"All that happened to us..."

An exploration the biomechanics of ageing; the third event in the Speciens to Superhumans series created with Shape

Speciens to Superhumans

A series of events exploring contemporary issues around biomedical science, disability and ethics, and how these are explored, represented and critiqued in art.

A one-day participative workshop exploring the implications of the biomechanics of ageing for contemporary dance practice.

While traditional dance science looks at how to enable an elite dancer to achieve perfection in both performance and aesthetics, this participative event will seek to explore what we can learn from the science of ageing about how a disabled or older dancer’s body works and what they need in order to perform to full capacity and to unlock their body’s full potential.

For both older and disabled dancers, achieving elite standards may be neither possible nor what they are striving for, and this event will seek to explore the nuances between the social model of disability and the medical model of ageing, to see what common ground emerges.

This collaborative event, the third in the Arts Catalyst/Shape series Specimens to Superhumans, was hosted by Roehampton University.  The day was led by choreographers Ann Dickie, Director of From Here to Maturity Dance Company and Anna Bergström, Associate Artist at Candoco Dance Company, audio and digital artist, Trevor Mathison. Drawing from expertise across the University, Professor Raymond Lee and his colleagues Dr Siobhan Strike and Dr Jin Luo from the Active Ageing Unit at Life Sciences Department also participated in the event.

Created in collaboration with and the support of:

Shape www.shapearts.org.uk

Roehampton University’s Dance Faculty www.roehampton.ac.uk

Louise Portlock and Frank McDaniels from Gloucestershire Dance www.gloucestershiredance.org.uk

Funded by

Wellcome Trust People Award www.wellcome.ac.uk


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Synthesis: synthetic biology in art & society

The Arts Catalyst and UCL explored the cultural dimensions of synthetic biology in a week-long interdisciplinary exchange lab and series of public events

Synthetic Biology is an emerging area of research, which applies engineering principles to biology in order to design and fabricate new biological systems that do not exist in the natural world. It promises new drugs and materials for medical applications, and new routes to make biofuels and chemicals. It could have profound implications for the way we perceive and use living things.

Synthesis: synthetic biology in art & society was an intensive exchange laboratory for artists, scientists and other disciplines to collaboratively explore synthetic biology's ideas and techniques, and its social and cultural implications.Participants were selected through an international open call.

Two public evening events during the week were intended to broaden the exchange with the public.

We Need To Talk About Synthia

We Need To Talk About Synthia was a panel discussion and artists’ presentations, exploring the cultural and societal implications of synthetic biology. The event's title was inspired by Craig Venter and his team who in 2010 built the genome of a bacterium from scratch and incorporated it into a cell to make what they called the world's first synthetic life form. They called it Synthia.Panelists are Professor John Ward, Head of Synbion, the UCL-Birkbeck Synthetic Biology Network, Oron Catts, Director of SymbioticA, The Centre for Biological Arts School at the University of Western Australia, and Dr Alistair Elfick, University of Edinburgh. It will be chaired by Dr Jane Calvert.  Embedded video of the event can be accessed by scrolling down or here at The Arts Catalyst Vimeo album.

Artists’ presentations by Tuur Van Balen, Andy Gracie, and Daisy Ginsberg.

Synthetic Biology Film Night

An evening of films on the broad theme of synthetic biology included short films of animation, science-fiction, and documentary - followed by the classic 1962 B-movie ‘The Day of the Triffids’, based on the novel by John Wyndham in which a species of mobile stinging plants, created in an experimental lab, begin to take over the world. Film programme

Synthesis Exchange Laboratory

The Synthesis exchange laboratory was devised and led by Professor John Ward and colleagues at UCL with artist-designers Oron Catts and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. The exchange process was intended to explore and challenge the notions of synthetic biology, the level of control and manipulation of living systems, the application of engineering logic, and the social and cultural dimensions of synthetic biology; with the hope to inspire proposals for future projects from all participants. Other contributors to the laboratory include scientists Alastair Elfick, University of Edinburgh, and Ferman Federici, University of Cambridge, and historian and philosopher Joe Cain, UCL.

Artist Melanie Jackson was commissioned to make an artist's film from her engagement with the laboratory process and investigations of synthetic biology.

Exchange lab participants

Melanie Jackson, artist, UK
Laura Cinti, artist, UK
Brendan Clarke, philosopher & historian, UK
Irilenia Nobelli, bioinformatics, UK
Tom Bailey, theatre practitioner, UK
Veronika Valk, curator, Estonia/Australia
Niccolo Casas, architect, Italy
Eliza Dominguez Huttinger, systems & synthetic biologist, UK
Anne Brodie, artist, UK
Thiago Soveral, architect, Brazil/UK
Helen Bullard, artist, UK
Joy Yueyue Zhang, social scientist, UK/China
Jennet Thomas, artist, UK
Nathan Cohen, artist, UK
JD Talasek, curator, USA
Sneha Solanki, artist, UK
Katy Connor, artist, UK
Orkan Telhan, artist-designer, USA
Matt Johnson, industrial designer, UK

Partners and funders

Synthesis is organised by The Arts Catalyst with UCL and Synthetic Aesthetics. It is funded by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award, with support from The Arts Catalyst (Arts Council England funded), the SynBion network (funded by BBSRC and EPSRC), SymbioticA (The University of Western Australia) and Synthetic Aesthetics (funded by EPSRC and the National Science Foundation).

Further labs are intended in Edinburgh, Stanford, US, and Perth, Australia.

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In Music and Science

From 1994 to 1997, The Arts Catalyst organised music and science projects for 6 - 9 year olds in schools in Tower Hamlets, Lewisham, Merton, Haringay, Barnet and Wandsworth.

The projects were led by teams comprising a music workshop leader and a science workshop leader - Graham Brand and Sam Mason, and Jonathan Wheeler and Rebecca Askew.

Each project culminated in a performance of a piece of music which the class itself had composed during the project. Projects linked directly to the science curriculum activities planned for that term by the class teacher and were based around 3 themes: Vibrations, Patterns, Mind & Body. The workshops explored the interaction of science and music on a number of different of levels: practical science-in-action sessions, centred on the science curriculum and based around music and discovering the science of sound, senses, instruments and musical structure; participatory creative sessions in music, drawing on information and the pupils' own ideas from the complementary science sessions and teaching composition and performance skills; compositions and performance of music created from discoveries made during the day.

A Teachers' Pack was produced to support music and science activities outside the workshops.

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Interspecies, Manchester - Symposia, Talks, Workshops

Can artists work with animals as equals? The Interspecies exhibition questions the sovereignty of the human species over the all other animal species. 

Kira O'Reilly presented an action/installed performance featuring herself and a sleeping female pig. Nicolas Primat's video installation explores how the animals' ‘natural’ communication skills can be extended into the realm of human/ape creative collaboration. Antony Hall encouraged the public to directly communicate with live electric fish in the gallery space, through mild electrical impulses. The Department of Eagles (Ruth Maclennan)'s work examined communications between falconers and falcons. Rachel Mayeri's Primate Cinema casts human actors in the roles of mating non-human primates, while Beatriz Da Costa's PigeonBlog investigated the military use of homing pigeons.

A series of talks and debates between the artists, writers, scientists and animal welfare experts accompanied the exhibition.

ESOL Exhibition Tour: This gallery tour of Interspecies provides an introduction to the artists and works on show with a discussion on the issues involved in the exhibition.

Artists' Open Forum: Antony Hall, Ruth Maclennan, Rachel Mayeri and Beatriz Da Costa: A two hour drop-in opportunity to meet the artists and discover more about the ideas behind Interspecies.

Artist's Talk: Kira O'Reilly in Conversation: Artist Kira O'Reilly and curator Rob La Frenais discuss Kira's exhibition piece in relation to her work on sleep and dream research with humans and pigs.

Workshop: Primate Cinema - How to Act Like an Animal Performance workshops led by Interspecies artist Rachel Mayeri, exploring how primates communicate, primatology and discussing animal behaviour in the wild and in cinema.

BSL Interpreted Exhibition Tour led by artist Andrew Bracey, BSL interpreted by Siobhan Rocks.

Open Forum: Animals in Art As Animal Studies continues to grow as a focal point of academic enquiry, this forum opens up discussion around the question of animals in art and delve deeper into the underlying concepts of Interspecies.

Interspecies Exhibition Tour: An informal tour of our current exhibition Interspecies.

Artist's Talk: Antony Hall An opportunity to hear artist Antony Hall discuss his Interspecies project in which he experiments with cross-species communication; allowing exhibition visitors and electric fish to communicate on the same level but avoiding the use of language.

Viva: and Interspecies present: How to Kill a Lobster: Capitalising on Non-Human Animal Slaughter  As artists continue to consider ethics in relation to the role of animals within their work, this talk explored the increasing presence of animals in theatre and performance art, addressing issues such as activism, reality and animal representation.

Exhibition supported by:

Arts Council England, Darwin 200

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SymbioticA BioArt Workshop & Symposium, London

Oron Catts and Gary Cass from SymbioticA lead an intensive 5 day workshop for artists in using biological technologies and examining issues of biotechnology and genomics

Workshop: Mon 28th March - Fri 1st April 2005Symposium: Saturday 2nd April 2005Contemporary developments in life sciences are having a profound effect on society, its values, belief systems and treatments of individuals, groups and the environment. The interaction of art, science, industry and society is increasingly recognised as an essential avenue for innovation and invention, and as a way to explore, envision and critique possible futures.Continuing its interest in artists' practical and political engagement with biotechnology, The Arts Catalyst organised an intensive 5 day workshop for artists, led by artist Oron Catts and Gary Cass of SymbioticA: The Art & Science Collaborative Studio, School of Anatomy & Human Biology, The University of Western Australia.The workshop was a practical exploration of biological technologies and issues stemming from their use, serving as a theoretical and practical introduction to the creation of biotech art and aimed at educating artists from the UK and Europe in issues of biotechnology and genomics. The workshop taught hands-on engagement with these technologies to enable artists to carry out and critique manipulation of living systems from an informed practical perspective. The practical components included DNA extraction and fingerprinting, genetic engineering, selective breeding, plant and animal tissue culture and basic tissue engineering techniques.The workshop presented work of contemporary artists dealing with biotechnology. Scientists were also involved, discussing ethical issues raised by artists' work in this area and enabling fieldtrips to laboratories. At the end of the week, ideas explored in the workshop were opened out in a public discussion event.Participating artists:Franko BBrandon BallengeeHeather BarnettAnne Bean Jenny Boulboulle Laura CintiWim DelvoyeTony DunneJu GoslingSimon GouldAndy GracieAntony Hall Jens Hauser Verena KaminarzJose Eugenio MarchesiSana MurraniJane ProphetPaula RoushJill ScottHege Tapio

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SymbioticA BioArt Workshop, Bangalore

India's first intensive Biological Art Workshop and Masterclass National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore

Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology and the National Centre for Biological Sciences, in collaboration with The Arts Catalyst and SymbioticA, organised an intensive five-day workshop for artists and others interested people. Led by SymbioticA’s Director Oron Catts and his scientific collaborator Greg Cozens from the University of Western Australia.

This hands-on workshop demonstrated the tools of modern biology through artistic engagement, which in turn gives voice to the broader philosophical and ethical exploration into the extent of human intervention with other living things. It involves exploration of biological technologies and issues stemming from their use, and serves as a theoretical and practical introduction to the creation of biological art and is aimed at educating artists from India in issues of biotechnology and the life sciences.

The workshop covered hands-on engagement with these technologies in order to be able to carry out and critique manipulation of living systems from an informed practical perspective. The practical components include DNA extraction and fingerprinting, genetic engineering, plant and animal tissue culture and basic tissue engineering techniques.

The workshop will present work of contemporary artists dealing with biotechnology. Scientists will be involved discussing ethical issues raised by artists' work in this area and leading visit to NCBS laboratories. At the end of the week, the ideas explored in the workshop will be opened out with a public discussion event at a venue to be announced in Bangalore.


Attendance at the workshop was by selection through open submission or by invitation made by Srishti, SymbioticA, the artist in residence at NCBS, and The Arts Catalyst's curator, currently in residence at Srishti. Artists are expected to be available and present for the entire week-long workshop, as this is an intensive process of learning and social interaction.

The organisers believe that the effects of the workshop will be felt in the long-term, as the artists, having learned the technology, will start working on their own biotech projects, or at least feel their work is informed by the experience.

About SymbioticA

SymbioticA is part of The School of Anatomy and Human Biology, Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences, University of Western Australia. SymbioticA is an artistic laboratory dedicated to the research, learning and critique of life sciences. SymbioticA is the first research laboratory of its kind, in that it enables artists to engage in wet biology practices in a biological science department.

SymbioticA sets out to provide a situation where interdisciplinary research and other knowledge and concept generating activities can take place. It provides an opportunity for researchers to pursue curiosity-based explorations free of the demands and constraints associated with the current culture of scientific research while still complying with regulations. SymbioticA also offers a new means of artistic inquiry, one in which artists actively use the tools and technologies of science, not just to comment about them, but also to explore their possibilities.

Links to the organisers' websites

National Centre for Biological Science, Bangalore

The workshop was supported by

The School of Anatomy and Human Biology, and Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences, University of Western Australia, NCBS and the Sir Rattan Tata Trust.

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