Session 8: Fleming, Markov Chains, Lore and 3D Printing

We started by going through Dianne’s homework:

  1. Keep thinking on question for dissertation
  2. What is the installation? Bioinformatics of the Biome?
  3. Speak to the Wellcome trust collection what do they have on the biome? What apparatus? Even just the glassware collection.
  4. Contact the Science Museum – about their work on the Biome.
  5. Meet with William Latham and Frederic Laymarie at Goldsmiths.
  6. Make contact with the Bioinformatics team at Imperial.

During the break, I’d sent Dianne the following image, taken from Rod Judkin‘s book, “The Art of Creative Thinking“:

Specifically, that Alexander Fleming‘s discovery of penicillin was the result of his desire to make paintings with bacteria.

I suggested that the the idea of scientific discovery enabled by artistic desire would be an interesting one for her dissertation. She said that she’d already been looking at the career of Joe Davis and I suggested she look at both Robert Rauchenberg‘s founding of Experiments in Art and Technology, as well as Robert Irwin‘s work with LACMA’s Art and Technology group. I also suggested she speak to the other Computational Art’s MFA tutor, Helen Pritchard, to see if she had more reference and thoughts around this area.

We then started discussing how the human biome is data related – how to “disembody” data, pun intended! Dianne referenced Donna Haraway’s work – specifically her idea of “making kin with the aliens inside”. We talked about how life has been understood through science, and how our understanding of life is seen through a scientific viewpoint, specifically referencing the Human Microbiome project. Dianne is interested in the computing around the project,
even the language used between bioscience and computing, the relation between life and computation and looking at it all from a materialist standpoint. The idea of a human being an assemblage of fractured stuff.

Dianne went on to reference Samantha Frost and her book Biocultural Creatures and the relation between matter and energy. Jayson suggested looking at the book Decoding Reality by Vlatko Vedral. I was particularly interested in the idea of Destruction ab Toto or Nothing from Something:

The information basis for creation ex nihilo. According to John von Neumann, starting trivially from an empty set of numbers an infinite sequence of numbers can bootstrap their way out. An empty set creates the number 1 by observing an empty set within itself which is enough of a basis for distinguishability. It creates the number 2 by observing an empty set within the second empty set and the number 1, and so on. Vedral sees this not as creation but as data compression, as every event of a reality breaks the symmetry of the pre-existing formlessness. Science is the process of describing a large amount of observed phenomena in a compressed programmatic way to predict future outcomes, and in this process of data compression science creates new information by eliminating all contrary possibilities to explain those phenomena.

Dianne had also been looking at DNA as a way of storing data, I said that it was important to situate her work within the body and with scientists.

Dianne stated that she wanted her installation to be about applying scientific methods to make art. For example, the Shotgun sequencing technique for DNA. I related this to cut up technique – but she stated that she’d been researching Markov Chains, which are widely used in many applications.

I suggested to focus on one method and concentrate on that, and where it could be applied. Dianne stated that she didn’t want to make a feitished set of scientific apparatus, more something relating to a data centric approach to bioinformatics and the digital/organic mix of that. I repeated that it was still important to relate this all to the body.

This meant that her previous research on glassware was no longer relevant, but she did reference the human genome books at the Wellcome Collection.

She hadn’t found anything more on the biome at the Science Museum, or had any further contact with William Latham.

Dianne attended a workshop with the artist Anna Dumitriu at Imperial and met a few scientists there. They were working on the medicine side of things, though she did make contact with a postdoc at Glasgow university who is interested in dialogue.

I set the following homework:

  1. Continue to work on dissertation with Helen Pritchard
  2. Research Markov Chain’s specifically for use within her exhibition
  3. Send me her proposal for her dissertation and the bibliography for it

We then moved on to Jayson’s homework from the previous session:

  1. Make a crystal radio.
  2. Research Germanium.
  3. Consider your new mythology – around undersea wrecks? Flooded dumps? Mining in the future?
  4. 3D print a support structure to grow crystals on.
  5. Meet a crystal healer / do an esoteric walking tour
  6. Think again about the analogue/digital mix of your installation. Situate your practise in your own life history and memories.

Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to get his crystal radio kit working, I suggested an alternative kit from Amazon.

It turned out that Germanium has many different uses. He couldn’t grow it in the way that he had for other chemicals, it is formed geologically and also used in dubious “Health Bracelets“. Quackery!

In the break he went on an esoteric walking tour of Covent Garden. Watkins was super new agey, but the Atlantis bookshop was much better. He visited the basement exhibition of tools, silver bullets and even a mermaid skeleton! The shopkeeper was dismissive of crystal healing, but suggested looking at astro archeology. He found two books of interest:

  1. A Little History of Astro-Archaeology
  2. The Curious Lore of Precious Stones

We went on to talk about his new mythology. Jayson has been spending alot of his time writing and is almost at a first draft of his dissertation. He’s using the approach of “Insect Media” by Jussi Parikka as a basis for his writing around the development of development of computers in relation to crystals.

His mythology is based around the idea that crystals are spreading everywhere (inspired by the “The Crystal World” by JG Ballard). I suggested the idea of future AI’s using people as structures for growing crystals or the idea of data creation as crystal growth. Jayson also referenced the classic nanomachine trope of Grey Goo.

Jayson found a page relating to gemstone myth and folklore. He’s trying to find someone with a research background in the area. He’s very interested in crystal gazing, Mayan crystalmancy, magic in Europe and also found this dissertation on “Cunning Folk and Wizards“.

Next Jayson showed his experiments with 3D printing support structures to grow crystals on:

This took about a day to grow. He’s going to experiment with adding lighting, LED’s and lasers to the structures. I suggested growing a 3D disco ball! Interestingly, they can be dissolved and regrown at will.

Next we talked about the analogue/digital mix of the final installation – he’s very excited about the use of the 3D printed lattice but needs to work on the mythology more. Are these made by future AI’s? Do they emerge from electronic dumps? I also suggested having a live tank so people could see the crystals growing.

I set the following homework:

  1. Experiment with lasers, LEDs and other electronics in the crystal growth structures.
  2. Read the Curious Lore Of Precious Stones.
  3. Think more about the overall look of the exhibition.
  4. Send me his proposal for her dissertation and the bibliography for it

Unfortunately, Jules was unable to make it, but she updated me on her Javascript work, especially around matter.js and voice synthesis.