storytelling the future
Ars Electronica 16 – Deontologies of the Underworld

Ars Electronica 16 – Deontologies of the Underworld

Willing to be sympathetic, we need to grant complete trust to those artists who are working with that new peculiar art-material that – once – we used to call life, presuming they want to generate a debate around ethical sensitive topics in today science practice and/or opening new fronts in the contemporary ethical and philosophicals duscussions.

They also deserve praise especially when they declare to belong to movements who fights against few omnivorous global corporations that are aiming to patent genetic material and treat life as a commodity.

Those artists believe that knowledge and learning processes must be kept opensource as they want to ensure that their methods and procedures can be available to any indiviual who wants to enter the realms of DIY biology.

Since terms like Biohacking and Wetware Hacking are becoming increasingly familiar in the language shared – especially – by those groups of artists who position themselves at the frontiers of contemporary creative practice, we must later (in the next posts, hopefully) reflect about the deep-meaning of the idea of (artistic) creation.

We should also ask for the right to exercise the benefit of the doubt when we face such typologies of works that – objectively – seems to place living matter and beings among a simple list of objects suitable for the creation of a piece of art (and we still trust artsists, thinking they – sometime – know what they do).



Displayed in the CyberArts exhibition held at the OK Center for Contemporary Art, a work by the artist Ann-Katrin Krenz can be included among these projects that stimulate an incisive reflection about the relation between creation, nature and technology.

Parasitic / Symbiotic by Ann-Katrin Krenz in Cyberarts

The relationship of humans and nature seems to be out of balance. The human, as a being defined by technology, is harming its environment and the very nature on which its existence depends.

The focus on advancing technology seems to be contrary to a sustainable, responsible relationship to nature.
But what kind of role does the human being occupy in this area of tension between nature and technology?
The human being does not see itself as part of nature, but at the same time has the desire to be close to nature and to become part of the natural persistence. In the project Parasitic / Symbiotic this area of tension between nature and technology is addressed.

A scenario is created in which the human being makes use of a technical device, which is sitting like a parasite on a tree. It contains a milling machine, which moves along a tree to carve encoded text into it.

For the content of the carving a poem from Romanticism (Abschied by Joseph von Eichendorff) is used, which xpresses the natural thoughts of unity and oneness and depicts the relation of nature and culture.

The question, whether this act can be considered as natural or artificial and where we as humans are situated, is posed with this action.

The project critically discusses this area of tension, as the act of carving into a tree is a paradoxical one on several levels: The forest, in which the act is performed, is actually created artificially for forestry use.

But the tree itself still describes nature in its purest form.
The humanmade technical device interferes with this natural atmosphere.

By carving into the tree it even harms nature. This is in contradiction to the content of the poem—the Romantic thought of oneness and the desire of humans for nature.

By using this technical device the human can realize parts of this thought.
The result is an encoded form of the poem, which clearly refers to digital aesthetics and at the same time becomes part of the living tree.

The project describes a partly parasitic symbiosis between the technical act and the natural tree.
This picks up and illustrates the current troubled relationship between humans and nature.
The project shows that humans can create something aesthetically valuable and permanent through moderate and thoughtful technical interventions in nature.

Even if the procedure is invasive, the damage remains low and it never leads to a fatal disturbance of the natural
system; the tree lives on unrestricted and will grow together and merge with the artificial carving and so the artwork becomes one with nature.
Parasitic / Symbiotic was realized with the support of UdK Berlin University of the Arts.


We selected, for the same reasons, two other valuable projects:
Aurelia 1+Hz / proto viva sonification by Robertina Šebjanič (SI), Slavko Glamočanin (SI)
MISEREABLE MACHINES: Soot-o-mat by Špela Petrič (SI)

jellyfish at ars electronica aurelia 1

Aurelia 1+Hz / proto viva sonification is an audiovisual performance that explores the phenomena of interspecies communication, sonification of the environment and the underwater acoustic / bioacoustics.

It features live transmitted sound generated by Aurelia aurita, the moon jellyfish, and performer.
The sound loops contain recordings of a jellyfish in closed environment and prerecorded from jellyfish blooms at sea. Both are mixed into an immersive sonic and visual experience.
For over 500 million years jellyfish have been pulsating in the world’s oceans and seas. Nowadays, amid the
immense environmental changes, their numbers are rapidly growing.
It has not yet been established how they communicate.
The odyssey into the exploration of interspecies communication is a way of discovering parameters to restore a deep relationship with all life and is a key to better understanding of the Earth’s environment.

Artist, concept, research and development: Robertina Šebjanič;
Programming and tech development: Slavko Glamočanin;
Coordination and curating: Natacha Seignolles (D.caLab );
Curating advisor: Annick Bureaud; Consultancy: Prof. Dr. Alenka Malej, Piran marine biology station;
Production: D.caLab and Le Cube—Centre de cr.ation num.rique, Paris, France, February 2015
With special thanks to Aquarium Pula

In this case, to be honest, i wasn’t really happy to see few jellyfishes – beautiful and immortal creatures – caged for the sake of art in that small glass box, despite I’m sure they were only trapped for the time of the exhibition.
In any case we must be able to reflect upon the potential messages that these kind of projects can deliver to the average audience.



Špela Petrič (SI) / Basement/Bunker – Underworld in the POSTCITY
In this work mussels are lashed into an electro-stimulated design apparatus to make a vase. They are
allowed to relax up to a certain point, then shocked, prompting movement that scratches a design onto
the object. The resulting form might be seen as a sobering memento mori, a reflection on manufacturing
processes that exploit biology.
Biodesign calls for integration with living systems as a technological, environmental and moral imperative.
In six hours the cylinder will move just 20 cm upwards; the contractions happen once every 20 minutes.
Within it the mussels live and die in a loop, a cycle of work and relaxation that eventually kills it.
If we humans are ourselves engaged in the machine of capitalism, why would we export this to other species? The artist calls it a “biologically- augmented analog-machine poem, a scientifically didactic view of muscle contractions, and lastly a sharp commentary of obsolete but still persisting modes of production with blatant exploitation of living systems.”

Text: William Myers, curator and author
Credits: Špela Petrič; Design: Miha Turšič;
Produced by: MU, Eindhoven; Advice: Dr. Andrej Meglič; Engineering and realization: Scenart, d.o.o.;

Supported: Bioart and Design Award, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia; With thanks to: Dr.Andrej Razpotnik, Katja Zdešar Kotnik, Dr. Polona Tratnik, and Jaka Železnikar

Špela Petrič – in her Her violet hair and Poison Ivy look – was really clear, nice and friendly when we asked her about the ethical implications of the project. She appeared conscious about the subject, that’s why she decided to use mussels instead of a frog, a rat or a more complex creature.
Her beautiful self-constructed machine register the after-death mussel electrical activity on cylinders (whose surface is previously treated with smoke to create a thin writable patina) through an intelligible an fascinating visual output.
Every 5 hours both the mussel and the cylinder need to be replaced with new ones.

Despite i’m not the right person to contest the legitimacy of using even a simple organism in such creative ways, since i’m grown in a culture in which we creatively use mussels with garlic, parsley and spaghetti just for delighting our palates, i feel there’s still something missing in the ethical substratum that enliven the bioart culture.
Petrič still seems to belong to that category of artists that aim to generate a wider debate about their practice, contributing to elevate the level of consciousness about life-manipulation and filling the “ethical vacuum” that we are experiencing in this innovative age.

I will anyway leave You with a simple question: when the Picasso of Bioart will brake all rules, turning his style to Cubism, what kind of creatures will be sighted à Montmartre?


Ann-Katrin Krenz (DE) is an interaction designer and media artist, based in Berlin. Her work ranges from rich interactive installations and environments to generative design and visual explorations with pixels, pen, and paper.
She finished her master thesis in February 2016 in the “Digitale Klasse” (Visual Communication) at UdK Berlin University of the Arts.

Robertina Šebjanič based in Ljubljana is working in the cross field of art – technology – science. Her art – research focus is since several years oriented towards the project developed in the field of Living systems (bio-art), AV performances, noise/sound art, installations and interactive ambiental responsive immersive environments.
The context for her ideas and concepts is often realized in collaboration with other authors (artist, scientist, humanist, makers, hackers…), and through interdisciplinary and informal integration embodies in her work.
She is member of Theremidi orchestra. She is also collaborating inside of Hackteria Network.

Špela Petrič (SI), BSc, MA, PhD, is a Slovenian new-media artist and scientific researcher currently based in Amsterdam, NL.
Her artistic practice combines natural sciences, new media and performance. While working towards an egalitarian and critical discourse between the professional and public spheres, she tries to envision artistic experiments that produce questions relevant to anthropology, biotechnology and philosophy.