credit: Ars Electronica / Robert Bauernhansl

Ars Electronica 2019

By Magdalena Obmalko

Ars Electronica celebrates its 40th anniversary with the opening of its 2019 edition of the Ars Electronica Festival this week. Straddling the Danube River in upper Linz, Austria, the centre is a cultural focal point for artistic practice that interrogates the intersections of technology and society. The theme this year, “Out of the Box – the Midlife Crisis of the Digital Revolution”, embarks on an expedition to artistically and scientifically survey our modern world and its techno-economic influences, its future prospects and our options for action.

Faber Futures was invited to exhibit research in progress for a new studio project we are developing titled Mutupo, (2019-ongoing) at the Ars Electronica Festival. This body of work explores the field of metagenomics and the material and spatial dependencies between living and non-living forces at multiple scales: from hyperobjects to the local manifestation they produce. In our research for Mutupo, we have explored an open-source dataset generated from a metagenomic study at Stanford titled “Seasonal Cycling in the Gut Microbiome of the Hadza Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania”. In this study, 350 gut microbiome profiles were generated from 188 individuals from the Hadzabe: a nomadic indigenous community of foragers living in the Lake Eyasi region of Tanzania, East Africa. Of the 188 individuals sampled, eight have three gut microbiome profiles recorded throughout the years’ seasons. This data demonstrates the cyclical nature of microbiome populations that are in sync with the seasonal availability of protein or carbohydrate macronutrients. Intriguingly for us, it also reveals organisms found in the microbiomes of these individuals that are yet to be characterised, and thus remain elusive. They appear in the magnified format of a genetic read-out that sequencing DNA provides, yet remain unknown, and unnamed by us. Rendering these “elusive” organisms with parametric morphologies, through this work, we join a lineage of storytellers who totemisme ever-present yet unknowable but omnipresent life-forces, thus making kin with all that connects us.

At Ars Electronica, we presented the first material artefact to emerge from our research, a single woven textile artefact that visualises data pertaining to the gut microbiome profile from sample Nº SRR5761144. From this open-source genetic sequence database, we have translated the proportions of specific organisms that make up the gut microbiome of this individual, into a design logic that through binary code can be woven into a textile. We continue our investigations into this nascent field of science set to have profound ramifications for our understanding of the relations between human and non-human life, and the spaces we envelop together.

Special thanks to Ayse Simsek Woven Textile Designer for collaborating with us to generate our material prototypes for Ars Electronica.

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