Design Interactions Research, Royal College of Art, European art-science program Studiolab - Blueprints for the Unknown
Design Interactions Research, Royal College of Art, European art-science program Studiolab
Blueprints for the Unknown — 2014
Blueprints for the Unknown presents projects by 7 designers or collectives: Superflux, Tobias Revell, Raphael Kim, Koby Barhad, Cohen Van Balen, Studio NAND and David Benqué. Each of these projects propose scenarios in which new (and as yet non-existing) evolutions in biotechnology are structurally embedded in the financial, political, cultural, social and economic fabric of an imaginary society. They question the current and future ideas and ideals that shape our society and us as human beings within.
Recent advances in synthetic biology are making the design of new life forms an increasingly real possibility. Driven by an engineering approach to biology, the future scientist/designer is envisioned as an architect of life, creating living organisms from a library of standardized and replicable parts.
However, life may or may not agree with the industrial paradigm we feel comfortable with. Living organisms are unstable, mutable and context specific. They are subject to evolution, mutation and symbiosis. Additionally, once science gets out of the lab and into the world, it becomes part of much more substantial systems such as economics, politics and human beliefs – with surprising outcomes for better or for worse.
Blueprints for the Unknown is a project by Design Interactions Research at the Royal College of Art in London, as part of the European art-science programme Studiolab.
DYNAMIC GENETICS VS. MANN - SUPERFLUX
In Dynamic Genetics vs Mann, Superflux sketches a world in which government is no longer responsible for health care but for health insurance. To estimate risks and customize price settings, each individual's DNA identity is used. Those with higher DNA risks, pay higher premiums. Dynamic Genetics vs Mann tells the court case story of a man who tried to evade a high insurance premium by illegally messing with his own DNA composition.
INTO YOUR HANDS ARE THEY DELIVERED - TOBIAS REVELL
With 'Into your hands are they delivered', Revell challenges the accepted paradigms of synthetic biology: he shows us how the ideas of nature and unnature, good and evil, faith and science are constructs of cultural heritage. The presented fable, in which a 'petroleumwasp' threatens the scientific, industrial, political and philosophical status quo, invites us to reconsider humanity's position vis-a-vis nature.
THE PHOSPHATE STANDARD - STUDIO NAND
The chemical component phosphate is one of the key elements in biological life: it is essential in the construction of DNA and RNA molecules and the activation of the cell's energy cycle. In The Phosphate Standard, biotechnologies re-center the world economy around the exploitation of phosphor, a chemical component present in the faeces of specific seabirds. This speculation references the history of the world's smallest republic: the republic of Nauru.
A SERIES OF REASONABLE INTENTIONS - KOBY BARHAD
In A series of Reasonable Intentions, Barhad combines a series of existing technologies that recently have been made available, to produce the blueprint of a 'reasonable' man, a biological representation of a collective intelligence. The answers of an artificial intelligence determine the genetic variations, the characteristics of which are coded into genetic information that is synthesized, and printed with "bio ink" and a 3D printer.
MICROBIAL MONEY - RAPHAEL KIM
In Microbial Money, Raphael Kim brings the biological and financial worlds together. In his story, a group of bankers, driven by economic downturn and competition, search for an alternative way to gain advantage in the stock market. They contact a mysterious biohacker who uses microbial cells to forecast fluctuations in the market.
THE NEW WEATHERMEN - DAVID BENQUÉ
This project by David Benqué explores the relationship between ideology and science and how an alternative to current options might manifest itself. The New Weathermen is a fictional group of activists who embrace synthetic biology to push for radical environmental change. Challenging the borders between activism and crime, their actions aim to disrupt the status quo and propagate an ambitious vision for the greater good. Deliberately radical and ambiguous, they provide a starting point for discussion about our existing beliefs and ideologies.
WITHOUT ONCE AWAKENING - REVITAL COHEN AND TUUR VAN BALEN
Without Once Awakening brings us to a world in which the relation between human and plant has reached a different dimension. With the help of synthetic biology, different plant species were created with specific behavioral patterns and roles; from attachment object to color or scent spectacle. The portraits are printed in plant time, over weeks of exposing plant solution on paper to UV light inside a specially made exposure box.
THE CO-DOMESTICATING UNION
This scenario positions the plant as a placebo object aiding the person to feel significance. Using synthetic biology, the plant is modified to get all its nutrients from a specific person's saliva. The need for physical proximity establishes a codependency which questions who is domesticating who. The bespoke interactions allow to create a complex therapeutic exchange mixing dependency, oppression care and intimacy.
THROUGH THE DEATH OF SEASONS
Here a plant is designed to provide the comfort derived from feeling control over natural phenomena. The plant's biological clock will be synthetically programmed to express seasonal changes with an engineering precision. Covering internal domestic spaces, these plants mediate an experience of nature as predictable and reliable, providing existential security to soothe the disorienting effect of climate change.
A MONSTROUS FAMILY TREE
Plants have the potential to outlive humans, and therefore can become a generation-crossing memento. In this story a supernatural plant is constructed from an ever-growing variety of flowers, modified to smell of human bodies and commercial cosmetics. Each family member grafts on a specimen modified to express their own scent, contributing to a living portrait of ancestors - the family tree as a concoction of smells.