Artificial intelligence is such an abstract concept, similar to the internet. In the past 500 years, knowledge has been categorized and fragmented among different disciplines of science. I believe artificial intelligence will be able to connect those fragments again. We have this need, this tendency to connect. That’s where we need to go.”

And eventually, we will end up with nature again. “But from a whole different perspective. Evolution is our goal; becoming better people. Technology is only helping us to get there. So, what exactly is nature, and where do we this want development to go? That is what we need to talk about. And we, at Studio Drift, want to be a part of that conversation.”

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What do a kingfisher, cocklebur pods and a Namibian beetle have in common? Besides being living organisms, they have all served as inspiration for creative human technologies to solve challenging problems.

The kingfisher’s sleek beak spurred the streamlined nose design on high-speed trains in Japan. Cockleburs inspired the hook-and-loop fastener system Velcro. And the Namibian beetle’s back inspired a water-collection plant in the desert.

This is biomimicry. It is an approach to innovation, defined by the Biomimicry Institute as seeking: “sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.” There are many solutions in nature — and we are learning about more and more of them.

As a researcher in materials science and engineering, I have worked on a variety of different substances. These include biomaterials (implantable ceramics, dental ceramics and titanium alloys) and a variety of different coatings technologies (thermal barrier coatings in turbine engines, corrosion-resistant coatings and catalyst supports).

Biomimicry has helped my teams design solutions that we otherwise would likely not have explored. Inspiration has come from organisms themselves, how organisms make materials and how organisms work together. For example, based on structures observed on plant leaves, we have grown ceramic coatings at room temperature to make oil and water filters on paper and on copper mesh.

How biomimicry works

Without flying insects, birds and floating seeds would we have been able to create airplanes, gliders, parachutes or helicopters?

Watch a maple seed spin to the ground or a dandelion seed float through the air and I am sure you will start asking more questions.

Human beings are generally curious and observant and we have made many innovations by looking to the natural world for inspiration. We seek to understand and then we “copy” existing solutions. The process of biomimicry is also about being curious and observant. We follow a disciplined process to ask questions and seek answers by looking at what is already around in nature.

We first observe functions — what does the organism do? The function can be simple or complex: A dandelion seed floating through the air, or chemical signalling in the body to grow bone. We observe how an organism achieves such a function.

We then determine the mechanisms by which the functions are accomplished — we get to the chemistry and physics of the mechanisms. The final stage is to abstract the natural form, process or ecosystem into another purpose — to mimic for our own use.

Leaf coatings

It pays to pay attention. In the past, I had a research project to devise new ways to make structured catalysts (coatings that better enable chemical reactions.) The team was processing metal wire mesh — to produce ceramic hair-like structures onto which we were to deposit metallic nanoparticles.

We could fabricate the mesh, but the graduate student came to me one day and said that something “weird” was happening. He couldn’t get the nanoparticle precursor solution (the mixture of chemicals that helps to make the final product) to wet the treated wire mesh. The wire mesh was floating on the water-based liquid.

We did not understand what was going on, and so we looked at the structure in the microscope. We still didn’t understand, and so we looked to nature. I took a trip to our greenhouse on campus armed with a water bottle. The manager showed me a variety of plants that repelled water in fascinating ways, and I squirted water on them to see what happened.

Water drops do not wet the leaf surfaces of the Elegant Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia elegans) at all. Author provided

I looked at a variety of plants in the microscope, and found that sugar cane had a similar structure to the ceramic coating.

I was amazed, and it was the start of a new research direction for me; I wanted to figure out how to make coatings to mimic leaves.

Hydrophobic (water repelling) coatings, based on the structures of the waxes found on leaf surfaces, are used in many applications — from paints (such as Lotusan brand) to power-generation, where efficiency can be gained by controlling droplet formation in condensers and boilers. By paying attention to how nature behaves, and by getting down to the chemical and physical mechanisms, we are able to create bio-inspired solutions from other materials and for different applications.

Growing bone tissue

In high school, my friend told me about a bone defect in his leg — a big hole in his thigh bone. He was running and his thigh bone fractured, and he collapsed. He awoke in the hospital five centimetres shorter. Why? Because 25 years ago, bone defects couldn’t be repaired very easily and the damaged tissue had to be surgically removed. There was nothing bone-like that could be put in the damaged tissue’s place to grow new bone. His perfectly good leg had to be shortened too.

Today, because of biomimicry, we can repair and regenerate bone tissue — breaking your leg doesn’t necessarily mean you also become shorter! How can we do now what we couldn’t before? We have learned how the body grows bone tissue, and we have been able to induce bone growth by mimicking nature’s processes.

We can now make glass in a lab, implant it, and new bone will grow in its place. Three months later, there is no trace of the glass. It sounds a lot like the “Skele-Gro” potion from the Harry Potter series but without the vile taste! Our innovations were inspired by ourselves – after all, we too are part of nature.

Bioactive glass, a calcium phosphate based silica glass that stimulates material resorption and bone growth, is often used in dental applications for bone grafts. The material is placed in a bone defect and over time, under the stresses and the biological environment, the glass corrodes and signals bone cells (osteoblasts) to attach and proliferate at the surface and form new bone. The implanted glass is completely dissolved and replaced with new bone.

Biomimicry and the future

And what of the future? We are seeing and learning so much more about what happens in the natural world through time and sophisticated research studies that it is difficult to predict what we might learn in the future. However, as we learn more, we discover that we have made gross oversimplifications for many natural phenomena — so we need to remain curious and observant of the natural world and get down to the details, without losing sight of the entire system.

And, since people are pursuing brain machine interfaces, perhaps we may also consider pursing some other fantasies. Tsaheylu of the Na’vi people in the movie Avatar is “the bond” between different animals — a way to feel as one with the ability to act as one. Imagine if instead of mimicking nature we could become one with it instead. I wonder what other secrets we might learn from the kingfisher, cocklebur pods and the Namibian beetle.

Cover image: A kingfisher’s beak inspired the design of high-speed trains in Japan, through the process of ‘biomimicry,’ or human imitation of nature (via Reformed Perspective).

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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As a young bio designer at the start of your career, you'll have to overtake all kinds of obstacles. From the collection of living materials to working in a laboratory and collaborating with scientists; bio design is a newly emerging field in which you have to pave your own paths.

Meet biodesigner Emma van der Leest. Characterized by a DIY mentality, her multidisciplinary practice combines craft, scientific research and new bio-based production techniques.

Besides her own design practice, Emma founded an open-access wet lab and teaches at the Willem de Kooning Academy and the Design Academy Eindhoven. She welcomed us at the BlueCity Lab to talk about the emerging craft of biodesign, the importance of collaboration and experimental education.

The unpaved path towards bio design

Emma was schooled as a product designer at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. During her studies, Bio fabrication sparked her interest when she encountered  the work of bio designer Suzanne Lee. Encouraged by a video explanation of Lee’s work, she bought Kombucha tea at a local shop and started experimenting at home. Back in her student dorm - to annoyance of her roommates that complained about the smell - she successfully grew cellulose out of it. This hands-on approach is what would characterize Emma’s work.

Biocouture clutch designed by Emma during her internship at the Biocouture Studio

“By the time I had to choose an internship, there was only one place I wanted to go to, this was Suzanne Lee’s Biocouture studio in London. I landed an internship at her studio and this  was kind of life changing for me: Here I learned to grow something in a ‘proper’ way”.

After Emma’s internship, she continued to work on her own bio-based design projects, but found difficulties in getting access to a laboratory.

Form follows organism

For her graduation project Form follows Organism in 2015, Emma developed a design methodology using a slime mold. “It was difficult to explain to people that I wasn't really designing a chair or a lamp, but that I was using an organism as a design tool.  My entire school career, I firmly believed in the added value of developing materials and getting the most out of it by researching its properties, rather than just designing the next chair. We have to reinvent materials instead of reinventing products.”

We have to reinvent materials instead of products.

She also researched the changing role of the designer when working with living materials. “It is a completely different field, you have to develop a certain language to communicate with scientists.” She met with scientists who were doing great work, but didn’t apply their findings after publication. “And that triggered me - how many treasures are just laying in a lab that we can take out? As designers and artists, we hold the ability to visualize this research into tangible products.”

An open laboratory set up as part of the Microbial Vending Machine exhibited at TENT Rotterdam

But, if form actually follows organism, how much influence does the designer hold? Emma explains that the laboratory is especially an area of control, because you decide upon the environment, the temperature and the nutrition of the material. She describes it as  “a whole new craft that you need to develop.”

Both designers and scientists are skilled in working with specific materials and tools. Sharing this expertise is necessary to master the craft of bio design.

Currently, Emma is collaborating with a scientist from Leiden University to develop a coating for bacterial leather, as the bacterial leather itself is not water-repellent and not very flexible. “I'm quite excited to develop this. We started out with small experiments and now we are going to see how far we can take it. After all, I'm still a product designer and not a biologist.”

The blue economy

Her vision on bio design and the lack of available laboratories for young bio designers eventually led her to set up a bio lab at BlueCity in 2016. Located in an abandoned tropical swimming pool, BlueCity is the entrepreneurial hub for the ‘blue economy’ in Rotterdam — and the perfect environment for innovation.

Blue City 010 is located in a former swimming pool in Rotterdam

The blue economy, a concept by author Gunter Pauli, is built upon businesses that involve waste as a new source, as the output of one entrepreneur serves as the input for another. Similar to nature’s cycles, the blue economy is based on networks.

“We try to work as an ecosystem, and really have nature sitting next to us at the table to learn how we can integrate her in different types of processes. If we want to shift towards a more sustainable blue and bio-fabricated future, we need to collaborate with nature — instead of working against her,” Emma says.

We need to collaborate with nature — instead of working against her.

The Lab is the ultimate place to practice what they preach. “We need to stop talking about it and just do it. The Lab is really a place and the platform where people come to acquire experience and meet each other.” The old locker rooms of the swimming pool have been transformed into a workplace for designers, scientists, researchers and students that want to experiment with biology. It combines a wet lab and a dry lab, which allows users to combine different crafts to develop a final product.

Though the Lab is still a work-in-progress, Emma aims to provide all that she was missing during her own exploration of bio design: an open and accessible place to experiment, learn and collaborate. “I started Blue City Lab to lower the threshold for anyone who wants to practice biotechnology in a DIY way of doing it.”

Microbial Vending Machine

This ideology of open access also becomes visible in Emma’s latest project: the Microbial Vending Machine. For this project she took a FEBO vending machine – a characteristic Dutch vending machine which sells deep-fried snacks ‘from the wall’– and turned it into a shopping window for living materials and speculative bio products.

The Microbial Vending Machine on show at TENT Rotterdam

“This is to show people that in less than 10 years, taking an organism out of the wall will be as easy as it is to get a soda from a vending machine today.” And the accessibility of biomaterials such as algae, fungi and bacteria is essential for bio design and biotechnology to thrive. “These collectable organisms may be far more valuable in the near future than any candy bar or soda. Ultimately, the organisms enable us to approach design, science and construction in an entirely new fashion.”

Organisms enable us to approach design, science and construction in an entirely new fashion.

Emma points out that these fast developments and the endless range of possibilities may scare people, and sometimes it scares even herself. “We can now grow meat and textiles in the laboratory, and we are already able to grow bricks in order to build houses. So, what can't we grow?”

Yet, fear of biotechnology mostly comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding. “People may have heard about it, but don't exactly know what it is.” Therefore bringing the subject of biotechnology closer to the people may change the attitude towards it.  

On the future of (bio) design education

Wrapping up our conversation, we asked Emma how she envisions an ideal future for experimental and bio design, and how we can overcome the struggles that she ran into in exploring the uncharted territories of bio-based design. “We should at least have good education in this field,” she replies. “I think every designer should get introductory classes in sustainable design methods. It's really about how we can work efficiently with materials, instead of deriving them from Earth. Looking around us and see what we already have: from scarcity to abundance. And that’s a vision that generally lacks.”

Emma with the pop-up exhibit of the Blue City Lab

Emma states that most educational programs – on both art schools and universities – are still rather traditional. In her view, academic institutions could become more experimental. “I think this will hold the potential to stimulate innovation and makes collaborating easier. Try looking beyond yourself, and perhaps you’ll discover something that you’ve never thought of, which could literally change your life.”

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Go forward to nature at the La Fabrique du Vivant (the Factory of Life), the newly opened exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Exhibiting the recent works of fifty international creators, along with research from scientific laboratories, La Fabrique du Vivant brings together artists, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs in the course of a collective exhibition to examine the tilting concept of nature, as linked to technological production.

As biotechnologies are now a medium (more and more) used by artists, designers and architects, we must question the notion of the living. Biodesigner Maurizio Montalti acknowledges this in our recent chat, as he considers the design practice as a collaboration between himself, the studio and the other living systems such as microbes and fungi. What's more, he refers to them as his “partners.”

Between biology and genetics, the exhibition shows how design can take a cross-disciplinary approach. Design now makes use of 'bio-engineering' around living matter. Bio-materials, produced from biological organisms (from fungus mycelium to bacteria, etc.) have generated innovative objects, such as the Electric Life, a sustainable light source using bacteria to create electricity, by Next Nature fellow Teresa van Dongen.

In the (electric) spotlight: Teresa van Dongen

Teresa van Dongen is a biodesigner exploring natural forms of artificial light and energy. In Paris she showcases the latest installment of Electric Life. Built upon previous research, Electric Life is a light installation powered by micro-organisms that have electrons as a waste product. These micro-organisms originate from the muddy soil of rivers and lakes, and Teresa utilizes them for domestic use.

Electric Life (2019) by Teresa van Dongen

The light does not completely power itself; it needs to be taken care of by its owner. A sip of water and some additional nutrients once a week will be enough to keep the micro-organisms alive and alight. The relationship between human and micro-organism becomes mutually beneficial.

Electric Life (2019) by Teresa van Dongen

Experience Electric Life among other expressions of bio art and innovatice reserach by scientists such as Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Maurizio Montalti and Daan Roosegaarde at Centre Pompidou. La Fabrique du Vivant is organised as part of the third edition of Mutations/Creations in association with IRCAM and will be on show at Centre Pompidou until the 15th of April 2019.

Cover image: Mycelium Chair, Klarenbeek & Dros

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Agriculture may be one of the oldest of our technologies. Over time it has developed, changed, revolutionized, industrialized - or simply put, it has evolved. Today’s farms are nothing like those of our grandparents. All the more reason to expect radical changes within our own lifetime.

Today the farming industry is facing many challenges: the climate is changing and population demands are increasing. But these global challenges also create opportunities and are the incentives for innovation.

Pioneering research is being done at the Wageningen University of Research (WUR). We recently caught up on upcoming technologies within the wonderous field of agriculture and asked, how may we envision the farm of the future?

And guess what, according to the researchers, they have quite some surprises in stock:

'LED it be 50%'

More food and less waste in space and matter. It's the main goal for Leo Marcelis, who’s exploring the potentials of vertical farming by testing several light-care methods for efficient plant-growth.

He introduces us to a rather simple-sounding trick, enabled by new technologies. That is, what if we were building farms vertically, instead of horizontally? Such agricultural flats would reduce the spatial footprint of the farm intensively.

Vertical farming means bringing the farm to the city. Urbanizing our food sources has some positive sides: it would significantly lower transportation costs, as well as associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Vertical farming with LED light

In such a ' flat', crops can grow more efficiently: controlling crop conditions is a whole lot easier in greenhouses rather than in the open field. It simulteneously lowers (or eliminates) the use of pesticides, and it optimizes resources, like water and nutrients.

But most intriguing, Marcelis explains how white light that's coming from the sun contains all colors of the visible light spectrum in it. Now plants don’t need all those colors of light to grow, they actually perform greatly, or even better, under just a few specific colors of light. Attuning our technology to that aspect of plant biology may turn the greenhouse of the future rather...pink.

However, before we can urbanize the farm and create a more sustainable agricultural system, the main challenge is to cut down energy needs. And this is where his latest research, LED it be 50%, comes in. Marcelis thinks that 30 percent of electricity usage can be saved by cleverly placing LEDs, using the possibilities of different colors of light, giving the right intensity at the right time, and using varieties that are suitable for energy-efficient lighting.

On board with this vision? Make sure not to miss the Future Food Formula by NNN fellow Chloé Rutzerveld! Partial speculation, partial science, Rutzerveld is looking for innovative methods to turn this research into a reality. 

The age of the agribots

I remember visiting a farm as a child and envisioned my 14-year-old self during my first summer job. I saw myself lying on the back of a weeding-tractor, faced to the ground, ready to pluck all weeds from in between the crops. I must say, it wasn’t a very attractive sight.

But as I spoke with Janneke de Kramer, that summer job vanished before my eyes. She shows me a video of a tractor hovering over crops, fully equipped with sensors able to distinguish the crops from the weed, process this information, and act on it: flashing blades go through the soil as the tractor drives by.

Agro Food Robotics showcases how farmers can work together with advanced tech. More: WUR (in Dutch)

Agricultural robots are changing the look, feel and pace of traditional farming practices. Crop harvesting is poised to significantly impact the agricultural sector over the next decade.

Kramer explains how today, less people are willing to work in agriculture, but worldwide there are more mouths to feed. May I remind you the UN estimates the world population will rise from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050. The world will need a lot more food, and farmers will face serious pressure to keep up with demand. It's therefore essential to create more attractive farmer jobs - with the aid of technology.

In the future of farming, will we be taking care of our plants as much as our technology? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Precision agriculture 2.0 - with drones

Consider this: your baby will eat as much as they need, and grow in the way that's right for them if you maintain a division of responsibility in feeding. Now, similar to your baby, this applies to crops. Caring for crops with such precision, is what inspires Corne Kempenaar to develop his research Precision agriculture 2.0

With a select group of farmers, he’s experimenting with this new technology-driven approach. What does it look like? Well, much like our Hubot farm scenario 2.0.

Drones in agriculture provide precise data that helps farmers determine the needed care per plot of land.

Scanning crops with the aid of a drone, the farmer collects all kinds of data that will assist them in knowing which plots need more water, pesticides, and other care. Welcome to the field of precision agriculture.

Where may this be headed? Perhaps one day this precision achieves its ultimate resolution: specialized diets, food, and care -  different for each single plant.

Kempenaars' vision of flying sensors could help us better detect the biological needs of our plants. An eloquent example of how to balance nature and technology.

Thoughts? Or do you have a vision for the future of farming? Comment is free ?

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Patricia Piccinini is an artist interested in the relationship between humans and non-humans, the natural and the artificial, science and storytelling. Working with silicone, fiberglass, nylon and human hair, she molds hyper-real worlds in which humans and nature become bio-technologically fused in new and intimate ways. Her hybrid sculptures remind us that we are inherently part of our environment, despite historic efforts to place ourselves above it.

Piccinini imagines how technology may dismantle our perceptions, and creates a space for viewers to think and feel through traditional divides. By contemplating new kinds of families, groupings and relationships with the nonhuman, she imagines a symbiotic future for technology and nature. As the artist insists, we need to construct new ways of being in a world where "technology has become so natural that it takes on a life of it's own."

We caught up with Patricia Piccinini to find out more about her artistic practice and her first solo exhibition in Sweden, titled Embracing the Future.

When did your fascination with challenging definitions, such as 'natural' and 'artificial', begin?

I have been looking at these ideas since I left art school in the mid 1990s. I have always been interested in bodies and politics and disrupting our dichotomous construction of the world. Over the years I have looked at these ideas with regards to medicine and science, and now it provides an interesting way to look at issues around the environment, biodiversity and sustainability.

What is your personal relationship with the 'natural' world? And how does this influence your artistic practice?

I am very much an urban person. I grew up in a working class family and I never had many opportunities to interact with nature or animals or the natural world. However, I don't think you need to be a backwoodsman to respect nature. I don't need to interact with Orangutans to know that they should be protected. In fact, I think they should be left alone.

Certainly, I have had some amazing experiences in nature and with animals, but that's just my good fortune. I don't believe Nature is here for us, to provide us with resources. I think we need nature much more than it needs us, and I'm just grateful for the world I get to live in. That being said, even throwing the word 'nature' around like that feels a bit wrong. Trying to define where 'nature' stops and we begin becomes increasingly difficult the closer you look at it. 

Regarding your upcoming exhibition Embracing the Future, how does the format of a solo show transform the way you present your work, and the viewers' experience of it?

In a solo exhibition I get the chance to create an entire world for the viewer to explore. It enables me to create an overriding narrative that connects the disparate works. I hope that I can take the viewer out of the everyday world and immerse them in a world that is adjacent to ours - strange but also recognizable.

Your artworks appear both born and made. They evoke the tinkerings of biotechnological labs, of experimentation and synthetic biology. At the same time we see in them a sense of familiarity and naturalness that we recognize. What does this synthesis mean for you?

That is the very shading of the artificial into the natural that is at the core of my work. It is the distinction that I refuse to accept. How do we imagine nature now in a way that doesn't deny our place in it and our impact on it. We are part of nature. Ironically, that is made all the more clear by something like climate change. We are part of nature, a force of nature, like a cyclone. We need to get past this counterproductive nature/culture thing and start to think about what sort of world do we want to live in, and how might we achieve that. There cannot be a return to an imagined pristine nature of prehistory, not one that includes humans anyway, but does that mean we want to live in a world reduced to a small number of industrialised species? How can we find a way to 'go forward together with other animals', as Donna Harraway puts it.

Ideas about family, networks and relationships often frame your work. How can relational ways of thinking and being transform our experience of the world? Particularly when we live in quite an individualistic culture.

I think the individualism of contemporary western culture is one of the key problems of our age. I think the world is deeply interconnected, and whether you look at it in terms of genetics or ecology, the idea that individuals, or even humans in general, can somehow separate themselves out from everything is both ridiculous and counter-productive. It is the separating out of humans from nature that allows us to imagine the world and creatures around us as 'resources' to be 'exploited'. The idea of individualistic culture is that our own happiness is justification enough for anything we do, and that our responsibility is to ourselves rather than others. I feel very differently. I think we have a responsibility to those around us - people, creatures, trees or whatever - and we need to find a way to happiness that does not ignore those responsibilities. It suggests that compromise in relationships is not a failure but a success, and I think that is ultimately more productive.

You have said that you want people to go on a journey from aversion and disgust to empathy and closeness when they the creatures in your work. You strike this balance in wonderful and emotive ways. Are emotions and empathy our most important tools to carry into the future?

I think they are vital. Again not in a dichotomous way. It's not about abandoning the rational for the emotional, it’s more about acknowledging that there is no 'pure rationality'. There are always emotions, it's just a question of whether we acknowledge them or not. Empathy, or perhaps more accurately compassion, are vital tools that arise from when we grant value and agency to others. My creatures are intended to stand in for many sorts of 'others', and the relationship we can construct with these others, these strangers, in the safe space of the gallery can be a model for how we go on to interact with all of the others we share the world with. It's interesting to me that we have the idea of 'xenophobia' but we don't have a word for it's opposite: an emotion to describe the process whereby we warm to something that we are initially disturbed by. Maybe if we did we might find it easier to do.

Is it the responsibility of artists to help shape biomedical ethics and the development of new technologies? If so, how do you do this?

The short answer to that two-part question is: definitely, and I wish I knew! I do think that with art we have the opportunity to create spaces where people can come into contact with new ideas, or new ways of looking at the world, which might prompt them to look at things differently. I certainly don't think that, as an artist, I have all the right answers. However, I do hope that I can ask the right questions. Artists can tell stories that help us to understand the world. Art can connect regular people with ideas from other disciplines, and involve them in the discussion. Artists can be another voice, one that isn't constrained by pragmatics or practical considerations. 

Does the alternative world you present reflect the world you would like to see?

Yes and no. Some works are definitely very hopeful and optimistic. I do think you have to model the impossible positive world that you would like to live in, just to create the idea of it. In other cases the work is the opposite of what I would like for myself and my children. Sometimes it’s also about looking at how people can do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Ultimately the world is always going to be complex and contradictory, and I hope that my work can reflect that while still presenting a positive model to encourage change.

What? Patricia Picinnini’s latest solo exhibition, Embracing the Future
Where? Borås Konstmuseum, Sweden
When? February 8 - May 3 2020 

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