Where others might seek to reconstruct mammoths from sequences hundreds of years ago, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is part of an interdisciplinary project aimed at recreating The smell of plant species lost due to human colonization destroying their habitat. Ginsberg received training in architecture and design, and received his PhD in the Design Interactive Program at the Royal College of Art in London.For her art installation Resurrection of the sublime, She collaborates with odor researcher and artist Sissel Tolaas and biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks. The installation has been exhibited all over the world, from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York to the Pompidou Center in Paris, and is currently on display at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice.
Why were you called a “guerrilla” artist in the first place?
In 2009, I participated in the MIT International Genetic Engineering Machine (iGEM) competition with the Cambridge University iGEM team. When the student team showed their work on the stage, I showed a briefcase filled with wax samples of feces, each with a different color, for everyone who might listen.University of Cambridge students through genetic engineering [Escherichia coli] Strains produce pigments of different colors. Together with designer James King, we envisioned a potential future application: a person would drink probiotic yogurt containing these synthetic pigments Escherichia coli, Turn their Different color of stool Depends on the chemical markers of different diseases perceived in the body.
The colorful stools are more than just shock, do they create support for your ideas?
Appearing in a genetic engineering competition with a briefcase full of colored poo is a way to start a dialogue with the people who are building this new field. The humor allows us to discuss together what synthetic biology might be and how it affects our lives in positive, negative, and unexpected ways. This prompted me to join and plan a large-scale research project funded by the National Science Foundation/Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, called Synthetic Aesthetics, set up by synthetic biologists Drew Endy and Alistair Elfick and social scientist Jane Calvert. We paired six artists or designers with six synthetic biologists, from the United States to Australia to Japan. They spent a month together in each other’s space: first in the laboratory, then in the studio.
Are synthetic biologists reluctant to enter the studio of an artist or designer?
We asked them to spend only one month thinking: What does it mean to design life? Can you design? How do you design well? This is extremely unusual. This is a purely scientific research project, not science/art or public participation, and there are no specific deliverables other than a critical dialogue. The pair continued to work together—in some cases, they were still working together ten years later—and set a strong precedent for the close collaboration between synthetic biology and art and design.You can read more in our book Synthetic aesthetics.Study the design of synthetic biology for nature.
How did the extinct floral fragrance project come about?
Resurrection of the sublime Jason Kelly, co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks, said: “Is it possible to use synthetic biology to reproduce the smell of extinct flowers?” For clients including perfume company Ginkgo, synthetic biology is used as creativity The idea is really powerful. In 2016, Ginkgo’s creative director Christina Agapakis went to the Herbarium of Harvard University to collect tiny tissue samples from their collection of extinct flower specimens. This led to a multi-year research project and then installations in galleries. Thousands of people around the world have now experienced the memory of a lost flower.
Which of the three flowers you chose to resurrect?
this Hibiscus The rock, or Maui hau kuahiwi, grows in an ancient lava field on Maui, Hawaii. It was destroyed by the colonial cattle ranch, and the last tree died in 1912. Obesim Rule The last time it appeared in Kentucky was in 1881, when it became extinct and its cultivation failed. In the 1920s, a dam completely destroyed its habitat.this PlatycodonOriginally from the Weinberg Mountain behind Table Mountain in Cape Town, it was later lost by the colonial vineyard. It last appeared in a collector’s garden in London in 1805.
Did you manage to piece the DNA together?
The DNA was degraded, so the Ginkgo team worked with paleogeneticists at the University of California, Santa Cruz to extract the DNA. The Ginkgo team then used synthetic biology to first compare these sequences with the known sequences of other aromatase-producing species, and through a certain matching process, the gap was filled. Then they re-synthesized the genetic sequences, put them in yeast, and tested the fragrance molecules using mass spectrometry.
Was this impossible before?
I think this work is really new, even though DNA sequencing and DNA synthesis tools have certainly existed for decades. Before that, no one paid attention to the lost flowers. Ginkgo scientists and engineers made a list of odor molecules that each plant may produce. I was blown away. Christina has told me about this project for several years, and now this list is true. This is dizzying. It inspires a sense of sublime, which is an 18th-century theory from art and literature, which sums up this sense of awe and fear of the natural world.
How would you describe the smell of flowers?
I am not an odor expert, unlike Sissel Tolaas, who reconstructed the odor from the Ginkgo list.But as an amateur, I will describe White flower tree Deep and tobacco flavor, Obesilum Like citrus and candy, and Hibiscus Just as rich.
What do you think is the reason for retrieving the lost smell?
It raises many questions. We constructed these synthetic versions for the overall smell of each flower. But of course, they are not accurate, because we don’t know exactly which molecules are in the flower, how many are there, whether the function of the molecules is related to smell, or even whether genes are turned on to produce these molecules. Hibiscus flowers have no real smell because they are pollinated by birds. What we end up with is a vague picture of the past, a false and powerful memory. But experiencing this will have an emotional physical connection with the natural world. It is this sense of awe and fear and the vulnerability of nature to the destruction of mankind. Every lost species will have a ripple effect on the pollinators it provides, affecting species that rely on these pollinators, affecting habitats, and gradually leading to climate collapse. These plants may seem lost and insignificant, but their losses are significant.
How does your gallery installation capture this smell and pass it on to visitors?
The settings of these devices are like traditional three-dimensional models of natural history. However, it is not the stuffed animal being the center of the extinction story, but you, the human being, in the picture. In the version of the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland, visitors enter the back of the three-dimensional model, turn around the corner, and suddenly find themselves in a room with no living signs of nature, only traces of it: limestone boulders, flowers with lost smells, The soundscape of the Lost Habitat was watched by others at the same time. The purpose is to make you slightly uncomfortable and say: “This extinction is because of us.”
By reviving the fragrance of these flowers, what do you want to say to people? How does your work affect people’s lives?
Why are we obsessed with new things that already exist? We believe that technology and nature are separate, but we are part of the natural world and cannot survive without it. We have invested billions of dollars in innovation and creating new lives, whether it is synthetic biology or artificial intelligence, but it is shameful to fail to protect the extraordinary life forms that already exist (of course, “we” here are not everyone). Is it because we don’t think other life forms are useful to us, and new technologies are thought to be useful to humans? This idea of utility is very short-sighted. This paradox is both fascinating and one we urgently need to understand.
You describe your latest artificial intelligence-driven work in the Eden Project as an unnatural garden. why is it like this?
The artwork I create is not for humans, but for Pollinator, Its number is in global danger. In September 2021, we will plant a 52-meter-long garden at the Eden Project in Cornwall [UK], Designed by algorithms to optimize “empathy” for other species. I have defined it as a planting that supports the greatest diversity of pollinators, using a carefully developed list of regional plantings, from which an algorithm selects and optimizes it. I hope this garden looks strange to human taste-including flowers of various colors, sizes and shapes, plus patterns to support different foraging strategies. This is an unnatural garden designed for nature. I want to challenge what we think of the garden and for whom it is grown. The algorithm will go live, so anyone can create their own artwork for the pollinators we invite them to grow.Keep updating Eden Project Website.
Current exhibition Resurrection of the sublime
- Artificial intelligence: not just humans
Fernan Gomez Cultural Center
July 22, 2021-January 9, 2021
This article Reprinted with permission.