[-empyre-] New Scales of Living

Adam Nocek anocek at uw.edu
Tue Oct 1 15:15:00 EST 2013

Hi all,

Thanks, Phillip, for the wonderful question. I think you're right to point
out the ambiguity in my use of "design" here. On the one hand,  design
functions in synthetic biology, as Adrian MacKenzie addresses so well in
his 2009 article, "Design in Synthetic Biology" (here:
as an engineering concept (so that synbio becomes a subset of engineering).
And it is this concept of design that has found its way, rather forcefully,
into bio-architectural discourse (esp. in Michael Hensel and David
Benjamin). In this way, I think that instead of design "deterritorializing"
scientific and design practices it may actually reinforce extremely
dangerous hierarchies. This does not mean that design cannot offer useful
conceptual tools, however.

This summer I actually taught a study abroad course in the Netherlands on
"Dutch Design and Aesthetics." One of the most compelling themes that my
students and I kept on returning to is how design, for many Dutch
designers, is always *re-*design. There is no "original" or "copy"; design
is always taking place in the middle of things -- in the midst, if you
like. While Dutch design certainly has its fair share of micro-fascisms,
tedious Modernisms, and so on, I think the notion of redesign is
instructive here: it seems to capture -- in much more compelling way than
"design-as-engineering" -- the "noisy" practice of building or designing
biological parts in the lab (as Maureen O' Malley and Bernadette Bensaude
Vincent have argued), and what it means for these parts to be redesigned as
media for the built environment. Redesign privileges process over product.
Perhaps it is in redesign and not design that we find our aesthetics.


On Mon, Sep 30, 2013 at 2:58 PM, Phillip S Thurtle <thurtle at uw.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Interesting points, Adam. I see some interesting synergies with
> earlier posts as well. We've been using the analytic of "aesthetics"
> on the list and I'm wondering how that might relate to your use of
> "design"? Your suggestion at the end of the post regarding synbio
> suggests that design might be related more to engineering, although I
> don't think it a perfect overlap. Could you help me triangulate these
> three terms: design, engineering, and aesthetics?
> I realize that this is a lot to ask.
> Phillip
> On Tue, Sep 24, 2013 at 10:32 PM, Adam Nocek <anocek at uw.edu> wrote:
> > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> > Hi all,
> >
> > I'd like to offer a few thoughts regarding "New Scales of Living" by
> picking up on something that Phillip wrote last week:
> >
> > "the inside and outside the laboratory distinction is useful, but
> constantly needs to be tempered by identifying how labs are both privileged
> places as well as highly interlinked places."
> >
> > This strikes me as a critical insight, though I'd like to add -- and I
> think this is already implicit in Phillip's remarks-- that the concepts we
> construct are essential for producing modes of thought that do not
> privilege spaces like the biologist's laboratory. A.N. Whitehead's wrote
> something similar in his _Science and the Modern World_ when he calls for
> the re-engineering of our abstractions so that we resist the modern
> temptation to bifurcate nature into essential and non-essential qualities
> (e.g. the laboratory and then those other spaces). For Whitehead, these
> concepts need to be constructed and re-constructed. What's essential is not
> the concepts themselves, but rather their effects. Can they produce
> non-bifurcating modes of thought?
> >
> > With this in mind, I wonder in what ways "design" has become, or rather
> could become, a concept that challenges the privilege of the laboratory
> space? While design has certainly been important to biotechnology since the
> 70s and 80s, with the rise of synthetic biology in the last decade or so,
> it is now used to articulate the terms of a full-scale method: the
> application of design principles to biological systems. And yet
> professional design disciplines -- architectural and industrial design,
> specifically -- have become increasingly concerned with how the design of
> living systems in synbio make available new media for design (check out:
> http://www.syntheticaesthetics.org/)  -- some architects even advocate
> that architecture is a form of artificial life at a non-standard scale. In
> this perspective, life has become designed and design has become living.
> >
> > I'm interested in what ways design challenges the laboratory space... or
> reinforces it at another level.
> >
> > Thanks,
> > Adam
> >
> >
> > On Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 9:07 PM, Adam Nocek <anocek at uw.edu> wrote:
> >>
> >> Hi all,
> >>
> >> Once again, a terrific discussion this week. I'd like to extend a big
> thanks to Adam Z,  Phillip, Nik and Maja for their contributions. I know
> there are still a lot of loose ends -- especially, on the nature of
> experiment, process, and pragmatics in relation to the "Biochymickal Arts"
> workshop (which I encourage you to look at!)-- so please continue
> discussing!
> >>
> >> This week I'd like to welcome Luciana Parisi to  -empyre-   Luciana and
> I will be considering how bioart might be extended to new and exciting
> scales.
> >>
> >> Here is short bio for Luciana:
> >>
> >> Luciana Parisi is Senior Lecturer/Convenor of the PhD in Cultural
> Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. Parisi’s research looks at the
> asymmetric relationship between science and philosophy, aesthetics and
> culture, technology and politics to investigate potential conditions for
> ontological and epistemological change.  Her work on cybernetics and
> information theories, evolutionary theories, genetic coding and viral
> transmission has informed her analysis of culture and politics, the
> critique of capitalism, power and control. During the late 90s she worked
> with the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at Warwick and has since been
> writing with Steve Goodman (aka kode 9). In 2004, she published Abstract
> Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire (Continuum
> Press), where she departed from the critical impasse between notions of the
> body, sexuality, gender on the one hand, and studies of science and
> technologies on the other. Her work engaged with ontological and
> epistemological transformations entangled to the technocapitalist
> development of biotechnologies, which un-intentionally re-articulated
> models of evolutions, questioning dominant conceptions of sex, femininity
> and desire.  Since the publication of Abstract Sex, she has also written on
> the bionic transformation of the perceptive sensorium triggered by new
> media, on the advancement of new techno-ecologies of control, and on the
> nanoengineering of matter.  She has published articles about the relation
> between cybernetic machines, memory and perception in the context of a
> non-phenomenological critique of computational media and in relation to
> emerging strategies of branding and marketing. Her interest in interactive
> media has also led her research to engage more closely with computation,
> cognition, and algorithmic aesthetics. Parisi’s latest monograph,
> Contagious Architecture. Computation, Aesthetics and Space  (MIT
> Press,2013), reflect these concerns.
> >>
> >>
> >> Thanks,
> >> Adam
> >
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > empyre forum
> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> --
> Phillip Thurtle
> Associate Professor, Comparative History of Ideas
> http://chid.washington.edu/people/phillip-thurtle
> Associate Professor, History
> Adjunct Associate Professor, Anthropology
> University of Washington
> Adjunct Professor of Sociology
> Carleton University
> Co-editor of the book series In Vivo: The Cultural Mediations of
> Biomedicine available from University of Washington Press
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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