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Boullimics: when bio-designers hack into nature

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The Ecole Boulle de Paris hosts three conferences on living worlds. This cycle Les BOULLIMICS shows how nature, the body and the brain are nowadays kneaded and reconfigured by our biotechniques. Synthetic life colonizes our organisms and our imaginations. Artists, designers, biohackers, engineers, biologists... invent organic and evolutionary objects, enslaved or aestheticized organisms, intervene on bodies in the process of DIY, diversion, interaction. What are the springs of life thus mobilized? What games, what stakes are raised by inventions? 
 
"Why aren't dogs already blue with red dots, why aren't horses radiating phosphorescent colours in the night shadows of the countryside? (...) We have learned techniques that finally make it conceivable to create plant and animal species according to our own programs (...) We can now make artificial living beings, living works of art. » 
Vilèm Flusser, Art Forum, 1988
 
Uhe bull is making headlines at the Paris Opera? The on-stage exhibition of Easy Rider (that's his docile beast name) in the play "Mose und Aron" of Schönberg is causing a scandal. Thousands of Internet users sign petitions to stop "this shameful intrumentalisation of a living being for art". The case is not isolated and underlines that the use of living organisms is often controversial. Unless it fascinates or amuses? For what would you say if you were offered to give your son a Christmas present a live tamagotchi or a drone beetle to fly over his buddy's backyard? 
 
The Ecole Boulle is associated with the dynamics of the Living Festival (European programme Synenergène devoted to synthetics biology) to address knowledge of nature, the body and the brain, current and future manipulations and the associated fascinations and fears. The LES BOULLIMICS cycle has déjà accueilli ce 20 janvier 2016 Jean-François Toussaint, directeur de l’institut de recherche biomédicale et d’épidémiologie du sport (Imes), et recevra respectivement Hervé Chneiweiss, neurobiologiste et neurologue, directeur du laboratoire « plasticité gliale » au Centre de psychiatrie et neurosciences de l’Université Paris Descartes le 9 mars ; et Pierre-Henri Gouyon, biologiste de l’évolution au Muséum national d’histoire naturelle de Paris le 23 mars.
 
The fusion of the artisan and the scientist 
 
At the crossroads of biology and design, 3D printing that makes shapes "grow", creativity is in full swing. We saw it in 2013, during the En-Vie exhibition coordinated by Carole Collet or in spring 2015, at the last Biennale of St Etienne entitled Hypervital. "Our future, wrote the Prague philosopher Vilem Flusser, will be all about design. For design represents the confluence of new ideas from science, art, economics and politics. Heterogeneous elements combine in a seemingly natural way to form a complex network of relationships. 
 
All sorts of unusual creations are born: a pigeon whose droppings produce soap; fluorescent fish to celebrate Halloween; jewellery that grows on the body; artificial meat that grows under a bell... Designers have taken nature as a toolbox. And come to ... animate things. They grow chairs, flash trees, play music to their muscles, produce love potions. Mood manipulators. And biologists cooperate with gene transplants, cell implants, modified bacteria. They do it through tinkering, incarnation, hybridization, biosynthesis... sometimes to innovate, sometimes to play. Just to see what it can do?
 
Applications abound. They include food, textiles, printing, decoration, gardening and even the gaming sector. Let's take a closer look at some of them. 
 
 
The colours of life 
 
To celebrate Halloween, we saw PetSmart offer its Glo®Fish in an intense blue (yellow or red) fluorescent colour. For 6$ you can receive at home the "Cosmic Blue Tetra Fish" that will fascinate your guests. The company insists on its site to say that the animals shine by themselves without added pigment or dye injection: their fluorescent character is hereditary and therefore genetic. 
Other fish, those of Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, which are devoid of reproductive organs. Albino Goldfish is a sterile animal that is reproduced by a machine called Sensei Ichi-gô. The two London artists show the commodification of the reproduction with another work "The immortal" consisting of a series of replacement parts connected to a semi-biological circuit. They also imagine that the production of pigeon droppings can be diverted by integrating a bacterium in the digestive tupe of the birds, which then excrete soap! The work called Golden Pigeon is very much alive...
 
Grafting luminescence capacities is also Anthony Evans' ambition for plants. A graduate of the University of Singularity, the young business man has rubbed shoulders with Sunnyvale's biohacker community, Biocurious. He co-founded the project Glowing Plant (in San Francisco) which offers penunias, trees or plants made bioluminescent. You can buy online for 400 $ a kit for making a foot ofarabidospis (laboratory model plant) or a "glowing rose" for 150 $.
For Anthony Evans, " it's about releasing genetically modified organisms into homes to show people that they're not scary but cool and fun.". But the early craze lost its halo as the Glowing Plant team was faced with a heated debate in 2013 when it wanted to carry out a crowdsourcing operation. Indeed, many associations came forward to denounce the lack of regulations and the risk of contaminating the environment with GMOs . 
More discreet, BioGlow founded by Alexander Krichevsky in Missouri (who marketed the first autoluminescent Starlight Avatar plant in 2013) or Glowee in France are fine-tuning their production. 
 
Staining is also a function that can be grafted by biotechnological tools. James King and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg developed at the University of Cambridge the production of pigments by bacteria. This project E-Chromi (which won an award at the iGEM 2009 competition) allows to realize bio-sensors to test the quality of a water, to colour food. These bacteria can also be used to make medical diagnoses based on the colour of stools. 
Other designers, such as Audreey Natsai, reprogram bacteria to dye fabrics. 
The start-up Pili is also developing a bio-ink produced by bacteria, developed at the Parisian garage biology platform, La Paillasse.
 
Organic could well become more and more techno! 
 
Bio-design prefigures tomorrow's practices. And food is one of the major areas of recreation. In its foresight exercises, the prestigious MIT journal speaks of "food 2.0", illustrating the disconnection between terroirs, particularly with the synthetic eggs of Hampton Creek. The latter is looking for alternatives with the right combination of vegetable proteins to reproduce properties of the hen's egg. The aim is to get rid of chicken farming, its polluting effects and the suffering of the animals. Its flagship product is a substitute mayonnaise, Just Mayowhich is beginning to be adopted by large distributors, in the United States but also in Asia, in Hong Kong. As the Technology Review article relates: "Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick wants to do to the $60 billion egg industry what Apple has done to the CD industry. "If we're starting from scratch, why try to get eggs from birds crammed into cages so small they can't flap their wings, pooping on top of each other, eating soybeans and corn filled with antibiotics, all to get them to produce 283 eggs a year? » 
 
For his part, James King is exploring the production of synthetic steaks with his project Dressing the meat of tomorrow. It is conceivable that "in vitro" meat can become more profitable than factory farming and even more humane production. He therefore wonders: what shapes and colours could the portions have? By freeing ourselves from the animal, how could we invent objects of desire? 
 
In the world of drinks, we navigate between the search for natural virtues (with Springwave based on spirulina, produced by Algama), the beauty of Yann Tomas' blue elixir or the toning resources of Soylent, generated by Rob Rhinehart
 
Biofabrication 
 
The emergence of additive manufacturing paves the way for cell or organ construction processes by layer deposition. Autodesk has partnered with Organovo, which makes printers that can inlay cells to form tissues. L'Oréal also has an agreement with Organovo to manufacture artificial skins. Chris Arkenberg, who heads up strategy at Orange Silicon Valley, even thinks that L'Oréal has an agreement with Organovo to make artificial skin.utrities will begin to adapt by taking inspiration from the interactive modalities of life.. "Innovations are emerging at the interface of synthetic biology, additive manufacturing and swarm robotics and suggest that "buildings can be designed using libraries of biological models and built with biosynthetic materials that can detect and adapt to their conditions". 
For some designers, interaction tools are mainly used to experiment with the body. For example, Dustin Yellin offers psychogeographies made up of human silhouettes with multicoloured components. Amy Congdon imagine jewellery or sewing workshops using materials that are not manufactured but cultivated. We will thus have embroideries, fashioned from living cells or seasonal jewellery that could grow on our skin. She proposes in her autumn/winter 2082 skin collection, "Bio Nouveau", an earring adorned with precious stones in disposable grafted skin. 
The approach is reminiscent of ORLAN's experiences with its silicone implants above the eyebrows or hybridizations (Self hybridizations or Harlequin coat). We can also mention the sensory explorations of Marion Laval-Jeantet who injected herself with horse blood in order to "feel the horse living in her". More recently, she has "recidivated" with panda blood, provoking multiple debates. 
 
To life, to death 
 
Some designers play with phenomena. Last September, Spela Petric carried out a long and patient experience of "confrontation with otherness" to leave her mark in a field of watercress. In her performance "See the grass grow." it stands in a white dawn between the light and the field of seeds in line to germinate. The story is told by Annick Bureaud as part of her diary of the European project Trust Me, I'm an artist. The work of Louis Bec, zoosystemicistThe work of the author, who has been working since the 1970s on a prospective towards a hypothetical living being, is highlighted with the publication of Zoosystemie, which details the author's numerical models, according to a coherent and contructivist fabulatory epistemology. 
 
The plaintiff Guillian Graves invests in the natural methods of manufacturing materials (horn, bone, hair, mushrooms). It develops bio-inspired musical organs, bio-cement produced by biomineralisation, materials from colonisation by mycelia. This raises questions about what makes organisms grow and the boundary between life and death, like James King and his work. Cellularity that explores what is functional of what is known to be a pathogen. He came up with a speculative definition of life. Rather than asking whether something is dead or alive," he proposes, "we could assess its level, its intensity of life. An approach that suggests variations in vitality?"
Living things have changing characteristics, Manuela de Barros, Professor of Plastic Arts at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, pointed out at the meeting. To be or not to be, that 'is the question - organized by Decalab in February 2015. Recalling the words of François Jacob who believed that the definition of the living cannot come from biology, she presented the proposals of artists such as Michel Blazy. The latter creates precarious installations that grow or wither during the duration of his exhibitions. Evolutionary devices and ephemeral installations allow her to explore the uncontrolled proliferation of micro-organisms whose transformations and changes of state are as many moments necessary for the activation of the work and its development, in the most concrete sense of the term. 
 
The plastic brain 
 
Last continent that fascinates designers, the brain. Computing powers are pushing alternative memory and data processing capabilities beyond the brain's capacity. Artists like David Guez stage the fragility of digital media: see his work Stèle binaire de l'ours brun (see Vita Nova event). Emotional contaminations, viral discussions, manipulation of memory or inlaying of memories... are all part of the projects. Experiences such as Deepface for example, explore the effect of facial recognition on photos posted on facebook. There are also those interested in artificial life (creating life "in silico") like in the old online game of the 90s, "Creatures ». It is about creating complexity, and new properties, unlike synthetic biology, which is not interested in the emergence of new properties. Drew Endy confirms this in no uncertain terms: I hate emergent properties!
 
The ambivalence of technical efforts is often highlighted when considering the possibility of boosting certain functions. How much of our intelligence do we want to transform?" the article says. Bodyware/Neuroself published by Internetactus. What data do we want to collect? For what purpose? To act on intelligence? Memory? Creativity? Imagination? Addictions or dreams? 
Here the key question looms: what do we want to become? If we understand the workings of thought, and its material supports, what do we want to do with it? The answer is clearly to increase our capacities. Either to go faster in operations, or to fix the results. In the background, it is access to immortality that is in the line of sight for prominent actors like Ray Kurzweil. The digital age gives the impression that "life in silico" can supplant biological life. There are promises that new life forms can be created on computers, for example, using the Genome Compiler
If we are able to manipulate moods and mental states or if our brain experiences are uploaded on the computer, how will we ensure identities and accountabilities? 
Such scenarios are of interest to design thinking enthusiasts who are able to develop scenarios. LThe University of the Singularity uses these practices who project the possible. Beyond this horizon of singularity, the German philosopher at Cairo University, Anne-Marie WillisThe Ecodesign Foundation, with the support of the Ecodesign Foundation, defends the need for an ontological design (with the support of the Ecodesign Foundation). 
 
Discomfort in civilization
 
The stakes of this alliance for innovation between bio-engineers and designers are considerable: with Georges Church and his project of "de-extinguish." At the Organogenesis conference, held at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Paris (ENSAD) on 15 and 16 October 2015, Bernard Stiegler stressed the extent to which "technical evolution is a destructive wave that short-circuits institutions and education and destabilises social life". He considers the appropriation of objects by cultural practices to be vital". Organicity against disruption. 
 
 
Illustrations of Golnaz Behrouznia 
 
 
 

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