Synthetica, a special contemporary art exhibition co-curated by Edinburgh International Science Festival, Summerhall and ASCUS Art & Science, will showcase the work of established international artists working in the field of bioart, including renowned artists Marta de Menezes, Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr, Tarsh Bates and Ting-Tong Chang.
Through works derived using the tools, techniques and often living tissues of scientific research, Synthetica will explore how our notions of the natural and the artificial may need to change in an era in which hybrid and synthetic life forms have come into existence. Using robotic devices to simulate living animals,Ting-Tong Chang’s P’eng’s Journey to the Southern Darkness brings lifelike characteristics to lifeless animal bodies.
The sophisticated mechanism of each automaton contain within them a notion that life can be simulated by art and science. By blurring the line between the animate and the inanimate, these inventions embody a philosophical question to our perception of what makes a living being. This question posed by automatons is still a recurrent theme of science fiction; what we think of the future is in fact deeply rooted in the past.
A selection of works forms a brief retrospective on the incredible career of Marta de Menezes. The concept of identity and a dichotomy between the natural and the artificial are recurrent themes in Marta de Menezes’ practice. Beginning with Immortality for Two, the first collaborative work with her partner Luis Graça, which explores the reciprocal immortalisation of cells from two people in love, through to The Origin of Species, using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to alter living organisms that are the product of selective breeding and domestication, and ending with her latest work Truly Natural, that will confront you with a live genetically altered organism.
Well-known bioartists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr (The Tissue Culture & Art Project) present their landmark work Pig Wings (2000). Advances in tissue engineering, xenotransplantation and genomics promise to render the living body as a malleable mass. Questioning the effect of these powerful technologies on the body and society, Pig Wings presents the first ever wing shaped objects grown using living pig tissue.
Pig Wings was developed at the Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Harvard Medical School and SymbioticA Laboratory at the University of Western Australia. Following a residency at the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology at the University of Edinburgh, Oron and Ionat, joined by Tarsh Bates, will present a work in progress exhibition, Crossing Kingdoms, poetically exploring the products of cross-kingdom cell fusion in synthetic biology.
The work raises questions, through actual manipulation of life forms, about the practical and ontological nature and identity of novel organisms that fall outside scientific and cultural classification systems. In what ways do multi-kingdom cell fusions challenge our categories and understandings of life? How can they be taxonomised? What are the impacts on the environment and society? Crossing Kingdoms reflectively dwell into traversing tangible and conceptual borders of life and living systems.