As part of the larger program of La sémiosphère du Commun, organized by Anna Barseghian of Utopiana, BIODESIGN for the REAL WORLD, along with Jacques Falquet, Oliver Keller of CERN’s S’Cool LAB and Media Lab, was invited by Vanessa Lorenzo and Raphaëlle Mueller as collaborators of their common research project Xeno-geo-bio-medialogics.
On the evening of 17 February 2017, we gathered to have a public round-table and discussion at Le Commun in Geneva, where the exhibition of Xeno-geo-bio-medialogics was being prepared.
This was an opportunity to reflect on the practices that bring scientific measurements and instruments into the sphere beyond the traditional arena of science and engineering, in the context of becoming more aware and knowledgeable of our polluted environments and to empower artistic appropriation.
Jacques spoke about the observer and the instruments in the measurements in science, warning us to be critical of what you see – you see what you look for.
To ask ourselves:
- What does one look for?
- What is polluted?
- Dangerous for whom? who defines the limits?
- What does the data tell you?
- Is it a good idea to make measurements?
- The power relationship – ownership
- That all of this needs the history / story of the (polluted) place
Oliver spoke about his development of the iPadPix, a real-time radioactivity trace visualizer (see pdf of his thesis). He explains the process also in a previous presentation at the Living Instruments performance at le Bourg in February 2016, documented as video here.
The biodesign.cc project was presented with an attempt to be critical and open about the benefits and short-comings of our approaches thus far, especially the use of bioreporters in the field, as it illustrates many issues that arise, some of which are addressed by the questions outlined above.
One critique we received, and cut to the chase was the question – what is a “community”, in the Swiss context? To those in the audience, “community” is an American concept, and less a Swiss one. The closest equivalent is “le quartier” – and the spirit in these two spaces may be culturally different. We can talk of the open-source hardware community, etc. but these can be more said as like-minded people connected by virtual networks that meet up both on and off-line. Somehow, this is still not translating to a local community.
In addition, the discussions covered remediation, and what it means to clean up – is it displacement of waste, is it destroyed, is it transformed into something worse? Biodiversity, both historical and present, should be part of the stories of the polluted place.
The very rich full program spanned from workshops of myco-remediation (bioremediation by fungi), full exhibition, discussions on semiotics, anthropologist’s perspectives, the biopolitics and biocolonialization of food. More information can be found on the Utopiana site. As we could not attend all of the events, we look forward to the documentation.
All photographs on this post used with permission from © Raphaëlle Mueller. The top image is the original Program cover.