Planet Earth

Biologically Inspired Art Twists Reality

The burgeoning field of "bio art" uses living biology as inspiration and, sometimes, as medium.

By William MyersOct 1, 2015 12:00 PM

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Photo Credits: Azuma Makoto

Modern biology has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent decades — sometimes, it seems, more quickly than our culture can adapt. But the growing movement of "bio art" is one way in which to examine these changes.  

In the new book Bio Art: Altered Realities, William Myers collects the work of artists grappling with the implications of genetic engineering, environmental destruction, and the latest digital technologies. 

Here, we present a selection of those images, starting with this one, by Azuma Makoto. Makoto is a self-described "flower artist," bringing ancient traditions of Japanese ikebana and bonsai into modern contexts. This piece, titled Shiki 1, presents a juniper tree suspended in the center of a metal cube. 

Photo Credits: Špela Petrič

In her series PSX Consultancy, artist Špela Petrič proposes designs for plant sex toys and a service of sex therapy for silent, flowering species. It's an absurdist indictment of how we think "for" other species and presume to know what they "want."

But not everyone is in on the joke — at a 2014 conference, Petrič and her collaborators were asked many times, in earnest, whether their concept could be applied to save endangered species.

Photo Credits: Henrik Spohler

The photos in Henrik Spohler's The Third Day collection link the technological and the organic, taking viewers inside massive agricultural operations in the U.S., Spain and the Netherlands.

The "third day" refers to the text of the Book of Genesis: "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind."

Photo Credits: Julian Voss-Andreae

Julian Voss-Andreae's sculpture Birth of an Idea envisions an ion channel.

It was commissioned by Roderick MacKinnon, who shared the Nobel prize in 2003 for his work describing the structural and mechanistic properties of such channels, which are tunnels that regulate the flow of ions across cellular membranes.

Photo Credits: Vincent Fournier

Artist Vincent Fournier's work is rooted in art history but aimed squarely at the future as anticipated by scientific and technological advances.

In his series Post Natural History, Fournier redesigns species to better suit them to the age of the Anthropocene. This brown-cheeked hornbill, for instance, sports an unbreakable beak.

Photo Credits: Yves Gellie

For the photo series Human Version, photographer Yves Gellie traveled worldwide to capture images of labs working on humanoid robots.

Here the ordinary mingles with the profound: bundles of cable, workstations in disarray, and mundane decor surround experiments in what might be the future of humanity.

Photo Credits: Kate MacDowell

This porcelain sculpture, titled First and Last Breath, presents a darkly absurdist commentary on environmental degradation. 

Artist Kate MacDowell frequently draws on mythological and cultural symbols to comment on humanity's romantic attraction to the natural world and the simultaneous harm we are inflicting upon it.

Photo Credits: Neri Oxman

This 3-D printed corset — or, alternately, flexible armor — is titled Arachne, after the mortal weaver who was transformed into a spider by Athena. It is part of artist Neri Oxman's collection of nature-inspired human augmentations titled Imaginary Beings: Mythologies of the Not Yet.

The 18 prototypes for the human body, inspired by The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges, meld cultural and natural influences.

All captions adapted from Bio Art: Altered Realities, by William Myers ©2015 William Myers Reprinted with permission of Thames & Hudson Inc., www.ThamesAndHudsonUSA.com

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