A New Kind of Natural

"Digimacules" are digital, coded life forms that inhabit hardware bodies. Pixelated hermit crabs, if you wish.

An artist imagines life forms that will arise from the convergence of technology and biology.

If evolution is an exercise in recombining and reconfiguring existing material, does everything have the capacity to become a building block for life? Perhaps all matter, even that perceived as “synthetic,” “expired,” “dead,” or “disposed,” can be lively, expressive, and at some stage awakened.

This is what I emphasize in a series of sculptures called Fieldnotes from a Technobiocology. What kinds of beings might emerge from the debris of DNA editing experiments? At the meeting point of nourishing earth and electrical waste? Where digital code meets biologic hardware? 

One of the Biopunks, made from 3D-printed plaster.

For example, my Biopunks are hybrid creatures that blend DNA from different species, potentially a combination of “natural” and “artificial” or gene-edited life forms. They display both recognizable features and alien traits. Were they designed this way in a lab? Or have wild and gene-edited organisms procreated? Are they wondrous expressions of human creativity or mutant monstrosities? 

A Skinterface experiment.
Skinterface experiments.

Skinterfaces are made of bioplastic on mesh. Here skin is a site of new kinds of activity. Biology and technology interface at the surface and materials metabolize; things grow, colors shape-shift. These transformations represent the exchanges that occur in the making, survival, and evolution of life. The work also questions to what extent living organisms are contained by their bodies and how extensively they are coupled with their surrounding medium.

In this new kind of “natural,” I imagine phenomena such as bacteria ingesting and generating electricity from human pollution; photosynthesizing membranes sequestering carbon from the atmosphere; and new organisms using plastic as structural material.

It all gestures toward a post-Anthropocene planet, with independent and self-generating systems free from human intervention. This presents a positive future trajectory in which the convergence of technology and biology results not in an abomination but an allegiance that helps to remediate and restore the planet.

Atmos by Becky Lyon
Might there be new types of organisms with photosynthetic capabilities someday, as a means of sequestering the excess carbon dioxide? Atmosynthetica imagines one such organism, partly resembling a floral bud, or perhaps a chrysalis, or perhaps even an independent organ.
If we could sense the future appearance of our planet, would we change our current behavior? Transcendent Sensation evokes a future astronaut’s view of Earth. (Photo by John Hooper)

Left: To produce these works, I layer and compound materials and processes, creating “evolved” artefacts. For example, a sculpture is painted, then photographed, then printed on plastic, then vacuum formed, and then projected. Shared material, form, and color across these objects suggests relations or cooperation. Right: One of the works I developed while experimenting with the process that would ultimately produce the Digimacule technobioform.
“Abiogenesis” is what I call the process where the inanimate becomes animate. The Abiogenesites are creatures that have emerged from inanimate material in their environment, in this case pollutants like e-waste and colored plastic.
Another of the experimental Digimacule technobioforms. Does this coded creature need a physical scaffold in order to “exist”? Is it a legitimate life form or just an imitation of one?

Excerpted from the book Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species.

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