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Biological artists challenge our notions of food production

Woman crouching over to look closer at a 'compostcubator' in a gallery with soft red lights
A ‘compostcubator’ as part of the 3SCD iteration at Chronus Art Center, Shanghai in 2019. Photo: ZHONG Han

Next month in Perth, WA, biological arts pioneers SymbioticA present ‘Sunlight, Soil & Shit (De)Cycle’ (3SDC) – a provoking arts meets science project about the three elements in our utopian future that farming is trying to live without. To be centred around a performative installation being held at PS Art Space in Fremantle/Walyalup from 5-26 February, audiences can witness a technological food cycle firsthand over the course of a 3-week experiment, which will see sunshine, soil and shit removed, in favour of artificial light, substrates, and fertilizers. As well as the 3SCD installation created by SymbioticA’s co-founders Ionat Zurr and Oron Catts in collaboration with artist and creative coder Steve Berrick, the project also includes a symposium; ticketed pop-up dining experience with culinary masters Fervor; and panel discussions to be webcast as part of The Seed Box’s The Community Garden – an environmental humanities festival to be held in Sweden. SymbioticA are no strangers to food technology. In 2000, the team were internationally recognised as the first to grow meat in a lab, and three years later, were also the first to consume in vitro meat. Their work has been exhibited all over the world in leading cultural institutions including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, National Art Museum of China, and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. This 3SCD project tackles the issues surrounding the fantasy of technological-based foods. “AgTech aims to automate and control food production, while non-standardised elements such as sunlight, soil and shit are removed in favour of artificial light, substrates and fertilisers,” says co-creator and SymbioticA artist director Oron Catts. “Bringing the farm to the lab and the lab to the farm, this project considers whether the means of production will grow ever distant from Nature. Will this metabolic rift be the precursor to open and sustainable food systems? “In 2003 at an art exhibition in France, we were the first to consume in vitro meat – a piece of meat that was grown in the lab rather than in the body of an animal, and we did it not as a way of trying to find a solution, but more about asking what it means to eat meat that has never been in the body. “New knowledge in biology is changing our relationship to the idea of life, and by using aesthetics to intervene, sense and gain data about the different processes involved in food manufacturing, we are allowing the public to consider their own relationship to food and technology,” Catts says. 3SCD was originally going to be presented by Derwent Valley Arts at the Willow Court Barracks, Australia’s first purpose-build mental asylum in Tasmania, but was re-located to Fremantle, WA due to border restrictions caused by COVID-19. Earlier versions of the project have been exhibited at Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, Perth City Farm commissioned by IAS Spaced and at the Science Gallery, London in 2019.

The project has been funded by the Department of Local Government Sport & Cultural Industries (WA), The Seed Box (Linköping University Sweden) and assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

3SCD promotional banner

SymbioticA's Events in February 2022

WHAT: Sunlight, Soil & Shit [Ionat Zurr, Oron Catts in collaboration with Steve Berrick]

OPENING: 5 Feb, 6:30pm to 8:30pm [catering provided + paid bar]

INSTALLATION HOURS: Sun 6 Feb then 7-26 Feb [10am to 4pm, Tue to Sat]

DESCRIPTION: A contestable food systems project about Agricultural Technology

WHERE: PSAS, 22-26 Pakenham Street, Fremantle/Walyalup WA

WHAT: The Contestable Food Systems Symposium

WHEN: 10 Feb, 10am to 5pm

DESCRIPTION: An interdisciplinary meeting on the future of food. Speakers include: Tarsh Bates, Ionat Zurr, Svenja Kratz, Oron Catts, Bede Mickan, Catie Gressier, Julia Powles, Kelli Mccluskey & Heather Bray.

WHERE: PSAS, 22-26 Pakenham Street, Fremantle/Walyalup WA

WHAT: SymbioticA’s Automated Cultures Digestion @ The Community Garden Festival, Sweden

WHEN: 10 Feb, 4pm AWST (UTC +8)

DESCRIPTION: What role do cultural representations of automated farming play in how we think about work and care practices? How do we conceive of and experience life and living systems over the course of the fourth industrial revolution?

WHAT: Fervor as part of The Contestable Food Systems Symposium

WHEN: 10 & 11 Feb, 7pm to 11pm

DESCRIPTION: Join Fervor alongside Perth-based sommelier and wine educator, Trent Everitt; for a five-course paired degustation, in a post-symposium celebration of Sunlight, Soil, and Shit, reflecting on the important relationships within our food system and how we can imagine things differently going forward to live more harmoniously with nature. Not for Her sake, but for ours. The dinner will be held in the unique setting of an art installation that explores these contestable food futures.

WHERE: PSAS, 22-26 Pakenham Street, Fremantle/Walyalup WA

COST: $195 per head. Tickets for 10 Feb | Tickets for 11 Feb

3SDC creators in lab coats in the SymbioticA lab at UWA
L to R: Steve Berrick, Ionat Zurr, Oron Catts. Photo by Daniel James Grant

About SymbioticA

SymbioticA, based at The University of Western Australia is the first research laboratory of its kind, enabling artists and researchers to engage in wet biology practices in a biological science department. It also hosts residents, workshops, exhibitions and symposia.

With an emphasis on experiential practice, SymbioticA encourages better understanding and articulation of cultural ideas around scientific knowledge and informed critique of the ethical and cultural issues of life manipulation.

SymbioticA offers new means of artistic inquiry, one in which artists actively use the tools and technologies of the life sciences, not just to comment about them, but also to explore their possibilities. Researchers pursue open ended curiosity-based explorations, whilst still complying with ethics and health and safety regulations. As a mark of international and local recognition of its activities, SymbioticA was awarded the inaugural Golden Nica for Hybrid Arts in the Prix Ars Electronica in 2007, and the WA Premier’s Award in 2008.

Based in one of the top research universities in Australia since 2000, SymbioticA has developed best practice systems for dealing with ethics approvals and health and safety compliance together with, innovative ways of displaying biological, environmental and socially sensitive artworks. In addition, repeatedly supporting complex collaborative work has enabled SymbioticA to develop clear framework for negotiating terms of intellectual property in fields where there may be little or no reference.



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