Mythical Living Data:
"Mythical Living Data '' is an artistic research project that challenges how we could use DNA to store current data and gather future ones from various ecosystems and their pollution levels. The project inquires how the creation of chimeras provide a storage solution but also collect live data from the environment thanks to genetic mutations. Drawn from the short story "The Preserving Machine" (1969) by Philip K. Dick, this research-driven artistic project visually explores how the chimera-like creatures generated from data would look like and evolve in the habitat they are intended to live in. In genetics, a chimera is an organism or tissue that contains at least two different sets of DNA. The two sets of DNA could be one from the original being and one created from data. Using storytelling and narration as the critical approach for this project, I aim to provoke and provide tools to think differently and engage the audience in bioethical debates that will shape our future. How would this future be experienced? Would the inclusion of data as DNA also affect the human genome and its expression?
After reading the short story "The Preserving Machine" (1969) by Philip K. Dick, I explored the connection between the ethical concerns raised in the plot and the current research on storing data as DNA. The tension between evolution and preservation, archiving and living, data and mutations pushed me to wonder: What is conservation in terms of biology? What are the ethical implications of preservation? Are all beings (living or not, including viruses) on Earth already an expression of data? What is that data telling us about our past and our future?
The current research on storing data synthesised as DNA appears promising and more compacted than today's hard drives but still requires facilities, maintenance, and energy (liquid nitrogen stora-ge at -80°C in ethanol precipitate). Considering all this, I prospected that the most efficient way to store data as DNA would be embedding it into autonomous living systems. Those potential organisms will independently find their energy source to survive and will reproduce to sustain the data through time.
In genetics, a chimaera is an organism or tissue that contains at least two different sets of DNA. The term comes from the Chimera of Greek mythology, a fantastic being partly lion, goat, and reptile. The idea behind "Mythical Living Data" is to create chimeras that are a form of storage for data about the pollution levels in the environment (CO2, particulate matter in the air, heavy metals in the soil, microplastics in the ocean...). Those chimeras would also be capable of collecting live data about their surroundings, expressed thanks to genetic mutations. This research-driven artistic project visually explores how the chimera-like creatures generated from data would look like and evolve in the habitat they are intended to live in. Thanks to storytelling and narration, the outcome of this project will be a series of critical artefacts representing the chimeras. Using a critical and slightly dystopian perspective on the current research, I aim to provoke and provide tools to think differently and engage the audience in ethical debates that will shape our future.
Noémie Soula (born in 1995) is an emerging French artist-designer based in the UK. She graduated MA Material Futures Central Saint Martins, UAL in 2018 and joined Lab4Living research group in 2019. Her work mainly investigates emerging biotechnologies, current research in biology and genetics, and the relationship between human and non-human. Her practice is research-driven and interdisciplinary, interweaving life sciences, storytelling, and craft. She uses storytelling as a creative tool to extrapolate current scientific research and gather more insight through active exchange with scientists and experts. Soula gives tangibility to concepts with photography, video, and 3D artifacts. The artefacts become a space for conversation where the public can imagine and debate bioethical questions.
Playing with the visceral and the liminality between reality and fiction, the created artworks, physical or digital, act as a wake-up call, an uncanny event for the audience to stimulate their imagination.