GRIT-X 2019: Lisa Moren

GRIT-X 2019: Lisa Moren


– How can we make experiences that humans and non-humans can share? Why are there so many examples in nature of material that’s strong, and more light weight than what’s possible in contemporary products? Architect historian Lars Spuybroek says that the reason is something
called organic differentiation. And like the shell of a turtle each cell is consistent
but slightly different. And that difference makes it stronger than a perfectly symmetrical design. He says medieval architecture applied organic differentiation for more strength with
less matter all the time until the Gothics came along and decided it was mathematically naive and straightened everything. Of course eventually
with the advent of steel in the 20th century manufacturing all designers and architects
were taught to build with form and function in mind. They were taught
eliminating the inessential and creating harmonious patterns based on the grid parallel lines and right angles is where
success was measured by how elegance and efficiency of these principles were implemented. So each year architects in Stuttgart, put organic differentiation principles into practice by scanning, for example, the exoskeleton of a beetle to create a full scale pavilion. The real game charger here are algorithms used to digitally fabricate
a new type of architecture that is stronger and lighter than those made of grids and steel and that are closer building
the way nature builds than any 20th century design could do. In fact, the first
pavilion was so successful it blew away and they had
to address anchoring it. And below that, just FYI, is the largest digitally
fabricated pavilion using this method, the Metropol
Parasol in Sevilla, Spain. You can see how it completely
changes the landscape and how people interact
throughout its public space. And they did by observing organisms using organic differentiation
and algorithms. So how could I make an experience that humans and non-humans could share? In this earlier cross-species artwork literally for the birds I used an algorithm based on a microorganism, onto a material that is seen as clear to humans, but a deeper
than deep purple to birds. A color that’s below the UV spectrum that humans can’t see. And below on the lower left is me in front of my office window
with that same pattern and I was working on a long-term community project at the time. So I stared at it everyday and observing that in addition
to defying architecture organic differentiation
defies the Cartesian map we often put on members of our community. And so just like architecture we tend to create an even box of expectation on our citizens which can be punishingly disappointing if everyone doesn’t fit
neatly into each cell. And we measure their success
against a singular expectation. But with this pattern, each shape is unique and fits necessarily into the whole. Some forms are small, some are complex and some are dominating but they’re efficient in their layout and use of material. And I thought why can’t
communities work like this? Why can’t we appreciate and reward more types of people,
skills, intellects, languages sexualities, ethnic
knowledges and abilities and not as something to tolerate but as something as vital and necessary for a whole social structure to work. And eventually I learned
there was a name for this idea and it’s called emergent strategies which looks at bees and flocking behavior. (mumbles) Whoops. Rats. They look at bees and flocking behavior. (clicking noise with mouth) Thank you. (laughter) Sorry. Okay. So if we looks at
murmurations such as starlings they have leaders that morph
the pack in new directions. But maybe they also have
anarchists, entrepreneurs, artists and maybe even scientists or any outliers with
new important theories that morph a group. So with this in mind, I was invited to be an artist and resident at IMET a marine biology lab in the Inner Harbor to actually bypass the algorithms and look at directly at
organic differentiation and biophenomenas that
can hopefully re-center our human experience to view
that of another species. So there I learned that
these critters here dinoflagellates, along with diatoms are the primary food source
for all of the ocean. And just as significant as food they’re the primary producers
of the ocean’s oxygen through photosynthesis. In fact, they produce
half the world’s oxygen blowing away the Amazon and they survive for hundreds
of millions of years. And they’re also the carbon
foundation for fossil fuels including the marble papers I made from the dinoflagellate
tarbals in the Gulf of Mexico. So that’s self-sufficiency
and flexibility. So, flexible. Flexible enough for possibly 25,000 variations of these organisms. One reason for their success is that they have multiple
reproduction strategies. In fact, there’s this
ancient theory of symbiosis where one unicell critter swallows another and takes on its charateristics to produce the eukaryotes. So imagine in our world of biomedical ways of altering our bodies but to actually get longer eye lashes you swallow the eye ball of a giraffe and poof!
(audience laughing) You and all your offspring
now have long eyelashes. So they have other flexible
reproduction ability such as cell division when their offspring have one flagellum or offspring
created through mating have two flagella propelling
them through the water. And even though they’re unicell some have straws that function
like smoothie machines harpoons, baskets to carry food. And secondly, what’s
amazing about them to me is that they’re so Victorian
in what they look like and in their pattern. They blow the lid off of the
efficiency of 20th century design principles of form and function. But instead use organic differentiation. You can see the armor patterns
that look like turtle shells and inside are these Varone patterns Their mucousy matter
makes them more strong and combined with more flexibility makes them the Metropol
Parasol of energy source for all of life on earth after the sun. So what’s exciting to me is this proves form and function principles governing most of our cultural world and developed over centuries was wrong. But how can these critters be models for how humans can live? What can they teach us
about tolerance, flexibility sexual diversity,
self-sustainability, et cetera. Maybe even collaboration. And if not the coordinated
grace of flocking strength in numbers such
as the blooms they create when the ecology is out of balance. And the havoc it causes which is similar to humans when we too create protests when
justice is out of balance. Dr. Setso Bacvaroff and
I decided to exploit the photosynthetic dinoflagellate capable of producing their own electricity and light
through bioluminescence. We created a cross-species artwork called What is the shape of water? We began agitating the water via speakers so that when the audience
asked the dinoflagellates “What is the shape of water?” The critters will tell you by responding with shapes of light. Below that video is our
project for Light City opening up in a couple of weeks. Setso sequenced the DNA
of light producing enzyme necessary for bioluminescence. And I ran it through
algorithm and motor system that creates both music and simultaneously a ripple in the water. Therefore, at the festival,
the public will see tens of thousand of
dinoflagellates bioluminescing according to their own DNA. But in order to make this
cross-species artwork all the way to emerging strategies and I’m coming to closure now we needed to work with
the National Aquarium and the Maryland Department
of Natural Resources who have sensors submerged
throughout the Inner Harbor where we can transfer
live data of pH, oxygen turbulence, temperature, et cetera into our own augmented reality app that you can download to your phones. Our goal is to build a data narrative where the bay water reveals itself and tells its own story. Imagine a unicell organism
on a screen on your phone enlarging or contracting with
the depletion and expansion of oxygen live in the bay. Now imagine music with a
narrator telling stories about local biophenomena. But not in a linear fashion. The stories and the order of the stories will be driven like a digital game. And according to the live bay
data streaming into the app. So stories describing
algae blooms and protests will fluctuate the visual sounds depending on what’s going on in the bay on any given day. Therefore, from health,
pollution, and the seasons the bay will tell its own evolving story. And I’m happy to announce
that on this Wednesday we received our first Robert W. Deutsch Foundation Rubys Award to move forward with this project called “Eyes Under the Bay” Thank you very much.
(applause)

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