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PUBLIC TALK: Artist's Talk: The Mechanism of Life (after Stephane Leduc)

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Artist's Talk: The Mechanism of Life (after Stephane Leduc) : Public talk with Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr Other events...
At the very same time that Bergson developed his concept of Élan Vital in his book Creative Evolution, others attempted to do away with the metaphysical notion of vital force. One significant endeavour was taken by Stephane Leduc, who set out to prove that life is merely a chemical process.

In his 1911 book The Mechanism of Life, Leduc proposed a series of chemical experiments showing the emergence of life-like phenomena of different degrees of complexity. Using seductive imagery of mainly diffusion and osmosis Leduc attempted to prove the mechanistic aspects of life and challenge Vitalism.

With the recent advent of Synthetic Biology where the engineering mindset towards biology is set to dominate approaches to life, we see a rehashing of similar stories from a hundred years ago. One such story is the creation of the basic unit of life, the cell, out of non-living materials. The so called protocells are becoming a major field of study complete with the hyperbole rhetoric about their potential applications.

This piece will reappropriate one of the simplest protocell protocols offered by Leduc, working with the diffusion of two concentrations of solutions that create transitory cell-like droplets. The droplets resemble cells with membrane and nuclei, they last for a few moments before succumbing to entropy and dissolving into a murky liquid, “much like life.”

This protocol is automated using another hyped technology: three-dimensional printing. There is much discussion about 3D printing technology as the next industrial revolution - something that parallels the assembly line of Fordism at the time Leduc was working on the Mechanism of Life. The promise of 3D printing technology is in its core based on information transfer as the business model; the focus is on the instructions/data as the currency while the materiality is merely an optional manifestation. This is problematic as at the very same time, the 3D printing industry suggests the ability to print actual life, or at least parts of the living. This very seductive scenario of printing life from scratch is played off in this work against the unstable, uncontrollable and transient nature of the protocell droplets as a material. What would capture the public imaginary? The precise movement of the machine? The perfect arrangement of the droplets? Or the off-putting murky outcome of entropy?

To a large extent this piece deals with issues of cultural amnesia and reimagining; pointing attention to the use of certain visuals and expressions to persuade, hype and then disappoint. In a time when the idea of creating synthetic life is in the forefront, it is important to culturally probe current and past approaches to the idea of the Mechanism of Life. The printed “protocells” are unstable and temporary and take on forms that appear organic and then disappear. More than a proof on the mechanism of life, they are a suggestion for a humble approach to the question of what life is and how far are we willing to make life into a raw material for our own ends.

Oron Catts is Director of SymbioticA, The Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts School of Anatomy Physiology and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia. Catts is an artist, researcher and a curator at the forefront of the emerging field of biological-arts, whose work addresses shifting perceptions of life. Dr. Ionat Zurr is an artist, researcher and the Academic coordinator at SymbioticA. Catts together with Zurr formed the internationally renowned Tissue Culture and Art Project (TC&A) in 1996.

The work The Mechanism of Life (after Stephane Leduc) was collaboratively created with Corrie Van Sice. Her work applies concepts of bio-mimesis to the production of fabrication methodologies, which identify the inherent potential for matter to become functional, and human curiosity’s creative influence on natural systems. Van Sice earned her Masters at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, the self-proclaimed “center for the recently possible,” and worked as Materials and Processes Engineer at the popular 3d printing company, MakerBot Industries. She has partnered with synthetic biologists at Brooklyn’s citizen science lab Genspace, and began work with Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr via the Finnish Bioart Society at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in the fall 2011.
Speaker(s) Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr
Location SymbioticA, Room 228 Anatomy Physiology and Human Biology
Contact Chris Cobilis <[email protected]> : 6488 5583
URL https://www.symbiotica.uwa.edu.au/activities/seminars
Start Fri, 12 Jul 2013 15:00
End Fri, 12 Jul 2013 16:30
Submitted by Chris Cobilis <[email protected]>
Last Updated Thu, 11 Jul 2013 13:16
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