Three-tier bioart project (participative performances, DNA data storage, visual works on genetically-engineered cellulose).
Part of the project currently touring: participatve performances
Display media: desk, chairs, artist book made of microbial cellulose, Duration of each performance: 1 hour
Semina Aeternitatis is a three-tier project about manipulation and transmission of individual memories. The first part of the project consists of five one-hour-long performances. Sitting at a desk, I publicly interview one visitor at a time about a particular memory the visitor would like to keep forever. During the performance, I the memories onto a book and, at the end of the performances series, I transcodes this archive into a digital file. For the second part of the project, I will collaborate with a scientific laboratory to transcode the digital archive of memories into a DNA sequence and encode it onto the DNA of Gluconacetobacter xylinus bacteria using DNA data storage techniques. This particular kind of bacteria produces microbial cellulose, a biomaterial which I have been investigating for its strong resemblance to skin and other body tissues. In the third and final phase of the project, I will restage the archive of memories in a visual format: I will grow genetically-engineered bacteria to obtain microbial cellulose whose DNA will carry the archive of memories and create a series of 5 artworks made of cellulose contaminated with human memories. The aesthetic of these new artworks will be inspired by my previous Works on papers, yet, they will be fundamentally different, for both their source material and their conceptual underpinning.
Semina Aeternitatis is inspired by the human longing for eternity and the desire to permanently preserve memories and information. Its Latin title, evoking religious terminology from the Christian Catholic tradition, means “Seeds of eternity” as well as “People of eternity”. Since the beginning of human history, the necessity of storing knowledge and the desire to hinder the transiency of life by preserving memories and knowledge have been crucial themes affecting individual existences, cultural production and power structures. The desire for eternity is entangled in religion, science and artistic practice. Religion encourages a principled life with the promise of a sound after-death life; science investigates immortality and ever-lasting data storage; artworks might survive its creator and those who have commissioned them.
In the last decades, the predominance of paper-based media in our society has decreased due to the digitisation of texts, information and images. Digital information has allowed us to distribute and reproduce human artefacts as never before. Digital data, however, is bound to decay. Every few decades digital data becomes corrupted and unreadable, affecting individual archives, private documents, working drafts, videos, photos, as well as archives of corporations and institutions. The only way to preserve information stored on digital devices is copying – a time-consuming process yielding a considerable environmental impact. Recent scientific studies have investigated a possible solution to this issue through synthetic biology: the storage of digital data on DNA. Because DNA is an extremely compact and uniquely resilient material, information stored on DNA could be readable in centuries from now – and significantly longer, under ideal conditions. DNA, the so-called “language of life”, might in the future expand or replace binary code. Semina Aeternitatis tackles the cultural implications of long lasting data preservation on DNA by manipulating the nostalgic lure of individual memories.
Besides prompting a reflection about decay and preservation of individual memories, Semina Aeternitatis addresses human interference with other life forms by adopting DNA data storage in living organisms. The final artworks, made from genetically-engineered cellulose whose DNA carries the archive of memories, will appear made of common microbial cellulose, but in actuality, they will carry a cluster of the identities involved in the project – the artist, the scientists, the visitors and bacteria. The creation of artworks made of bacteria embedded with human memories questions the boundaries between human and non-human beings, between species and identities. These artworks will be made of a new medium obtained from the combination of living matter, synthetic biology and human memories. A medium wherein human and non-human life co-exist.
The first three performances took place at Studio Baustelle, Berlin (October 2015); transmediale Vorspiel / Green Hill Gallery, Berlin (January 2016) and Article Biennial / Sølvberget galleri, Stavanger – Norway (August 2016).