LASER Talks: Beyond Spontaneous Generation

What if the evolution chain, once pictured as a line, was instead a circle, now caught at the moment when reaching its point of origin? 
Event announcement text on a background of biological matter in pinks, whites, lavander colours

In this Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous (LASER) talk organized by Aalto University in collaboration with Hybrid Lab Network, the discussants address Beyond Spontaneous Generation.

The theory of spontaneous generation understood life as emerging spontaneously from nonliving matter. The idea of spontaneous generation has been re-interpreted throughout history until later scientific discoveries have proved this theory to be wrong.

What if the evolution chain, once pictured as a line, was instead a circle, now caught at the moment when reaching its point of origin? 

With the title Beyond Spontaneous Generation, this LASER Talk presents an investigation into the concepts of evolution and life through the lens of the relationship between bioart and science: biotechnology, biorobotics, explorations and speculations around possible futures.

Presenters: Ionat Zurr, Josh Bongard and Michael Levin,07.06.2022 17:00 – 20:30 EET. Check your timezone! The event will be moderated by Laura Beloff, Associate Professor of Visual Culture and Artistic Practices at Aalto, and doctoral candidate Aurora Del Rio.

Presentations are followed by a discussion between the speakers, and the audience (present or online) can ask questions. We invite everyone who is interested to join, share projects, discuss issues, network, and collaborate together. LASER Talks are always free and open to the public. Please note that the event will be recorded.

Partners: Aalto University, Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST), and Hybrid Lab Network.

Speaker bios and abstracts

Ionat Zurr (presenting in person)
Dr Ionat Zurr holds two positions: one at SymbioticA: the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, School of Human Sciences, and she is the Chair of the Fine Arts Discipline in the School of Design at the University of Western Australia. She co-established and was a Visiting Professor at Biofilia – Based for Biological Arts, Aalto University, Finland (2015-2020). 

Zurr, together with her collaborator, Oron Catts, established the Tissue Culture & Art project at 1996, as part of their interest is Life, more specifically the shifting relations and perceptions of life in the light of new knowledge and its applications. Often working in collaboration with other artists and scientists, she has developed a body of work that speaks volumes about the need for new cultural articulations of evolving concepts of life. 

She is considered as one of the pioneers in the field of Biological Arts; and publish and exhibit widely in  these areas. Her work was exhibited at museums such as Pompidou Centre in Paris, MoMA NY, Mori art Museum, NGV, GoMA, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, Ars Electronica, National Art Museum of China and more. Zurr's ideas and projects reach beyond the confines of art; her work is often cited as inspiration to diverse areas such as new materials, textiles, design, architecture, ethics, fiction, and food.

Semi livings in Artificial Environments
This talk examines the techno-scientific mediated utopia by looking at parts of living bodies sustained alive in artificial environments. The aim of these artificial environments is to neutralise the unruly qualities of living bodies and environments by breaking them into component parts whose isolated production can be automated. Through our semi- living artworks we question whether this is a possible and desired future.

Josh Bongard and Michael Levin (presenting remotely)
Josh Bongard is the Veinott Professor of Computer Science at the University of Vermont (USA) and director of the Morphology, Evolution & Cognition Laboratory. His work involves soft-, evolved-, and crowdsourced robots, as well as computer-designed organisms. He is the co-author of the book How The Body Shapes the Way we Think, the instructor of a reddit-based evolutionary robotics MOOC, and director of the robotics outreach program Twitch Plays Robotics.

Mike Levin is Vannevar Bush distinguished professor of Biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University (USA).  His work involves using developmental biophysics and computer science to understand the action of cell groups as a collective intelligence. Applications of his lab's work have extended to the repair of birth defects, induction of regeneration, cancer reprogramming, and the creation of novel synthetic living proto-organisms.

The Innate Creativity of AI, and of Life
Josh Bongard describes how AI is currently shifting from analysis—seeking patterns in data—to synthesis: the ability to create, a prerequisite for intelligence. He will demonstrate this AI creativity by describing how his group and that of Michael Levin’s taught an AI to create a new kind of organism never seen on earth before: a xenobot.

Mike Levin describes how cells join into collective intelligences, using plasticity (creativity) to solve novel problems of anatomy and physiology, shedding light on the origin of intelligence via evolutionary and engineering approaches.

Laura Beloff (presenting in person / moderator / speaker)
Laura Beloff (Ph.D.) is an internationally acclaimed artist and researcher in the cross-section of art, technology and science. Additionally, to research articles and book-chapters, the outcome of the research is in the form of experimental art projects that deal with the merger of the technological and biological matter at large. The research engages with areas like human enhancement, biosemiotics, biological matter, artificial life, artificial intelligence, robotics, and information technology in connection to art, humans, environment and society.

She has Doctorate of Philosophy from Plymouth University. Previously she was Full Professor at the Art Academy in Oslo 2002-06, a visiting Professor at The University of Applied Arts in Vienna 2009, 2011. During 2012-2019 she was Associate Professor, Head of Section 2012-2016 and Head of the Doctoral School 2017-2019 at IT-University in Copenhagen. Beloff has been the Head of ViCCA-program (Visual Cultures, Curating and Contemporary Art) during 2020-2022 at Aalto University, Finland. Currently, she is Associate Professor and Head of Doctoral Education in the Department of Art & Media (DAM) at Aalto.

Laura Beloff will give an intro to the event and Hybrid Lab Network, a project to develop and test out formal and non-formal training across the sciences and the arts – known as the STEAM education – which includes the arts as an addition to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics transdisciplinary education. This project has focused particularly in bio-sciences, including the development of didactic tools and resources to promote critical and creative thinking and innovation.

Aurora Del Rio (in person / moderator)
Aurora Del Rio is a multidisciplinary artist and doctoral candidate at Aalto University, based in Helsinki. She holds a BA in Painting from the Academy of Fine Arts Bologna, and an MFA in Creative Practice from Transart Institute Berlin/New York. Her artistic practice investigates the relationship between humans and nature and how the perception of contaminated spaces influences the creation of reality. She is interested in the space of potentiality that originates when definition is avoided or misplaced, and the liminal space of failure.

Aalto University joined the list of LASER Talks hosts in 2020. The aim is to organise 2-4 LASER Talks every year at Aalto. If you are interested in giving a LASER Talk at Aalto, please send an abstract to [email protected]i.

LASER Talks series at Aalto University is organised by:

  • Laura Beloff, Professor, Head of Doctoral Education and Vice-Head of the Department of Art & Media
  • Pia Fricker, Professor of Practice, Computational Methodologies in Landscape Architecture and Urbanism and Vice Head of the Department of Architecture
  • Aurora Del Rio, Doctoral Candidate in the School of Arts, Design and Architecture
  • Kirsi Peltonen, Senior University Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics & Systems Analysis
  • Nitin Sawhney, Professor of Practice in the Department of Computer Science, and
  • Koray Tahiroğlu, Academy Research Fellow in the Department of Art & Media.

The mission of LASER is to encourage contribution to the cultural environment of a region by fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and opportunities for community building to over 40 cities worldwide.

International LASER Talks series will start January 28, 2021

LASER Talks are an initiative launched by Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology. Aalto University joined the list of LASER Talks hosts in 2020, and the January event will be the first-ever held in Finland.

Read more
LASER Talks at Espoo/Helsinki. Leonardo Arts Science Evening Rendezvous
Logo with text Hybrid Lab Network and two geometric shapes

Hybrid Lab Network (external link)

Hybrid Lab Network is an exploratory project at Aalto University to improve STEAM training in Higher Education bridging areas of Art, Science, Technology and Humanities.

Networking at Aalto

Aalto Networking Platform

The Aalto Networking Platform brings together research expertise across departments, supporting collaboration both inside and outside of Aalto.

  • Published:
  • Updated:
URL copied!