Microbiologist Christina Agapakis and scent artist Sissel Tolaas‘ science-meets-art project “Self Made” seeks to challenge the way we think about microbes, scent, and the nature of disgust. Most cheese is made by taking milk and spoiling it with the bacteria, Lactobacillus. This bacteria transform milk sugars into acid, causing it to coagulate. The chunks are removed from the liquid and aged with specific yeast that creates specific cheeses. Lactobacillus and yeast can be found all around us, including our own skin. Agapakis and Tolaas take microbes from people’s skin – like Michael Pollan’s belly button or artist Olafur Eliasson’s tears – and add them to milk in order to create a human microbial cheese portrait (a cheese selfie?).
“The idea was to recognize, how do we get grossed out? Then to think about it and move beyond that initial idea of disgust,” Agapakis says. “Why are we more uncomfortable with bacteria on the body than we are with bacteria in cheese?”
From the artists’ statement, “Many of the stinkiest cheeses are hosts to species of bacteria closely related to the bacteria responsible for the characteristic smells of human armpits or feet. Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies? How do humans cultivate and value bacterial cultures on cheeses and fermented foods? How will synthetic biology change with a better understanding of how species of bacteria work together in nature as opposed to the pure cultures of the lab?”
“Self Made” is currently on view (and smell – the project is for thinking, not eating) at Gallery Science in Dublin until January 2014 as part of the “Grow Your Own” exhibition along with other synthetic biology projects including a mouse cloned from Elvis Presley’s DNA, a yogurt drink that yields disease-diagnosing feces, and a project that proposes a future in which humans could give birth to endangered species. (via huffington post, npr, and la times).
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Russian photographer Alexey Kijatov‘s DIY camera may not appear to be very sophisticated, but it takes beautiful photographs of crystal clear snowflakes, capturing their icy and delicate uniqueness. To create this camera, Kljatov attached an old and inexpensive 44M-5 Helios lens to his Canon Powershot A650 using a board, tape, a screw, and a piece of glass. (You can read a more in-depth description of the process on this blog post.) These featured photographs were all shot on dark woollen fabric in natural light (typically a grey cloudy sky), but Kljatov also shoots the flakes against a piece of glass. Whichever background he uses, Kljatov captures the elegant geometry of each flake without the use of fancy equipment.
You can find out more about snowflake types here.
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Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s Alternative Limb Project applies an artistic approach to prosthetic limb design, seeking to create unique and personalized prosthetic limbs for amputees. With her degree in Special Effects Prosthetics for film and television from London Arts University and 8 years of work for prosthetic providers creating realistic limbs, de Oliveira Barata has now established her own studio working as a specialist consultant alongside prosthetists to create alternative prosthetic effects with direct input from clients. She also collaborates with other artists – designers, laser-cutters, metal, plastic, and wood workers – in order to maximize the potential for a unique prosthetic. In addition to her “surreal” and “unreal” prosthetic designs, she is also highly skilled in crafting realistic looking limbs.
The experience of losing a limb, often under intense and strenuous circumstances, can be alienating and disempowering. Through her work, de Oliveira Barata offers a creative form of empowerment, one that is both functional and fashionable.
“Generally the whole technology is moving towards trying to recapture a lifelike limb that looks realistic and also acts realistic in motion,” says de Oliveira Barata. ”In this instance I’m doing the complete opposite and I think it does capture that whole childlike imagination — it’s like being a superhero with super powers.”
“It’s drawing attention to their disability in a positive way…Rather than people seeing what’s missing, it’s about what they’ve got…Having an alternative limb is about claiming control and saying ‘I’m an individual and this reflects who I am.’” (via cnn)
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There is a long-standing tradition of artists blurring the boundary between art and design. With institutions such as MOMA featuring an entire department devoted to architecture and design, it is considered an important part of art history and culture.
I recently heard New York Times art critic Roberta Smith lecture and she mentioned that it’s a shame our society doesn’t place more emphasis on visual literacy education. If we did she believes that everything in our world, from buildings to city layouts, to objects, would be more aesthetically pleasing. Here are some instances of artists who emphasized the concept or appearance of an object rather than simply its function, bridging the gap between art and design:
Donald Judd, one of the leaders of Minimalism, has an amazing legacy in design. Another well-known architect who creates highly designed furniture is Frank Gehry. Roy McMakin is a Seattle-based artist who usually incorporates an element of verbal pun. McMakin’s designs feature an overarching investigation of how perception influences meaning. Hannes Van Severen and Michael Beitz both create captivating, surreal furniture. Artists like David Shrigley and Adam McEwen work humor into their design-work. Even artist Yves Klein has a table, created under the direction of his widow, that features his famous blue. Damien Hirst designed a chair replete with his signature butterflies and Yoshitomo Nara designed “doggy radio,” a fully functional radio in the form of a dog.
It’s not uncommon for artists to create functional objects, but those objects do often stand out for their elevated level of design and conceptual consideration. If indeed everyone put as much thought into form as they did function the world would probably be a much better looking, or at least a more visually interesting, place.