Synthetic Aesthetics is a research project run by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Stanford University, California. Synthetic biologists, like many engineers, are concerned with ‘design’. By instigating new collaborations between synthetic biologists, designers, artists, and social scientists, we are exploring the shared territory between synthetic biology and creative practice.

Bio-Organism of the future in a biological synthetic culture. The Synthetic Aesthetics was presented on thursday 28th of October, 8om, at Mediamatic center in Amsterdam through the meeting with the artists/scientist Sascha Pohflepp, Sheref Mansy, Lucy McRay and Koert van Mensvoort.

Science and technology are moving closer to adding living organisms to our cultural toolkit. Microbes are already making insulin and soon they may produce the world’s fuel supply. Their potential is limited only by our imagination.

The emerging field of synthetic biology aims to transform biology as we know it into a discipline of engineering. The top-down BioBricks approach prefers to hack existing organisms. The more research-oriented field of so-called protocells aims to create minimal living machines and may on the way discover the nature of life itself.
What both technosciences share is that, if successful, they will profoundly shift or even erase our distinction between nature and culture. After the first truly artificial life form has been created and employed, everything can potentially become technology.

This Salon will be exploring why our notions of nature and technology may need to change and look closer at work in both art and science. From the body as architecture to the soft systems of the future and scientific research focussing on artificial cells as life-like machines.

What is Synthetic Aesthetics?

Synthetic Aesthetics is a research project run by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Stanford University, California. Synthetic biologists, like many engineers, are concerned with ‘design’. By instigating new collaborations between synthetic biologists, designers, artists, and social scientists, we are exploring the shared territory between synthetic biology and creative practice.

Can these collaborations inform and shape the developing field of synthetic biology? What insights can design offer in designing microscopic entities for a human-scale world? Can the exchange of skills and ideas enable the development of new forms of craft and collaboration? What can art and design learn from synthetic biology?

Synthetic Aesthetics is bringing together six synthetic biologists and six artists and designers to help with the work of designing, understanding and building the living world. From July to December 2010, our twelve residents will embedded residencies. Each pair spend two weeks in the bioengineering laboratory and two weeks in their exchange partner’s art or design workspace.

The residents will share their practice, knowledge and skills, and develop new project ideas together. These are balanced exchanges, where both disciplines inform the other. We aim to catalyze interactions, develop transferable knowledge and skills, and establish a continuing network of collaborations.

Art and design engagement can encourage thought and debate in unique and innovative ways – we hope collaborative investigation beyond representation and visualisation will emerge, exploring new ideas in the processes of synthetic biology and design. Synthetic Aesthetics social scientists, Pablo Schyfter and Jane Calvert, and designer/artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg will be supporting, documenting and studying the exchanges.

We seek more than one-off experiences: the interactions will contribute to ongoing work in both communities, developing new spaces for practice, cooperation, and debate. Long-term interaction could enable design concerns to be reflected better in synthetic biology, enabling inclusive and responsive technology development.

The aim is to construct the groundwork that could inform new schools of engineering and research, new schools of art and design, innovative approaches to the study of synthetic biology in society, and new approaches to societal engagement with synthetic biology.

We hope each pair will develop a collaborative project beyond the four-week intensive exchange. These projects will differ between the six pairs, perhaps physical objects, writing, film,protocols, a bacteria or something else will emerge. Our residents come from all over the world and adopt different approaches to synthetic biology (including protocell, ‘BioBrick’, and plant science); and to art and design (including architecture, bioart, industrial design, smell, music).

Synthetic Aesthetics will endeavour to provide support for ongoing collaborations. In 2011, we aim to organize two workshops, one for the synthetic biology community and one for artists and designers. We will publish the output of the residencies, framed by the issues raised by synthetic biology – scientific, ethical, sociological, design and artistic.


Synthetic Aesthetics is jointly funded by the National Science Foundation (USA) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (UK). The Synthetic Aesthetics project team comprises Drew Endy (Stanford, bioengineering), Alistair Elfick (Edinburgh, bioengineering), Jane Calvert (Edinburgh, social science), Pablo Schyfter (Stanford/Edinburgh, social science) and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg (Stanford/Edinburgh, art/design).

http://www.syntheticaesthetics.org/