Can ink be alive?
In Bio Ink, we bring together biotechnology and digital pen tablet technology to create living ink that grows freely beyond human input. The research explores co-creation with other organisms and nature. Bio Ink is part of the Ars Electronica Futurelab’s Future Ink research.
Living ink that grows freely beyond the digital input
In nature, we co-exist and interact with many organisms. Working with them helps us better understand other beings and ourselves. The Bio Ink research goes beyond digital and human-centric technologies by exploring the concept of living ink that grows freely, in a creative symbiosis with nature and other organisms.
In the research, biological inks comprised of various microorganisms are created in the bio lab. Using this ink, artists can draw and write with a bio pen on the nutrient agar plate and tablet. At the same time, the bio pen data is digitally extracted for creative analysis and use. The artworks are incubated in a controlled environment to allow the living ink to grow. The microscopic organisms are invisible in the beginning, but they gradually multiply and form colonies that are visible to the naked eye, morphing into beautiful patterns beyond our input. Humans and machines can continuously learn from nature in this new ecosystem of creativity.
Dear Future Me – A message to My Future Self
The first prototype of Bio Ink was presented at the Ars Electronica Festival 2021. In the Bio Ink Experience, held at the Ars Electronica Center Bio Lab, visitors created their own biological artworks as messages to their future selves under the theme of “Dear Future Me.” Special programs and workshops were also provided for students and kids. During the experience, the participants discussed what it means to be alive and to create with nature, as well as how humans are currently impacting the planet.
Chemical reaction chamber for creative interaction
In phase 2 of the Bio Ink research, we convert digital pen parameters into biological parameters to interact with the living artwork as it grows. For this new form of creative interaction, the research team built a chemical reaction chamber at the Ars Electronica Futurelab Studio. Parameters captured during the drawing process, such as pen speed, pressure, and tilt, are converted into biological parameters, such as temperature, humidity, and biochemical reactions. The chamber is equipped with sensors and monitoring tools to control heat, humidity, and valves for chemical substances. This allows automatic interaction by the pen data as well as manual interaction by the artist using an alert system that notifies the artist when the data reaches the threshold for interaction. To trigger the biochemical reaction, the team also experiments with various nutrients, chemicals, different wavelengths of lights, and other microorganisms that communicate with the living ink. The research explores a creative collaboration in which the digital drawing, the living drawing, the artist, and other microorganisms are communicating and interacting as the artwork grows and expands.
Read more about Bio Ink on the Ars Electronica Blog:
Immerse yourself in our work
Interested in similar projects? The following Ars Electronica Futurelab projects are related to the ideas and concepts presented here. An overview of all our productions, cooperations and projects can be found in our project archive.