“What if we could extract nutritional value from non-human foods using a combination of synthetic biology and new digestive devices inspired by digestive systems of other mammals, birds, fish and insects?”– Dunne & Raby
Assuming that the UN’s estimate of world population topping 9 billion by 2050 is accurate, the largest problem to be addressed is food production. Rather than rethink agricultural production, designers Dunne & Raby speculate on ways that the human body could be modified to extract nutritional value from its existing surroundings. Their proposition includes the “use [of] synthetic biology to create “microbial stomach bacteria”, along with electronic and mechanical devices, to maximise the nutritional value of the urban environment, making-up for any shortcomings in the commercially available but increasingly limited diet.”
In a fascinating interview on the OK Do site, Dunne & Raby explain:
One of our ongoing projects looks at the future of food. The idea is that, as the planet becomes over-populated and food becomes an issue, rather than relying on governments and big industries to solve it, small groups of people – “foragers” – would get together. These teams would include hackers, guerilla gardeners, amateur horticulturalists and synthetic biologists, and they would develop devices to externalise their digestive system in order to be able to digest leaves, grass and other things that are undigestible at the moment. Alternatively, leaves and grass could be modified so that they would suit our systems.
We’re living in Pittsburgh, PA, where I’ve begun my Warhol Curatorial Fellowship at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University. The good folks at the STUDIO have set me up with a desk, a stipend, and a new iMac.
My 17 minute ‘on foot’ commute from Wilkins Avenue is heavenly. We’re renting a wonderful three-story (plus finished basement) furnished home from two computer scientists who are living abroad. As such, we’ve got an elevator, full gym, water bed, dart board, outdoor grill, and a jacuzzi that’s sadly off limits (but perhaps could perform as an ‘encounter zone’). Just kidding, landlords. :)
My fellowship here is an outgrowth of the exhibition, 29 Chains to The Moon, that I curated for Miller Gallery in 2009. The exhibit title is a reference to Buckminster Fuller’s first book, 9 Chains to the Moon, – the title itself a metaphor for cooperation toward solving socio-economic woes. The exhibit considers how artists can contribute to rethinking the production of food, shelter, transportation and energy for a rapidly increasing global population. During my fellowship, I’ll develop a traveling version of the exhibit, and oversee a book sprint (more details on that later). The notion that overpopulation can be addressed before imminent catastrophe is gleamingly optimistic, and nods toward Fuller, and his radical ideas for improving the quality of life for all humankind via progressive design and maximization of the world’s finite resources. I’m also interested in understanding that same sort of humanistic, utopian aesthetic brandished by 20th Century World Fairs, the NASA Space Art Program, and poetic gestures like the Voyager Golden Record.
The first part of my fellowship will be a getting-to-know-you series of meetings with interesting people doing interdisciplinary projects on campus at Carnegie Mellon. I just met former STUDIO fellow, Axel Straschnoy, whose project here involved working with The Robotics Institute to create The New Artist or “art done by robots for robots.” It was fascinating to hear how Axel’s abstract concept (a robot creating art for another robot) was embraced by The Robotics Institute and approached as an empirical problem that could be solved using scientific inquiry. Axel is going to introduce me to the resulting robots this week.
As for Carlos, he’s been working at The Waffle Shop (an artist-run restaurant and TV show) and bringing home delicious wraps from their adjacent Kubideh Kitchen. He’ll be hosting a bi-monthly, yet-to-be-named TV show about music. Certainly, shades of his former KPFT Pacifica radio show, Moontower Radio, will be present.