ART

Trust and Transparency: Elevating the Future of Biotechnology

It’s a non-negotiable fact that the biotechnology being created today will affect all of our lives- whether we understand it or not

Kathryn Hamilton
Nov 11 · 7 min read

Human beings have been bringing innate curiosity and creativity to our interactions with nature since before our written history. This partnership with the world around us results in biotechnology; technology that is built from or harnesses the biological world around us. But scientists are only one element of this partnership. The other foundational members are artists.

This means that while not everyone will be involved in the collaborative process of biotech creation, we should all be a part of the conversation around the ethical and moral ramifications of this technology. Making transparency a priority, at every step of discovery, will cultivate trust as we work to build a more equitable society. Artists play the essential role of increasing participation in this conversation. Their work fundamentally creates a forum, that makes the science understandable and accessible to everyone, while simultaneously carving a space for dialogue about the implications of biotechnology.

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Habitat: Habitat is a space that requires participation to function. This exhibit highlights the primal understanding and comprehension of the world humans gain from the hand-brain connection. This digital playground encourages guests are to experiment with every installation. The portion of the installation shown in the image was created by artist Eitan Rieger. Picture from IMRSV Arts.

Gen and Marco met in Berlin in 2017. Combining their unique worldviews and backgrounds— Gen’s in marketing and illustration with Marco’s in mixed media visual arts and product design — was poised for significant impact.

Their company was born out of their mutual frustration with the way audiences interact with art in a traditional gallery setting. They recognized a disconnect between those making the art, those viewing the art, and those in the curatorial world. Creating a deeper connection with the audience took center stage as interactivity became a central tenet of their mission.

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EMERGE: This interactive music exhibit launched as a way to go beyond the traditional concert; connecting the audience’s emotional response to their experience with the music. Each guest received their own heart rate monitor to be worn under the clothes near the chest. Each monitor corresponds to a LED light that visualizes their biometric data and augments the venue. This exhibit provided their team an introduction to biometric data, a key part of their journey towards science-centric exhibitions. Picture from IMRSV Arts.

There they created several compelling installations including Habitat, EMERGE, and Nature in Binary, all allowing the audience to reflect on their individual experience with the natural world around them. As their installations began to incorporate intimate biometric data, like an individual's heart rate, Gen and Marco recognized the ethical implications of the conversation about the use of our most personal data.

The Science Center, located in Philadelphia, is a partnership with Integral Molecular, a resident biotechnology company focused on the discovery of therapeutic antibodies. The Bioart Residency is an opportunity for artists to explore the rapidly-changing biotechnology ecosystem. As artists in residence, Gen and Marco were able to go deeper into the conversation about humanity’s collaboration with nature. Beyond learning about the technical nuances of the scientific discovery — which is the cornerstone of the creation of biotechnology — they also explored the methods and philosophies behind the work. Gen and Marco both authored blog posts based on what they were learning, tackling issues like bio-data usage and vaccinations. They asked tough questions about equity in science and the ramifications of science being separated from its critical ethical considerations. These conversations were beyond relevant, foreshadowing the questions the entire world would grapple with, not even six months later.

Where there is controversy, there is space for art, and as IMRSV Arts we have made our mission to show the (good and bad) potential repercussions of emerging technologies for society.

-Marco Locatelli, cofounder of IMRSV Arts

This is the process of using an art project or installation as a vehicle for learning about a subject, with the end result being an open dialogue with the public about the subject. In presenting the audience with your piece, you give them the opportunity to respond. Intentionally placing themselves between the scientists, the biotech companies, and the public, artists are able to be a bridge of communication; cutting through the noise and politicization to facilitate critical dialogue about innovations that will affect all our lives.

In the past several years, there has been a dramatic increase in the widespread acceptance of false scientific information by the public. Gen and Marco believe that the responsibility for this phenomenon does not lie entirely with the public. Through collaboration, they want to remind scientists who they are doing the science for and equip them with the tools they need to share their technical expertise with the public.

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Nature in Binary: This immersive environment, exploring the intersection of technology and nature, was IMRSV Arts’ first project. Humanity now possesses technology that emulates nature to an almost indistinguishable degree. The concept of the installation was to explore if the feeling or essence of nature could be procured using unnatural material. Participants, through interacting with and contributing to the exhibit, could reflect on the essence of nature and the way that our society views it. The portion of the installation shown in the image was created by artist Eitan Rieger. Picture from IMRSV Arts.

The exhibit will be composed of ten individuals’ sequenced immune responses to antigens. These responses will serve as a digital portrait and a visual representation of the important contribution to science a single person can have. Included in the installation will be a fictitious biotech company of the future called the Biostory Data Bank. The details of this company will facilitate a conversation around the implications of donating biometric data for research and compensation for those contributions.

The planning and composition of this installation took place before the COVID-19 pandemic. The onset of COVID-19 has reaffirmed the importance of understanding the immune system. The public is an integral part of processes scientists and public health officials use to figure out why this particular coronavirus has been so deadly to humans. The immediate concern for the pandemic is a solution that will halt the unnecessary loss of human life.

But Gen and Marco want society to remember the long-term implications of scientific discovery when it involves such personal data. This installation will remind both scientists and the general public that this data comes from real people with hopes and dreams and that their biology is precious.

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Biostory: Biostory will be featured at the Esther Klein Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. The goal of the exhibition is to first, create awareness of the value of biometric data and second, to illustrate a sustainable model for handling that personal data. Biostory is a visual human narrative told through biometric data, specifically coming from the immune system. Picture from IMRSV Arts.

Our global society has placed a significant focus on the implications of the collection and the use of consumer data. Gen and Marco want to bring the same level of attention to the use of physiological and genetic data as the ethical implications are more significant. Biotech companies need to take the initiative to connect more with those who will use their products and consumers need to take the initiative to engage more with the science.

In my opinion, what should be done is twofold. First, like what we are doing with IMRSV Arts, is go from passive consumption to active engagement. By creating interactive experiences, we are looking to educate the participant and then prompt them to make a change. Second, consumers need to understand and have control over how their biodata is being used. The altruistic reasoning “it’s for science” is valid but given the intimate data we are talking about, it also has to be equitable.

-Genefer Baxter, cofounder of IMRSV Arts

They connected with First Hand, an educational initiative company at the University City Science Center. Since its inception, First Hand has had 377 students participate in their programs. These cofounders have been able to work as instructors for a digital biodesign challenge, helping the next generation explore science and the implications of these discoveries. They have also partnered with H&M Group to launch a design lab exploring AI at H&M Starting House in Berlin. Using the arts-based research method they used to learn about biotechnology and create Biostory, they are helping five artists recreate that journey exploring the social, ethical, and cultural implications of artificial intelligence.

The work that Gen and Marco are leading through IMRSV Arts will have an incalculable impact on the future of biotechnology. They, along with other artists, are creating an indispensable forum for greater participation in humanity’s highest art form. If you would like to stay updated on their work at IMRSV Arts, you can follow them on Instagram and on their website. Reach out and contribute to the dialogue they are facilitating.

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Want to talk about biotechnology or bioeconomy innovation? Let’s connect! Working on some cool science you think is essential to the conversation? Leave me a comment below! Also, make sure you check out this other interesting article:

Follow Bioeconomy.XYZ, in order to learn more about all the ways biotech, is shaping the world around us.

Bioeconomy.XYZ

Innovation for the Bioeconomy

Thanks to Genefer Baxter

Kathryn Hamilton

Written by

Integrating Business with the Developing Bioeconomy // Making the Complex Uncomplicated // Perpetual Student // Professional

Bioeconomy.XYZ

The Medium publication for biotechnology and everyone involved in the revolution. The best brought to you by the brightest. Founded by @1AlexanderTitus for you.

Kathryn Hamilton

Written by

Integrating Business with the Developing Bioeconomy // Making the Complex Uncomplicated // Perpetual Student // Professional

Bioeconomy.XYZ

The Medium publication for biotechnology and everyone involved in the revolution. The best brought to you by the brightest. Founded by @1AlexanderTitus for you.

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