Frankenstein and Bioart

From biotech designs like a spiderweb wearable air filter and citizen science bioplastics kit to edible fashion and living potion of kombucha to the aesthetics of neuroscience, Emerge 2017: Frankenstein  brings art and science together to explore the field of bioart.

As the flagship public event for the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Emerge: Artists and Scientists  Redesign the Future is reanimated each year with an eye to the innovative and the provocative in order to raise questions about the future of cutting edge interdisciplinary work. Emerge is committed to experiential learning and to engaging the public in conversations about the future and their roles in that future. Bioart at Emerge 2017 aims to do this through works that blend art and science together to reveal new questions from both sides of the knowledge equation which are relevant to the science and art to come.

This year, Emerge celebrates the bicentennial of Frankenstein with a gallery packed with bioart. What is Bioart? A simple definition of bioart is that it is an artwork which contains living materials, but a look inside the Emerge Bioart Gallery reveals that there is more at work here than silk-weaving spiders, symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast, and house flies. Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, these artworks are inquiries into not only what science can and will make possible but our responsibilities in shaping the future. Bioart raises questions and offers new ideas about our relationship to living materials, interfaces between organisms and technologies, and life itself.

What bioart can I see at Emerge? ASU professors will brew up Frankenbucha.  A garment-object designer shows us a speculative future of biotech Edibleskins. The national BioDesign Challenge competition will demonstrate citizen science bioplastics kits. A silk spider air filter raises questions about environmental choices of the future by offering a solution to the air quality problems sustainability experts speculate we are headed towards. A forward-looking neuroscientist will show us new ways of considering the brain, narratives, and  visualization. House flies pilot blimps. David Bowen’s software maps the flies motion to create mathematical patterns which in turn direct blimps so his flies can fly themselves around the Emerge gallery. Is David Bowen the Dr. Victor Frankenstein of flies– animating these beings into a corpus which moves beyond its individual parts? Or is Bowen more Mary Shelley warning us, with a touch of humor and horror, to consider the responsibilities that our creations bring to us.

Image Credit: Ali Schachtschneider, photographed by Hiu Zhi Wei