Public Lecture in the Environmental Humanities, University of New South Wales
In this presentation I reflect on a project called ‘Synthetic Aesthetics’, which brought together synthetic biologists and artists and designers in paired reciprocal exchanges. I started my research assuming that I was going to observe and document these exchanges, but I was quickly struck by the similarities between my objectives and those of the artists and designers. In different ways, we seemed to be trying to do very similar things. We shared interests in forging new collaborations with synthetic biologists, exploring implicit assumptions and possible alternatives, and critically interrogating the science. But there were clearly also differences between us, the most important being that the artists and designers made tangible artefacts, which had an immediacy and an ability to travel, and that seemed to allow different types of discussions from those produced by our academic texts. The artists and designers also appeared to have the freedom to be more playful, challenging and perhaps more subversive in their interactions with synthetic biology. In this presentation I ask what STS researchers can learn from art and design, and whether engaging more closely with artists and designers can enrich social scientific work, and expand its critical capacity by providing alternative entry points into discussions of the future of an engineered biology.
Jane Calvert, Science Technology and Innovation Studies, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh