Each year the ArtScience Prize supports students in developing innovative, interdisciplinary ideas that stem from a cutting-edge scientific theme. Chosen by ArtScience Labs and adopted by all ArtScience Prize sites and selected Idea Translation Labs throughout the world, this theme invites students to dream at frontiers of knowledge where science moves forward by induction and thus where art and science are pursued in very similar ways. It is also here that opportunities for surprise, discovery, and breakthrough innovation occur.
By choosing a nebulous thematic topic that is still emerging in the scientific community, the realm of possibilities for student exploration is wide open. Rather than being asked to assimilate currently- accepted theories and practices within the sciences, students are challenged to intellectually inquire and explore along with scientists who are themselves adding to our understanding of this emerging field every day. While student ideas may develop over the course of the year so that the annual theme is no longer a part of their final project proposals, all students begin with this theme.
The 2010-11 ArtScience Prize theme, The Future of Water, is designed to challenge students to bring their best thinking toward envisioning and defining that future, and finding solutions for making the future as bright as possible.
The future of design is in many ways the future of bioengineering. We possess today enough understanding of biological processes to be able to manipulate them, for better or worse, and design a new world. Our design decisions today will change how we live with nature tomorrow. What is possible? Nature produces natural material, like raisins, or squirrels, through the living chemical factories we call cells. Biological cells exist, grow, and flourish in communities of cells, surrounded by tissues they fabricate, like spiders spinning their webs, and these communities often become functional, as in an organ, or an organism. This year’s art and design theme is synthetic biology. We invite dreams of new materials for food, clothing, or forms of energy, new kinds of architecture and art installations that provoke us to explore what this world will be, or might be.
Scientists have shown how the metabolic pathways of bacteria can be altered so that in the process of fermentation bacteria produce, among other things, precursor material to artemisinin, a successful antimalarial drug that is produced naturally and in limited supply. Through bioengineering Jay Keasling of University of California at Berkeley has designed cells that may save lives. Others are working on similar bioengineering of bacteria to produce natural fuels to replace fossil fuels for achieving energy independence, or for processing plastic waste.
We invite exploration that is not happening today. Why should luxury goods to frequently require the lives of living rare animals, or the mining of rare minerals? Perhaps we can design luxury materials with synthetic biology. We build computers, appliances, furniture, and homes, that decay and leave materials that are of no use, and pollute the planet. Perhaps we can design these functional materials with synthetic biology too. In fact having lived through a century where the human environment became increasingly artificial, we may be on the precipice of returning to an environment that lives, sustainably and productively. We want young people to imagine this.
Virtual worlds are as old as theater, and as new and disruptive as Groupon. In the last decades synthetic environments that permit human interaction and the creation of meaning have emerged to play vital and rapidly evolving roles in society, commerce, education and culture, driven by scientific advances ranging from advanced materials in telecommunication devices to social networking in massive multiuser online games.
This year’s theme of Virtual Worlds invites young people around the world to compete for the ArtScience Prize by dreaming new art and design ideas related to this fascinating frontier of information technology. Some of these ideas will lead to new information technologies, others to new socially engaging art forms, still others to humanitarian initiatives connecting opportunities and needs around the world.
The Future of Water
Water is perhaps the most precious and essential resource on the planet. More than oil, more than land, more than perhaps any other resource on earth, it is core to life and civilization. As the human population continues to increase, demand for water increases. Meanwhile water access is limited by pollution and wastefulness.
What is the future of water? What can we do now to make this future as bright as possible? Can water be made, protected, stored or transported in ways that are more efficient than we are doing today? Can we recreate lifestyles and water-intensive activities like farming so that they use less water? Should we filter the salt out of seawater as needed to make it fit for human consumption? What if water, now free in most of the world, began to be owned by companies that charged for its use? These are just some of the questions addressed by scientists and researchers today.
Such questions also propel the creative work of many contemporary artists and designers, from artist Janet Echelman’s Olympic Oval, which takes run-off water from an Olympic facility’s 5-acre roof and transforms it into a water garden intersected by curved pedestrian bridges, netted “sky lanterns,” and water-aeration system, to underwater sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor, whose work highlights ecological processes whilst exploring the intricate relationships between modern art and the environment. It is at the heart of two major works of design and exhibition at Le Laboratoire in the fall of 2010, related to edible bottles and water transport using the principles of the biological cell – works that emerged from student reflection in the Idea Translation Lab.