Art and Design Track
iGEM is a unique competition for students interested in designing and engineering with biology. Over the past ten years, thousands of students from dozens of countries have imagined a future where biology is the ultimate design medium built from open-source, standardized parts. The growth and success of iGEM has centered on the power of this vision of biological design.
iGEM calls for diverse teams of students and advisors to bring together knowledge from the sciences, engineering, and the humanities. The most successful teams work hard to consider their projects in a social context. They explore the ethical, legal, social, ecological, and safety implications of their work.
Since 2009, a number of teams have begun working closely with artists and designers to bring artistic inquiry and experimental and critical design to their projects. Artists and designers bring a unique sensibility to these lines of inquiry. They are well suited to identify and provocatively communicate the broad societal issues surrounding emerging biotechnology.
Art and design teams made up of different permutations of students from different disciplines have contributed greatly to iGEM. They have added significantly to the Registry with new BioBricks. They have innovated in Human Practices by imagining the future implications of synthetic biology. They have also found novel ways to communicate synthetic biology and its potential to the public.
Teams made solely of art and design students have made great strides at iGEM. ArtScienceBangalore 2011 won iGEM Best Human Practices Advance. They also won Honorary Mention at the International Prix Ars Electronica 2012, an important accolade in the art world. Two years earlier, ArtScienceBangalore 2009 created a BioBrick that produced the ‘smell of rain’ and won Best Presentation at iGEM.
On the other end of the spectrum, teams made solely of science and engineering students have made contributions to art and design practice, such as Harvard iGEM 2010 ‘iGarden’ and Cornell 2012. Meanwhile, teams made up of a combination of students from both the arts and sciences have had huge impacts on iGEM. University of Cambridge 2009, for example, won the Grand Prize, and Imperial College 2011 was the First Runner Up.
As chairs of the Art and Design Track, we continue to see art and design make significant contributions to iGEM and synthetic biology. These modes of creativity tap into our greatest hopes and fears for the technology. They also tap our greatest misconceptions. As the technology develops, art and design’s contribution will only get larger. Artists and designers will help us identify desirable applications for the science while warding us away from those less so.
There are many worthwhile books about the intersection of art and design and biology. These can serve to inspire you as they have us.
Bio Design, William Myers (Thames & Hudson, 2013)
Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science Is Redefining Contemporary Art, Arthur I. Miller (W.W. Norton & Company, 2014)
The Molecular Gaze: Art in the Age of Genetics, Suzanne Anker (Cold Spring Laboratory Press, 2003)
Next Nature: Nature Changes Along with Us, Koert van Mensvoort (Actar, 2012)
Signs of Life: Bioart and Beyond, Eduardo Kac (MIT Press, 2007)
Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby (The MIT Press, 2013)
Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating synthetic biology’s designs on nature, Ginsberg, Calvery, Elfick, Schyfter, Endy and contributors (MIT Press, 2014)
Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience, Beatriz da Costa and Kavita Philip (The MIT Press, 2010)
Some recent museum exhibitions have curated many great examples of art and design projects related to synthetic biology. The exhibition website includes a great deal of background on the role of art and design in biotechnology and includes videos of many of the artists discussing their work.
- Bio Design, New Institute Rotterdam (September - December 2013)
- Alive/En Vie, EDF Foundation Paris (April - September 2013)
- Grow Your Own, Science Gallery Dublin (October 2013 - Jan 2014)
- The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, Istanbul Design Biennial (November - December 2014)
Zero Park, Sascha Pohflepp, German, 2013
Besides the projects listed above, many projects have brought together a range of artistic elements and design methods and many teams of engineers have collaborated with artists and designers on different aspects of their projects. This is of course far from a complete list, there are many many more great iGEM design projects than we could possibly list here!
- "E. coli pen," Kyoto Institute of Technology 2010
- "Parasight," Imperial College 2010
- "Virtual BioArt Gallery," Hokkaido University 2011
- "Aseatobacter," NYU Gallatin 2012
- "Plastic Republic," University College London 2012
- "Organofoam," Cornell University 2013
- "Engineering the epigenome," UPenn 2013
- "Fight Tuberculosis With Modern Weapons," Paris Bettencourt 2013
- "The Smell of Us," Paris Bettencourt 2014
- "Aqualose," Imperial College, London 2014
Aqualose, Imperial College, London, 2014
In principle, we are looking for:
- Thoughtful, critical investigation using art and design to open up our thinking.
- Collaboration between artists, designers, engineers, scientists, and social scientists.
- Projects that use art and design to consider and explore current and future implications of synthetic biology (including stakeholders, communication, pedagogy, thinking outwards), not designing fake applications that fail to add value to our understanding.
- Projects that innovate around issues of applications, social, cultural, ethical, political, economic, ecological, and technological implications and applications of synthetic biology, especially related to the scientific aspects of the project, not just visualizing or aestheticizing biological material.
- Projects that actively engage with the public, communities, and stakeholders to open debate and discussion.
- Projects that ask, who will be using synthetic biology, and to whose benefit or detriment? What new laws might be needed? How might the technology change the way we live?
- Team Composition: While iGEM is primarily a student competition, we acknowledge that there may be artists and designers who are interested in participating and who do not have a university affiliation. We strongly recommend that artists interested in participating with a team or forming their own iGEM team find team members and advisors from local universities or community labs. This is an experimental track, so please contact us at artdesign AT igem.org with any questions or concerns about participation and team requirements.
- Project Presentation: Each team must give a twenty minute presentation discussing their project at the Jamboree, including description of goals, process, and outcomes. In addition, teams must present a poster during the Jamboree poster sessions. Please feel free to bring any additional materials that support the presentation of your projects. Special presentation requirements (e.g. video screening, installations) can be arranged on a case-by-case basis (deadline for special requests: October 1, 2014). Please contact artdesign AT igem.org with questions.
- BioBrick Parts:Teams participating in the Art and Design tracks are strongly encouraged to work with the materials of synthetic biology, including BioBrick parts, although it is not a strict requirement. To receive a distribution copy of the parts registry, teams must request one from artdesign AT igem.org and have an affiliated university or community laboratory and follow all safety regulations. Teams that wish to use and submit a new part must adhere to safety and iGEM submission guidelines.