Code for

Computing Goes Biological

Connections between nature and technology

Drawing parallels from nature, forming a symbiosis between nature and machines, and making new technologies tangible in the metaphors of art

Inside Futurelab: 25th Anniversary Series – Episode 5 – “Computation & Beyond”

Computing Goes Biological  

Matters of Materials and Symbioses

In the overall ecosystem of Ars Electronica, questions related to biotechnology had been prevalent for several decades. Referring to the Festival theme of 2009, “Human Nature,” Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schöpf remarked: “The achievements of genetic engineering and biotechnology are the truly indicative markers of this transition to a new epoch. … we’re revising the fundamentals of life itself—even our own human life.”

The ways in which the Ars Electronica Futurelab adopted this new area of biotechnology was characterized by two strategies, which were basically part of the DNA of the Futurelab, but now appeared in a modified form. The work around aspect of biotechnology also put additional emphasis on the importance of the entire ecosystem of Ars Electronica for the work of the Futurelab and vice-versa. With the creation of the Bio Lab and the Fab Lab, the Ars Electronica Futurelab played a key role in the process of introducing the new format of “lab” infrastructures to Ars Electronica. Their enabling potential represented a further step in the Ars Electronica Futurelab’s efforts to make new technologies tangible and to provide the basis for an informed discussion of the implications of those technologies to the public.

Blurring the boundary between
machine and materials

In his 1994 book “Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines,” the American writer Kevin Kelly had cast a look into the future, in a way describing the setting in which the activities of the Ars Electronica Futurelab—between the Bio LabBio Ink, and Oribotics—are taking place: “The realm of the born—all that is nature—and the realm of the made—all that is humanly constructed—are becoming one. Machines are becoming biological and the biological is becoming engineered.”

In 2016, Ars Electronica Futurelab co-director Hideaki Ogawa came back to the topos of “code” as the core constituent of computer technology and drew a wide arc across the ages: “Humans developed various forms of ‘codes’ when they created a medium that can convey ideas and functionalities. Long before the invention of computers, humans crafted analog code, such as ‘modeling’ out of clay, ‘carving’ out of wood, or ‘building’ architecture. The emergence of computers introduced us [to] a new code for computers: digital coding. And code is now expanding its limits for coding for matter: coding for ‘growing’ biological cells, ‘catalyzing’ specific chemical reactions, or ‘animating’ living organisms. … code is not just a language to control something behind black screens, but a series of dynamic transitional activities to be undertaken by artists and innovators.”

A transition to a new epoch



The heart piece of the first main exhibition “New Views of Humankind” was constituted by four public accessible labs. One of them is the BioLab, a wet lab for hands-on experience with state-of-the-art lab equipment amidst cloned plants.

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Oribotics - [the future unfolds]

Oribotics is the artistically motivated synthesis of traditional Japanese paper-folding and state-of-the-art robotics. This Artistic-research project that seeks new foldable surfaces. In cooperation with the University of Linz’s Institute of Polymer Product Engineering, the Australian origami- and media artist Matthew Gardiner cultivated interactive flowerbeds. All 1,050 folds of a single Oribot blossom from the 2010 Ars Electronica Festival showcase were mechanically interlinked. As soon as one single fold of a blossom was activated, all the others went into motion too.

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Project Genesis

A project enabling and encouraging creative interactions between art and science. The three-year-timespan allowed deep investigation into the topic of synthetic biology and art. A process was developed whereby artists could undergo mentoring through a masterclass on synthetic biology, improving their immediate networks, and from there incubate new art works that were shown in the exhibition Project Genesis. Synthetic Biology-Life from the Lab together with other pieces selected by an open call and works by and with Ars Electronica Staff leading to an exhibition covering two full floors of the Ars Electronica Center.

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Future Ink

The "Future Ink Project" researches into the secrets and the future of creativity, and is designed around five core concepts: Space Ink, AI Ink, Body Ink, Bio Ink, and Mind Ink.

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“Although science is all around us and unconsciously influences our daily lives, research priorities are often built on the input and feedback of a selected scientific group of people and not really on the empirical values of the people that are affected by it. The challenge is to design a balanced minds-on experience, which leaves enough room to integrate knowledge in our own individual construct of reality. If knowledge suddenly fills up with meaning, we can encourage the public to get active, take part and with this mix of different perspectives jointly shape our future.”

Marianne Eisl
Key Researcher at Ars Electronica Futurelab

Born 1986 in Graz, Austria. Key researcher and artist at the Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2015. Master’s degree in media informatics from Vienna University of Technology. Her focus is currently on developing interactive and participative artifacts as well as concepts for exhibitions and tangible installations.

Marianne Eisl

Credit: Ars Electroncia Futurelab

Yoko Shimizu

Credit: Ars Electronica - Robert Bauernhansl

“In the "Bio Ink" project [with Wacom], we go beyond the digital and human-centric technologies by exploring the concept of living ink that grows freely—a creative symbiosis with other organisms and nature. In nature, we co-exist and interact with many organisms. Working with other organisms helps us better understand other beings and ourselves.”

Yoko Shimizu
Researcher at Ars Electronica Futurelab

Born in 1977 in Kyoto, Japan. Artist and researcher. Studied biology and chemistry at Kobe University. Member of the Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2020. Began her career as a creative director and consultant for corporations, and later founded her lab, where she developed innovative technologies and installations that combine science and art.

“We are entering a new age here on earth: the Anthropocene. An age definitively characterized by humankind’s massive and irreversible influences on our home planet. Population explosion, climate change, the poisoning of the environment and our venturing into outer space have been the most striking symbols of this development so far. But to a much more enormous extent, the achievements of genetic engineering and biotechnology are the truly indicative markers of this transition to a new epoch. ... we’re revising the fundamentals of life itself—even our own human life.”

Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schöpf

Christine Schöpf & Gerfried Stocker

Credits: Florian Voggeneder

Matthew Gardiner


“Oribotics is a field of research that thrives on the aesthetic, biomechanical and morpho- logical connections between nature, origami and robotics. At the highest level, Oribotics evolves towards the future of self-folding materials.”

Matthew Gardiner
Key Researcher at Ars Electronica Futurelab

Born in 1976 in Shepparton, Australia. Artist and researcher. Member of the Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2011. Most well known for his work with origami and robotics. Coined the term Oribot in 2003, and since then has worked in the field of art/science research called Oribotics: a field of research that thrives on the aesthetic, biomechanical, and morphological connections between nature, origami, and robotics.

“New and complex technologies often exert a big influence on everyday life and present challenges to understand their potentials. New tools allow for new interactions with previously unknown potentials of materials. In the growing demand for new skills and technological literacy, Fab Labs can support people by providing access to the tools as well as an environment, where complex topics can be grasped through personal experience.”

Irene Posch

Born in 1983 in Graz, Austria. Researcher and artist. Member of the Ars Electronica Futurelab from 2007 until 2011. Concept design and project lead for the FabLab and the BioLab at the Ars Electronica Center in 2009. Professor of Design & Technology at the University of Art and Design Linz since 2018.

Irene Posch

Credits: Irene Posch

Hiroshi Ishii

Credit: Florian Voggender

“Blurring the boundary between the machine and materials is one of our dreams. ... machines become materials ... and materials become machines.”

Hiroshi Ishii

Born in 1956 in Tokyo, Japan. Computer scientist. Professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Laboratory. Founder of the Tangible Media Group at MIT in 1995. Presented the exhibitions “Tangible Bits” and “Radical Atoms” at the Ars Electronica Center.

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