Surrogate Performer and the Cellular Performativity of Bricolage

Following our previous blog post that defined the term “in-vitro intelligence” In this blog post, we would like to discuss another related term – “surrogate performer” using our recent project Bricolage as an example. While cellF is an In-vitro-intelligent processor (or a ‘bioengineered brain’), Bricolage manifests the physical movement of disembodied bio-engineered entities.

Bricolage is a work that manipulates the ‘building blocks of life’ to create artistic, autonomous, biological automatons that have the ability to move and self-assemble in the gallery space. These biological automata, or living kinetic sculptures, are derived from three main materials: blood, heart and silk. Donated blood cells are transformed into human cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) using cutting edge stem cell technology to produce motile structures that move, live and inhabit the public space where they are installed. The nature and relationship of the materials used, blood, heart and silk are the driving force behind the project. The biological sorcery, or alchemy that enables the conversion of a drop of blood into a living animated entity is something, we think, needs to be explored from a cultural perspective.

Bricolage’s automatons are grown to a scale that does not require technological mediation such as cameras, screens or microscopes to experience their vitality. Gallery attendees observe the animated biological entities’ performance in the exhibition space free from obfuscatory elements so as to elicit closer connection with the biological automata.

Bricolages automatons have a strong physical presence in the gallery as visitors can easily see them with their naked eye through three overhead viewing ports. The intent with Bricolage is to minimize technological mediation so that attendees can experience the vitality of the material first hand and hopefully provoke discussion around what they are experiencing. Its outer body, made of clay, is a high spec’ incubator that controls the  CO2 and humidity levels as well as keeping the internal temperature at exactly 36.5*C in order to keep the human heart cells beating throughout the duration of the exhibit. Interaction with the artwork has been carefully designed to offer an intuitive transaction where strangers are able to gather, observe and ponder what this work means to them and indeed the future possibilities of this bio-technology. Material choice situates the work within ancient traditions while novel uses of cutting edge bio-engineering processes posit scenarios of what is now possible and what indeed could come in the years ahead.

Bricolage is an artefact sent back to us from our potential future.

Bricolage is a disembodied biological performer. It is both the creator and the creation of an ongoing realtime cellular performance.

Surrogate Performer

We envision a future ‘post-corporeal’ connection between body, instrument, space and time where creative production tools cease to be divorced from the biological body, instead artist and artwork are one in the same. The complexities and nuances that these ‘prepared’ living entities can embody will give rise to a new kind of performative entity, an entity physically removed from the human but linked through lab-based processes in which biopsied material grown outside of the donor’s body (in vitro) control a creative, hybridised entity or specifically, a Surrogate Performer.

We consider both cellF and Bricolage to be surrogate performers. In cellF the donor is Guy Ben-Ary and cellF performs with human musicians in special one-off shows. The human-made music is fed to the neurons as stimulation and the neurons respond by controlling the analogue synthesizers, and together they perform live, reflexive post human sound pieces. In Bricolage, the donors are anonymous and the cellular performance of the cardio myocytes continues spontaneously throughout the duration of the exhibition.

Surrogate Performers give rise to the possibility where in vitro entities may manifest some inherited artistic traits from the donor’s biological material while also being able to produce, analyse and generate artwork in response to sensory stimuli in real time.

This ANAT IDEATE grant will assist us in furthering our explorations beyond bio-processing (cellF) and bio-actuation (Bricolage) into this area encompassing input mechanisms detecting, measuring and tempering the changes in our world. These devices, rather bio-sensors, will potentially ‘close the loop’ and usher in extended artistic agents of all kinds.

We envision Surrogate Performers displaying artistic expressivity of their own and to be able to interact with other artists via a cultured interface including neurons, retinal organoids and cochlenoids (inner-ear haircell organoids). The possibilities are potentially as diverse as the donors themselves, with the human artist being able to create an external surrogate to engage in creative activities with their own or biological material from any other living being.

It is our understanding that the biophysical and electrochemical pathways in self-organizing, carbon-based, biological organisms such as our Surrogate Performers will allow fast information flows that synchronise much faster at a macro-level than could occur in similar-scale structures made from silicon or metal. The complexity and speed of information transfer at both the micro- and macro-levels will facilitate the surrogate performers’ capacity to perform hyper-nuanced operations in real time in response to audible and visual stimuli.

The future may see artists offering their cell-lines or their completed surrogate performers to enter into creative contexts without the need for the donor to be present. We predict this new integration of creative output into our daily lives. Entities that extend the possibilities beyond the limitations of the human body reinforce the biological importance of creative endeavours and force us to question what it means to be human in the twenty-first century.

The following video is a 5 minute video documentation of Bricolage


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