• Signs of the Times. Collecting Biological Traces and Memories (in progress)

    Masks (medical/textile) became symbols of these challenging times, confinement, uncertainty, and fear. Pictures of people wearing masks will be historical documents of this period. With time, they will take on different meanings. Masks are dedicated to protecting us from the virus, but if used for too long, they can also pose a health risk, accumulating everything coming from our nose and mouth while we breathe and talk. After a few hours of wearing, they are soaked with body secretions and individual microflora. Besides masks being worn, three are also masks lying in the streets. After usage, they become trash — biohazardous trash. They are then anonymous; we can’t know who was wearing them. Maybe it was a coronavirus carrier or a sick person with various illnesses. What is the story of the person behind the mask?
    This project is thought of as a long performative process. I do not want to be limited by deadlines, as is typical for contemporary art production. I prefer to produce slow art. I give myself two or even three years to complete the project. The activity is divided into a couple of stages.
    Stage I: Collecting anonymous biological traces (done)
    In Spring 2021, I decided to collect masks from the streets of Berlin to use them as laboratory samples in the future. It was a specific activity of dealing with masks understood as an abject and possible site of viral contamination. Collected masks have been placed in laboratory tubes.
    Stage II: Collecting individual biological traces and memories (in progress)
    I realized that anonymous masks were not enough for my pandemic archive at a certain point. I was curious about the people behind the face covers. I wanted to listen to individual stories and collect masks contaminated by personal biological material and memories from the Covid19 pandemic. To do that, I had to organize meetings in person. It was essential after such a long time of confinement. Every participant is asked to sit in front of the camera and share a memory from the pandemic. I do not ask many questions; leaving space and freedom for the stories is crucial. I give the person a fresh medical mask to contaminate it while talking and breathing. After the talk, I took the mask, placed it in the laboratory tube, and added it to the existing collection. All recordings will be transcribed.

    So far, the project’s hosts were:
    Liebig19, Berlin (August 2021)
    Łaźnia Gallery, Gdańsk (October 2021)
    TOP (Transdisciplinary Project Space), Berlin (November 2021)
    FishTankPamora, Malmo (January 2022)
    Art Laboratory Berlin (January-February 2022)
    ArtSciSalon Toronto (April 2022)
    Ethnographic Museum Zbąszyń, Poland (September 2022)
    FEMeeting, Evora, Portugal (September 2022)

    Appendix: Creating collective memory (partly completed)
    During the first wave of the pandemic, between March and June 2020, I participated in meetings under the working title Viral Culture Bio-art and Society. An academic curator at Pomona Colege Gallery, Claire Nettleton, initiated the series to assemble the international art& science community and exchange experiences and support each other in the face of global crisis. The meetings were also an occasion to discuss professional issues such as creativity during the pandemic, virtual exhibiting, online education, and the role of bio-art in the discourse around the pandemic. There is a collection of notes, chats, transcripts, and video recordings. I see them as a meaningful archive that will be valuable historical documentation for the future. I decided to work on them, do video transcription, and sort and collect references. My goal is to prepare a publication complemented by short interviews with people participating in the meetings. I would ask them mainly about the series's meanings for them individually. These recordings can be put together with those composed while collecting the mask.
    Stage III: Biological traces examination (to be done)
    I plan to investigate biological remains from the collected masks, both from the human body and the environment contaminating the sample. I am not interested in human genetic material but rather in non-human agents (such as skin microbiome). This stage is consulted by dr Jakub Piatkowski from the Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology in Warsaw.
    Stage IV: Performative exhibition (the initial script)
    The installation is thought to deal with the disappearance of memories and an effort to preserve them for longer. I would require several pairs of screens (their number depends on the room size). They should be located on each wall at some distance from each other. One screen, a graphic tablet, is dedicated to writing the fragments of these pandemic stories I collected during the project production. The other should display the Petri dish content from the collected mask samples. Every visible species will be identified. I would be in the gallery every day. A chair should be in front of each screen dedicated to writing. I would sit there and write down stories on the graphic tablet, and when the screen was filled, I would move to the next one to do the same. The tricky thing would be that the text would start disappearing from the moment I finished writing on a tablet, so I would get back to the screen to write a story again after some time. The disappearance of the text would be synchronized with the Petri dish picture disappearing on the second screen. This constant disappearance would keep me busy, but visitors could help me in this work. They could find printed versions of memories in the room I recorded and write them down on the random tablet where the previous writings disappeared. There is not only one story adjusted to a precise pair of screens. Everything is fluid and dynamic, a constant struggle to remember.
  • Staying in touch: sci-fi experiments for post-coronavirus art curating

    In April 2020, an experiment in ergodic participatory writing began as a short-term art research residency by the workgroup “Art Shows and Public Health” for the online event Braiding Friction under the EU project Biofriction. This workgroup's objective was to develop different scenarios for ensuring access to art spaces during pandemic times as an essential need for a society's cultural identity and its individuals. The research was based on historical data of previous pandemics, on technology and biocontainment protocols used in high-security labs, space, environmental and underwater research, and science fiction storytelling. The workgroup aimed to propose a variety of provisions to effect the required level of biosafety and security, further than physical distancing and decontamination methods. Among the various forms of documentation and outcomes resulting from this three-month experiment, supported by the Portuguese institution Cultivamos Cultura led by Marta de Menezes, were: the pseudo-documentary “Staying in Touch: post-coronavirus art curating,” edited by Pavel Tavares, and the short story of the same title co-created by Isabel Burr Raty, Dalila Honorato, Louise Mackenzie, Robertina Šebjanič and Karolina Żyniewicz.
    Link to video: https://vimeo.com/440971577
    "Staying in Touch" included cameo appearances by artists Marta de Menezes, Yann Marussich, and Adam Zaretsky
    Presentations:
    Biofriction: 23.07.2020: https://biofriction.org/
    Ars Electronica Festival: Kepler's Gardens: Acquired Immunity: September 2020
    Taboo, Transgression, Transcendence in Art&Science: 28.11.2020: https://avarts.ionio.gr/ttt/2020/en/presentations/172/
    FACTT 2021: 06.04.2021
    Con(fine)arts, Exposição: Belas-Artes ULisboa, 08.04-29.04.2021: https://www.facebook.com/events/288951109305001
    Artnodes: https://www.raco.cat/index.php/Artnodes?fbclid=IwAR1Kef7d5DMsMLuImwnLGT4ncxx_IFXWX8qKiinqdQ-Mx5XUulMEzI2RV08
    Biofriction exhibition, Ectopia - Experimental Art Laboratory, Lisbon, 17.06-01.08.2021: https://biofriction.org/biofriction/biofriction-exhibition/  
  • Ad Mortem Defaecatam – Unnecessary Life

    For several years, I have been operating in the space of professional biological laboratories, that is in a post-nature world full of inhuman actors (of human origin or not). The issue of relations with them is one of the main points of my artistic and research interest. The idea of the project Ad Mortem Defaecatam - Unnecessary Life came from an anecdote. My partner in the project, biotechnologist Dr Jakub Piątkowski mentioned one day that each laboratory has refrigerators full of unnecessary strains of bacteria or yeast that someone "created" but did not "use", and since rarely does anyone tidy up the refrigerators, these strains stay behind for years. When I asked what was going on with this unnecessary life, he said jokingly: they are left behind ad mortem defaecatam (which means in the simplest sense: until death). Apart from the fact that I immediately saw it as a future project title, I thought of these samples as junk life i.e. something that is not garbage, although it can become such, or can be of some use one day. It occurred to me to give all these liminal entities suspended in the laboratory vacuum a chance to live even for a moment, not to be used, but to live for life itself. After all, I could thaw them and grow them, at least for a while, documenting this life and collecting its physical evidence. Laboratory reality is a network of relationships between human and non-human actors. This thinking became the basis of the ANT (Actor Network Theory) put forward by Bruno Latour. In his opinion, the creation of knowledge and social reality is based on the coexistence and co-activity of various actors. An actant is an actor in action, causing the activity of other actors. Accepted abbreviation: ANT in English translation means ant, which is an exciting way relates to insect social systems. Other actors in the post-natural spectacle can replace insects. You just need to see them. Realizing this seems to be the first step towards abandoning the dominance of the human "me". As Donna Haraway suggests, "I" should be replaced by "we".
    The natural collection of the Upper Silesian Museum, mainly entomological, was the starting point for the project. Biological collections serve to preserve the memory of the existence of specific species. Why not do the same with laboratory organisms? Genetically modified, they constitute a new species of a kind. Museum display cases and petri dishes have quite similar aesthetics. Dishes with yeast and bacteria, grown but not used in experiments, are sometimes stored in the laboratory cooler for months, just like the natural collection in a museum. The difference is that the dishes are usually not viewed by anyone except the laboratory staff, so it is worth letting them be visible.

    Many thanks for help in the implementation of the project for: Jakub Piątkowski from the Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw, Urszula Mikoś and Waldemar Żyła from the Upper Silesian Museum in Bytom and the entire team of the CCA Kronika.
  • non – human culture producers – bioethnography

    (Mexico City, 2019)
    One of the best ingredients of Mexican culture is food/cuisine. Many traditional dishes are prepared and served on the street. Street is not just a place of eating it is place where life and death take place. It is not just life and death of human beings. It also involves many visible and invisible non-human actors. In terms of food we have to take into consideration many bacteria participating in the process of food production or being just present in places serving food. They are invisible, so we are not thinking about them at all during eating. Maybe they are responsible for the special taste? What would it be like if we made them visible? Would they appear as a kind of strangers? The framework of the project is to make non-human culture producers visible and known. We did cultivating of bacteria from samples taken beforehand from places of street consumption located in 10 districts of Mexico City: 1. Azcapotzalco, 2. Gustavo A. Madero, 3. Miguel Hidalgo, 4. Cuauhtémoc, 5. Venustiano Carranza, 6. Álvaro Obregón, 7. Benito Juárez, 8. Coyoacán, 9. Tlalpan, 10. Xochimilco. Having inspected bacteria on petri dishes we used them to produce one of polish typical food products - sour cucumbers (one jar for every district) giving bacteria a chance to produce Mexican and Polish culture at the same time.
    In collaboration with Tadeo Valencia

    Scientific support: Dr Maria Cristina Rodriguez Sánchez, Facultad De Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia, UNAM, Roman Alfonso Castillo Diaz, Laboratorio De Biologiá Molecular, UNAM
  • synthetic motherhood

    (2018)
    I am pretty sure I will never be a mother, but I am curious, as probably every woman is, how my offspring could look like. Cutting edge biotechnology has helped me to predict the potential look of my children. At that point, it was only possible to predict the potential eye and hair color.
    I had my DNA determining the features mentioned above sequenced, as did the sample of 10 males. In the next step, the result of my DNA sequencing was combined with the result of each of the men, using a simple method of Mendelian crosses. The outcomes were uploaded into an open access webtool: HIrisPlex-S Eye, Hair and Skin Colour DNA Phenotyping Webtool. The tool indicated the most probable phenotypes. However, it should be pointed out that in this system some nuances cannot be reflected adequately: dark blond does not differ from light brown; green eyes are categorized as a kind of blue eyes. The prediction is not 100% precise.
    Conducting the process of the offspring visualisation, I sometimes had to make the choice myself: between dark blond and light brown when it comes to hair colour and between different variants of eye color, including shades of blue, gray and green. I used pictures of children's faces from public domain images and photoshopped them, changing the eye shape to mine. I also changed some other facial features a bit to make them look more similar to me. It should be considered as an artistic invention. The additional visual elements are classic canvases with description including the combination of the DNA sequencing and samples of possible hair colors, which had been collected and donated by my hairdresser. This set of simple elements creates a sort of a story about my biology-based imagination and about impossible possibilities...

    DNA sequencing has been done in Małopolskie Centrum Biotechnologii
  • The Last Supper

    Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw
    March 2016 - July 2018
    Miracles might occur in various forms. Their perception depends on the point of view. Sometimes they seem quite ordinary; others seem supernatural and disturbing at the same time. A miracle, in its definition, has no rational explanation. And what escapes reason is difficult to grasp.
    Therefore, miracles can result from ignorance. Science rationalizes the world, explaining as much as it is possible. However, not everyone is a scientist. The vast majority of society uses merely extracts of knowledge to understand the world, which results in a distortion of information. Due to this superficial processing, it does not take a rocket scientist to surprise someone with a miracle.
    It is commonly assumed that a miracle is something positive, but is it sure? Why are people afraid of in vitro or GMO? There must be something wondrous about them.
    The Last Supper project juxtaposes the different meanings of a miracle.
    Yeasts genetically modified with the use of my gene served to produce beer and bread, which had been served during a symbolic supper (13.07.2018). The association with a well-known miracle is deliberate. It is a reference to one of the most common motifs in the history of art, the Biblical event in Christian tradition and The Last Supper mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci. However, in this case it is a miracle in a rather mundane sense.
    Will the food produced by the organisms that have acquired my gene have anything to do with me? Is GMO really an unacceptable miracle?

    The laboratory in which the project was carried out is specializing in evolutionary changes of mitochondrial DNA in yeast. It is headed by Prof. Paweł Golik (Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw).
    Chief Scientific Collaborator: Jakub Piątkowski, PhD.

    Due to the lack of official consent of the Chief Sanitary Inspector for the bring the GMO product outside the laboratory, the supper had to take place at the Institute.

    Places of presentation: Beyond borders. Processed body - expanded brain - distributed agency, CSW Łaźnia, Gdańsk (2019)  
  • safe suicide

    (still in process)
    In the safe suicide project, its assumptions were adjusted to the rules of the place in which it was conducted. Although the main idea was quite simple, a lot of questions have arisen (I had a few opportunities to witness it during a few presentations of my project which have already taken place). As a part of my art & science research, I grew my own cells by myself (with scientific support). The experiment was conducted at first with use of immortalized B lymphocytes, later with fibroblasts.

    I
    The goal of my sterile work in the first stage was to prepare my cells for death. I took care of them in order to kill them in various experimental ways. Thus, in a way it was my multiple cellular suicide.
    The visual side of the safe suicide project was followed by a scientific context. I tried to show the plain aesthetics of biological research, respecting the common order of the surroundings where I worked. The visual core of the first part of the project were pictures of my dying cells. I used fluorescence and confocal microscopes in this phase of the work. The images were printed onto porcelain plates in the form of traditional Polish funeral pictures. I also collected the test tubes with the remains of my cells inside. The visual presentations of the project at this stage took the form of a symbolic cemetery. Performance, in this case, was based mainly on the context shift. This shift in the realm of meaning seems to be the biggest challenge for biologists, who suddenly become a part of artistic activity.
    The most debatable aspect of the first part of safe suicide is the issue of liminal life’s (cells) subjectification. Biologists work on cells derived from patients or bought from specialized companies. They do not usually work on their own biological material, which arguably allows them to maintain distance towards their laboratory work. In my case, this distance was not entirely possible because I was working with cells coming from my own body. Therefore, there was the constant question of whether the cells separated from my organism and cultivated in in vitro conditions were still a part of me. Another question is: am I performing self-destruction while killing my cells? It seems to be obvious that it is not identical, at least from the scientific point of view. However, it shows the dichotomy between the two worlds: nature and post-nature. I define post-nature world as the area of laboratories, where life is sustained in special conditions. These two worlds existing in parallel fascinate me.

    II
    In the second stage of the project I explored the process of my cellular aging (in the meaning of passing), comparing the biological material resulting from the cultivation with observations of visual changes of my skin. The changes observed at the two levels (micro and macro-level), throughout the same period of time, are absolutely incomparable to one another.

    Places of realisation:
    Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw
    Laboratory of Confocal Microscopy, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw
    Laboratory of Cellular Aging, Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Polish Academy of Science in Warsaw
    Scientific support:
    Prof. Paweł Golik
    PhD Agata Kodroń
    PhD Magdalena Kaliszewska
    PhD Bohdan Paterczyk
    PhD Anna Bielak-Żmijewska
    PhD Agnieszka Bojko
    PhD candidate Wioleta Grabowska

    Portraits for the II part of the project: Patrycja Wojtas

    Places of presentation:
    Beyond borders. Processed body - expanded brain - distributed agency, CSW Łaźnia, Gdańsk (2019)
    Non-human time, exhibition, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Opole (2016)
    Temptation of immortality, exhibition in frame of Przemiany Festival, Copernicus Science Center (2016)
    Pernicious predilection, exhibition in Labirynt Gallery, Lublin (2017)
  • similarity of differences

    Ruhnu Island, Estonia/Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw, 2016
    The goal of the project was to examine the meaning of blood. It had a bio - sociological character (as many pursuits in my career).
    The first stage took place during a 10 - day residency on Estonian Ruhnu Island where I tried to collect blood samples from the newly met people from the group of fellow residents, but also other locals. Every subject was asked for a drop of his/her blood. In order for the sample to be taken, each individual received a set for that purpose: a sealed bag with a sterile needle and a cotton pad. The examined had a leeway when it comes to choosing the spot of the puncture (though fingertip was recommended). The subjects could either perform the puncture themselves or ask the examiner for help. Once the puncture was made the subject squeezed out a drop of his/her blood and pressed the cotton pad against the spot in order to soak the pad with blood. The pad and the needle were then put back into the bag and the latter was to be sealed tightly. Before placing the needle in the bag, the subject could voluntarily sign it with his/her name or initials. Individuals who refused donating blood were asked for a brief written justification, either disclosing their identity or anonymously. The collected texts were of equal value to the donated blood.
    In the laboratory in Warsaw (the same as in the safe suicide project) an attempt at reading DNA from each blood sample and combining all samples in the test rube was conducted. The trial of DNA isolation didn't have a successful result because of the blood samples state (they were stored in too high temperature). Finally, all samples were combined symbolically in one test tube. This tube and a research diary became a basis of an artistic object that was presented on exhibitions.

    Places of presentation:
    Rocky Landscape, exhibition in Bunkier Gallery in Krakow (2016)
    Rocky Landscape, exhibition in Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius (2016)
  • from life to death and back

    Copernicus Science Center, Warsaw 2016
    bio - aesthetic experiment with scientists participation and examining the audience reception. The part of research project: Art as a research tool.
    The main goals:
    1. to examine the human approach to necrophagic insects, the topic of biological death and circle of matter
    2. to examine the role of aestheticization in the process of changing the human perception of biological life
    scientific partners: PhD Tomasz Skalski - Jagiellonian University, Krakow PhD Arkadiusz Urbański - Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań
  • symbiosis

    Performative bio - sociological experiment, realized in frame of Festival Experiment in a small city Zbąszyń:
    - terrarium as a laboratory of  human - insects (Madagaskar cockroaches) and human – human relations
    - simple examination of fears and borders
    - combining two aspects of life: biological and sociological, with the use of aestheticization
    - examining the audience reception with the use of surveys, observations and short interviews