Making matter come alive

Posted September 8, 2011 by Eric
Categories: Uncategorized

“Before life existed on Earth, there was just matter, inorganic dead “stuff.” How improbable is it that life arose? And — could it use a different type of chemistry? Using an elegant definition of life (anything that can evolve), chemist Lee Cronin is exploring this question by attempting to create a fully inorganic cell using a “Lego kit” of inorganic molecules — no carbon — that can assemble, replicate and compete.” <TED>

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Craig Venter unveils “synthetic life”

Posted June 5, 2010 by Eric
Categories: Random

“Craig Venter and team make a historic announcement: they’ve created the first fully functioning, reproducing cell controlled by synthetic DNA. He explains how they did it and why the achievement marks the beginning of a new era for science.”

May 21st 2010

Dividing Cells Up Close

Posted April 2, 2010 by Eric
Categories: Random

“Every day, the cells in your body are dividing like crazy – sometimes too much, which is the definition of cancer. Here you can see breast cancer cells in action, multiplying into what could become a tumorous growth.

Yes, this film is dramatically speeded up – most of these cells would divide about twice in a day. The video below shows us dozens of cells undergoing normal cell division, in real time. I’m not sure why all of them are dividing at once – possibly a chemical has been used to induce it. Mitosis has never looked so much like a lava lamp.”

Reblogged from io9

nature’s artwork, made art

Posted March 31, 2010 by Eric
Categories: Renderings

For my rendering this week I’ve chosen to post a couple selections from the Petri Projects of California artist Klari Reis. These images are from a photoblog called The Daily Dish which contains her catalog of 365 petri dishes. The description of the website reads, “Brilliantly colored life forms dance across the wall in these detailed images of an installation project composed of a series of hand painted plexiglass petri dishes.”

How discourse surrounding the conscious blending of techniques  and sensibilities native to both the arts and sciences have become incorporated into the to way in which these projects are publicly presented is what I found particularly interesting about this artist’s work.

The method Reis uses to render these colorful petri dishes is UV resistant reflective epoxy polymer. Epoxy is a thermosetting polymer formed from reaction of resin with hardener. This process creates unique colored smears and bumps on multiple layers which Reis describes as, “the method and language for exploring and expressing reactions that occur on a microscopic level.” There is a proposed kinship between both Reis’ physical practices and the labor that goes into making these dishes (there is an image on the website of her at work, she has protective clothing and a mask, the sort of laboratory garb a microbiologist might have to wear when interacting with dangerous microbes) and also a similarity in the sort of one-of-a-kind haphazard rules that govern the artwork’s ultimate outcome (possibly described as an ‘organic process’).

Klari Reis does not work directly with the biological (in fact, the resins she uses are lethal to most forms of life), instead she draws inspiration from various imaging technologies, such as the electron microscope, in order to depict these microscopic images in the colorful medium of epoxy. It is interesting to consider that Reis’ work, like much scientifically derived art, can almost be considered a ‘second-order rendering.’ The process of transforming electron-images (black & white) into beautiful works of art involves a concerted reconfiguring and repurposing which strips these forms from their biological context and moves them into new physical spaces.

The biological subject, and the biotech and pharmaceutical industries that capitalize upon it, are of keen interest to Reis. Her website states, “Working with biotech companies in San Francisco, Klari uses organic cellular imagery and natural reactions to explore our complex relationship with today’s biotechnological industry.” Yet it is not completely clear in what way Reis is hoping to engage the nature of this relationship. In an article Reis has said that her interest in exploring these issues artistically came about with her own struggles with Crohn’s disease. She has stated, “I’m taking a different view on pharmaceuticals. A lot of people see them as being a very big negative aspect of American culture. For me and the disease I’m dealing with, I see them as a big possibility for the future. I’ve been told by doctors this is going to be cured in the next five years. In a lot of ways it seems my future is reliant on these new pharmaceuticals coming out. It’s very personal.”

Another aspect of her work I find interesting is the way in which it has been picked up on the Internet. While searching for more information about her interest in the relationship with biotech (little in the way of expressed artistic vision unfortunately), I found some interesting comments to re-postings of her artwork. When these images are initially posted there commonly seems to be some confusion regarding their authenticity. They will sometimes be described as ‘cultures,’ implying that they are images of actual biological organisms. While some are quick to point out (even when not implied by the poster) that, given the color and patterns, they could not possibly be biological cultures, most are simply attracted to the “living-like” style that Reis beautifully captures. Issues of authenticity are moot to those who appreciate this art. The boundaries between ‘inspired’ and ‘derived’ are thin indeed. Reis’ work is compelling because of the intricate level of detail and ‘biological sensibilities’ that she infuses into each of her mimetic pieces.

alien abundance

Posted March 17, 2010 by Eric
Categories: Renderings

While reading Stefan Helmreich’s Alien Ocean this week I kept thinking about the ambivalent way in which jellyfish are depicted both as alien invaders and gentle creatures of the sea. The picture I chose as a rendering questions who in this image, the human diver or the masses of Nomura’s jellyfish, should be considered the alien. Positioned amidst a silent congregation of jellyfish off the coast of Japan, who’s really the foreign intruder? To what degree are aliens unnatural?

Lacking central nervous systems or any familiar sensory capacities jellyfish come off as the macroscopic embodiment of Helmreich’s microbial subjects floating calmly in their oceanic milieu. Curiously absent from Alien Ocean, I’ve noticed that in the past few years jellyfish have increasingly been portrayed as malevolent, highly invasive and capable of manifesting ambitions no less grandiose than complete ocean domination. An article in the Telegraph even suggested that “tracking devices on the jellyfish in the Pacific proved that they were not drifting on the ocean currents but heading determinedly – and at the speed of an Olympic swimmer – towards the coast.” Jellyfish are not the innocent brainless blobs we believed they were, they’re coming for us. I am reminded of a scene from the 1998 sci-fi film Sphere in which a diver’s delight in being surrounded by jellyfish quickly turns to horror. Take this 2007 National Geographic video,

Trying to ground the difference between alien and native for these jellyfish is difficult. There is a strange sense in which jellyfish, as invasive species, are simultaneously given agency (and responsibility) and also portrayed as the inevitable material consequence of “a biotic world of illegitimate, inundating flows called forth by the shifting contradictory dynamics of globalizing social forces” (p.17). As opposed to species that have been introduced into an ecosystem by the direct (intentional or accidental) actions of humans, invasive species are marked as ‘unnatural’ by their formal characteristics as defined in respect to biological concepts (of robustness, fecundity). The alien invasion depicted in this video is not in opposition to concepts of ‘native’ (such as in the context of the algae in chapter four), but by the overabundance and ‘unnatural’ success of these organisms. It is specifically their ability to disrupt, both forms of life (such as recreational swimming and fishing practices) and life forms that jellyfish gain their alien invader status. To this point, Helmreich demonstrates that the uncertainties evoked by binary metataxonomies such as alien/native and nature/culture create profound confusion about whether invasion biology is a natural or a social science, or both (p.148). Indeed,

“invasive species undo our concepts of the natural itself” p.159

Despite threatening stings and overwhelming numbers there is still an aspect of deep fascination with these creatures. Something about the alien-nature of jellyfish has worked itself into the popular imagination and created a universal sense of awe at the other-worldliness that jellyfish evoke. Take the Sea Jelly Spectacular at the Hong Kong Ocean Park or the Newport Aquarium’s Jellyfish Gallery in which you will be “mesmerized and amazed,” as examples. Utilizing the “latest technology in lighting, music and multimedia special effects,” these exhibits capitalize on the unique fluorescent beauty of these creatures to extract surplus value in bringing them to life in new, wholly ‘unnatural,’ ways (which actually reminds me of a 2002 Chemical Brothers music video). It is not only their curious luminosity but their hypnotic locomotion that piques our interest. For example, the AquaJelly and AirJelly (shown below) are designed by Festo, a German industrial control and automation company, as part of a university consortium initiative. Although lacking practical purpose (proof of concept?), it is difficult to look upon these constructions without a sense of biomimetic wonder.

hybrid 2010 demo reel

Posted March 12, 2010 by Eric
Categories: Random

Ashes and Snow

Posted March 8, 2010 by Eric
Categories: Random

Feathers to Fire