Biotech Art Garden: Is This How We’ll Grow Oregano on Mars?
It’s late on a Thursday evening, and we’ve just emerged, bleary-eyed, from an hour-long subway ride to the heart of Corona, Queens. The occasion: the New York Hall of Science’s first contemporary art exhibition, “ReGeneration”—a sprawling survey of ten artists loosely connected by their explorations of “cultural sustainability.” Many of the works on display blurred the lines between art and science, and most oriented towards “usefulness” more than formal aesthetics.
New media curator Steve Dietz, who organized the show, explained this theme, saying “I think the interest in bio-tech is as much about an interest in “big issues” around sustainability—food, climate change, the economic systems, social justice, agency—as it is about the undeniable desire to hack the increasingly powerful tools and means we have to adapt “nature.”
We're here to check out one particular installation—Biomodd 4, a project by Belgian artist Angelo Vermeulen that manages to combine sculpture, gaming culture, horticulture, and community building into a single, sprawling artwork of biotechnology. It’s a complex, sometimes confusing project, but what we're most interested in is how Vermeulen’s art points to how we could one day be able to grow sustainable ecosystems in outer space that thrive with the aid of computers. Which is great, because when we move to a Mars colony, there’s no way we're surviving without kale.
Overhead view of the “ReGeneration” exhibition.
After a brief stop at the cheese plate, we make our way over to where Vermeulen is surrounded by dozens of admirers. Over the last five years—and across six countries—Vermeulen has been collaborating with artists, scientists, and horticulturists on this Biomodd project, which explores how to combine computers, plant life, and people into increasingly complex and interactive systems. This particular iteration is his fourth, and many of his former collaborators have come to check it out, cooing over new additions and reminiscing about previous versions.
What Biomodd looks like from a distance.