Featured image above by Ars Technica (CC by NC-ND-2.0)
What do ancient Mayan gum, menstruation simulators, and glasses that let you write with your eyes have in common?
They were all featured by Italian author, editor and curator extraordinaire Paola Antonelli in SXSW Interactive 2015’s first keynote session, as outstanding examples of work at the intersection of art, design, and technology.
Currently ranked as number 98 in Art Reviews list of the hundred most powerful people in the world of art (a fact of which she was sure to remind the audience), Antonelli is also the Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture & Design, and the Director of R&D at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York City.
Although she spoke to a massive audience, much of her esoteric information on art and tech seemed to only resonate with a small portion of the attendees. As she began speaking about the “classic entanglement of quantum design,” “parkour among genders,” and “Björk as the classic quantum designer,” my attention started to wander and the images on the screens became more interesting than what she was actually saying.
By no means, though, was the whole speech was a loss. Antonelli pointed out some fascinating exhibitions and projects that tangibly connect complicated science and mathematical formulas to artistic outputs. Below is Antonelli’s curated list of the most interesting artists, groups, and technology found in this space:
Within seconds of pulling up her slide on Dutch industrial designer Hella Jongerius, Antonelli declared her one of the “greatest designers alive.” Jongerius’s work focuses on combining opposites – new technology and handmade objects, industrial manufacturing and craftsmanship, and the traditional and the contemporary.
One example Antonelli gave of Jongerius’ work was her chicle objects. Chicle is a substance that Mayans used for chewing gum for thousands of years, and even today a small amount of chicle is still used to make chewing gum. Jongerius applied the chicle to a variety of ceramic, glass and sculpture pieces, as seen in the photo here. This particular collection emphasizes the relationship between natural materials and handmade objects carefully crafted with skill.
Sputniko!, née Hiromi Ozaki, is a Japanese/British artist and designer known for her work in critical design. Her work focuses on the social, cultural and ethical implications of new technologies, often through a feminist lens. Antonelli discussed Sputniko!’s Menstruation Machine, which is meant to simulate the experience of a five-day period. The metal device is complete with a system of electrodes that stimulate the lower abdomen to mimic cramping, and even comes with a blood dispensing system so wearers get the full period experience (so fun!). The device is currently on display at MoMA.
Synthetic Aesthetics is a group of biologists, designers, artists and social scientists brought together by the University of Edinburgh and Sanford University. The group explores the ways in which biology, art and design interact. One of their most interesting (and grossest) projects include “human cheese” produced with bacteria and microbes from people such as food writer Michael Pollan. Others include creating seeds with custom DNA that have been tailored to thrive in certain environments and training bacteria to grow into consumer products. You can learn more about Synthetic Aesthetics (and see their other cool projects), here.
Continuing the art meets biology theme, Antonelli showed a video from the Silk Pavilion project, in which scientists and artists at MIT’s Media Lab used silk worms to create a giant silk sculpture dome. The primary geodesic structure consists of 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads laid down by a machine, but then scientists deployed actual silkworms to lay down their own silk, creating a second structure. Learn more about the project here, or watch a video of the worms in action, below:
Graffiti Research Lab – The Eye Writer
Perhaps the coolest thing Antonelli spoke about, the Eye Writer uses open source eye-tracking technology to allow people who have become paralyzed to draw with just their eyes. The project was created by members of Free Art and Technology (FAT), OpenFrameworks, the Graffiti Research Lab, and The Ebeling Group after teaming up with the LA-based graffiti writer known as Tempt1. Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2003, he is completely paralyzed except for his eyes. Now, with the device, he can continue making his art. You can learn more about the project (and see it in action!) at EyeWriter.org
Stay tuned to Flip the Media for more coverage from SXSW Interactive in Austin!