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Stories from our Programme

Miranda Moss & Daniel Brownell: Science is happening!

Miranda Moss & Daniel Brownell

Research residency report

In May-June 2019, bio/tech art duo Miranda Moss and Daniel Brownell participated in the electronic art hackathon Forschungswoche at Anyma in Fribourg, as well as a micro-residency in the Swiss Mechatronic Art Society’s MechArtLab in Zurich. Developing from Miranda’s 2017 Pro Helvetia / Artists-in-Labs residency, the duo also visited The Swiss Federal Institute for Snow, Forest and Landscape (WSL) and the Zürich Water Safety Laboratory.

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This research residency came out of a need to further develop, alongside our Swiss collaborators, a project which tackles current and future issues surrounding water. This will culminate in a hackathon and an exhibition in both Lausanne and Cape Town in 2020/21, bringing together the minds and inventions of artists, scientists, writers, engineers, designers and biohackers from across the globe.

The first week was spent living and working at Anyma, developing prototypes which will become part of the water project and organising logistics for the hackathon and exhibition. Forschungswoche is an annual event hosted in a large multimedia workshop space, which sees makers and tech artists from across Switzerland and the globe getting together to work on projects and share and incubate ideas.

Miranda was primarily working on a walking robot which will act as a prosthetic for plants, allowing flora to be able to forage for their own water. Daniel was working on hardware and software for a “food computing” project, which involves AI being able to detect the health and growth of a plant and adjust environmental conditions accordingly, with an emphasis on efficient water and energy usage.

The following week we spent working in the Swiss Mechatronic Art Society’s MechArtLab, further developing these projects alongside and with input from the broader Zürich electronic art / maker / biohacker community, with particular support from and good times with the infamous biohacker pioneer Dr Marc Dusseiller. We also hosted an event at their weekly “Open Lab”.

Our next trip was to The Swiss Federal Institute for Snow, Forest and Landscape (WSL), where, in 2017,  Miranda was stationed as part of her Pro Helvetia / Artists-in-Labs residency within the phytopathology group.

During her residency she was investigating invasive alien plants and fungi and how these phenomena resonate with contemporary and pressing questions around globalisation and colonialism. With the knowledge she gained on this residency, she has continued to examine the effects of “botanical colonialism” on South Africa, and has stayed in touch with phytopathologists in South Africa as well, namely at FABI (Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute) in Pretoria.

Along with Daniel’s shared interest in mycology, we had a wonderful tour with Hélène Blauenstein, the technical head of the lab, and Simone Prospero, the group leader, who showed us various new experiments they have been conducting in the lab.

As a part of the upcoming water project, we also visited the Zürich Water Safety Laboratory. Here we delved into issues and solutions of water contamination in urban areas, and brainstormed low-cost DIY citizen science efforts to improve water quality alongside the core Swiss collaborators of the project, chemist and synthesiser enthusiast Oliver Jäggi and mechanical engineer and designer Oliver Walkhoff.

After Daniel returned to Cape Town, Miranda traveled to Lausanne to attend the inauguration of the new Hackuarium laboratory, an open biohacker space and community which has offered their lab for us to use for the water project next year.

Several bioartists displayed their current projects and we had some exciting conversations about DIY biology, top secret machines, and tardigrades. Miranda also presented a “solar-powered onion”, which was praised for its ingenious simplicity. She also visited Ateliers de Bellevaux, which has been offered for us to use as a living and workshop space for the project next year. This serendipitously coincided with an exhibition / open studio of Vanessa Lorenzo, who was the recipient of the Pro Helvetia / Artists-in-Labs residency at the South African Astronomical Observatory in South Africa in 2018.

Other useful and exciting events included visiting Werkhof, a non-profit digital arts workshop in Neunkirch run by Kent Cleland and Jana Honegger (the co-president of the SGMK), Miranda being a performer in an experimental sound performance by Marcel Zaes at Cabaret Voltaire, and “gatecrashing” a performance and installation by Veli & Amos with her own performance.

We would particularly like to thank Flurin Fischer from Artists-in-Labs, and his multimedia artist flatmates Micha Bietenhader and Timo Ullman for hosting us in their home in Zürich.

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