Posts by Chris Kelly
Recently opened at the New Museum in New York is Ghosts in the Machine, an exhibition which surveys the constantly shifting relationship between humans, machines and art. Last year’s trailblazing Talk to Me at the Museum of Modern Art celebrated and explored our brave new world of human-machine interfaces. Here, Massimiliano Gioni, helmsman of next year’s Venice Biennale, and co-curator Gary Carrion-Murayari, offer in response a shadowy prehistory, full of strange fears and visions, from a time not long past when such communication could only be imagined.
Exciting rediscoveries on display include American avant-garde film-maker Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome (1963-66): a dozen projectors emblazon the interior of a hemispherical tent – originally a converted silo – with a kaleidoscopic array of meshed multimedia images that prefigure the immersive experience of the web. Gianni Colombo’s Elastic Space (1968) offers an optimistic vision of what it might feel like to be inside a conscious machine: walking into a dark room, you are surrounded by a glowing three-dimensional matrix of cords, stretched by gently whirring pulleys, that seems to softly breathe.
The roughly 140 works, ranging from the buoyant, like Hans Haacke’s Blue Sail (1964-65), a bright blue chiffon sheet floating in mid-air, to the horrific, like the anonymously-made life-size reproduction of a torture machine from Franz Kafka’s short story, In the Penal Colony, take us on an elliptic journey across the 20th century from the mechanical, to the optical, to the virtual. It’s striking how the artists gathered here do not seem to have imagined that machines might be our way to each other – there is little foreshadowing of social media, and there are only oblique traces of the human to be found in the technological landscapes on display. You find yourself wondering if our design virtuosity has humanized the machine world, or if we are the future the past feared it might become.
Curator Gioni writes, “Men and machines live together in a ‘dream-like life’. It is this oneiric state, this magical union, that we explore in this exhibition."
For some PopTech glimpses of what dreams may come next, check out Desney Tan and Scott Saponas: Our bodies as the interface; Neri Oxman: On designing form; and Kelly Dobson: Machine therapy.
Images: Courtesy of the New Museum, New York. Photo: Benoit Pailley
In 2003 Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei quietly dispatched a centuries-old myth, when he said publicly that despite his best efforts, he hadn’t been able to see the Great Wall of China from space. The ancient world’s longest construction, awesome though it is, is the same dusty color as the hills it’s made from, only nine meters wide, and time-weathered. Optometrists have argued that to see the Wall from space with the naked eye, even at low orbits, you would need 20/3 vision, 7.7 times better than ordinary human sight.
The largest construction on the planet is not man-made, and it has no such problems being seen from space. Working in large numbers, and hardly ever taking a break, coral polyps built the Great Barrier Reef in its current form in about 8,000 years. Vast and beautiful, from space it dominates the view of the Pacific east of the Australian coast.
Recently, Roger Bradbury, a respected Australian ecologist, has written an op-ed in the New York Times that the Great Barrier Reef, and all the world’s coral reefs for that matter, are not just threatened, which we all knew, but doomed to destruction, within our lifetimes. He argues that because of rising levels of ocean acidity, overfishing, and water pollution, there is no hope. The only responsible thing is to allocate funds to plan for the aftermath of the reefs’ death and disappearance - not to save them. “It will be a disaster for the hundreds of millions of people in poor, tropical countries like Indonesia and the Philippines who depend on coral reefs for food”, he says. Reefs are home to one quarter of the world’s entire marine life, and perhaps as many as 9 million species.
We checked in with Ann Marie Healy, who has spent time researching the coral reefs of Palau for the book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back to hear her opinion on the topic. She said:
After seeing the work of the most effective marine scientists and environmentalists, it feels clear that the survival of the reefs is still possible but only with very deep engagement from the people who live on them and use them every day. That means engagement not only at the top of the food chain—national governments and international organizations—but also from people who rely on reefs for their livelihood and cultural identity. Environmental change is inextricably linked with changing behavior and social norms.
Reactions to the piece from oceanologists, ecologists, and other scientists have been collected by Dot Earth. While there is disagreement about the inevitability of disaster, and whether or not this will all be over in the next few decades, the general consensus is that the outlook is grim. Human industry, as represented by such monumental achievements as the Great Wall, may prove, in the Anthropocene, the mightier force after all.
Image: NASA/Wikimedia Commons
Supporting innovation in healthcare is a key part of PopTech's agenda. We highlight the work of amazing people in our community like Raj Panjabi, and his efforts to build scalable health solutions for war-stricken countries, Matthew Berg and Josh Nesbit’s work to revolutionize health services through mobile technology, architect Michael Murphy’s buildings that heal, and Hayat Sindi’s use of tools micro-fabricated in paper to make diagnostic care available to people living far from medical infrastructures. Every so often, a piece of innovation comes along that broadsides everyone, knocks our socks off, and--hopefully--changes the game forever.
Researchers at Tufts University School of Engineering have discovered a way to maintain the potency of vaccines and other drugs that otherwise require refrigeration for months and possibly years at temperatures above 110 degrees F, by stabilizing them in a silk protein made from silkworm cocoons.
"Silk protein has a unique structure and chemistry that makes it strong, resistant to moisture, stable at extreme temperatures, and biocompatible, all of which make it very useful for stabilizing antibiotics, vaccines and other drugs,” says David Kaplan, leader of the team.
The trick happens at the molecular level. Silk protein fibroin is composed of interlocked crystalline sheets with numerous tiny hydrophobic pockets. The pockets trap and immobilize bioactive molecules, protecting them from the decompositional effect of water and preventing them from unraveling. It’s like enveloping a fragile material in what’s being called “nanoscale Bubble Wrap”.
It is currently necessary to keep bioactive drugs refrigerated all the way from manufacture to use, wherever that may be on the globe. Health experts estimate that nearly half of all global vaccines are lost due to breakdowns in the "cold chain”. The potential for off-infrastructure healthcare, including in war and disaster zones where electricity is unavailable, is enormous.
But here’s perhaps the most remarkable thing. The team believe it will be possible to construct shapes and forms out of the pharmaceutical-infused silk, such as microneedles, microvesicles and films, that allow the non-refrigerated drugs to be stored and administered in a single device. Watching this design story unfold will be fascinating, and no doubt biotech visionaries like artist Daisy Ginsberg will be grabbing themselves a front row seat.
via Tufts University