EvoKE BCN21: GENE ZINE, Collaborative Interfaces for the Multispecies City

By Dr. Elizabeth Hénaff
Assistant Professor | NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Contributing to the topic: Interdisciplinarity, tradeoffs between specialization and explore new fields through collaboration with experts in other fields

In the era of computational genomics, a great deal of progress has been made in determining the relationships between genetic information and the development of multicellular organisms: plants, animals, humans. But what’s become most clear from this research is that all these organisms owe meaningful aspects of their development and phenotype to interactions with the microorganisms—bacteria or fungi—with which they live in symbiosis.
These microorganisms are part of our everyday life, yet invisible. The tools scientists have to interact with them – microscopes, instruments, algorithms – usually implement a one-way flow of information (from the object of study to the practitioner) and implement hierarchies of control (of the practitioner over the object of study). 
However, it’s becoming more clear that establishing collaborative relationships with microorganisms is key to living in the Anthropocene. Indeed, these organisms are the most capable of adapting to our rapidly changing planet and the damage humans have wrought. 

In this workshop, we will work together to develop a series of “Gene Zines”, or genomic notes from the underground serving the subculture of multispecies collaboration. These zines will manifest collaborative relationships with the quotidian and mundane microbiomes we cohabitate with. No prior experience in design or microbiology necessary. 

Limited number of places.
Registration to the workshop will be announced to congress participants formally registered.

Examples of prior editions of the Gene Zine

About Dr. Elizabeth Hénaff
Elizabeth is a computational biologist with an art practice. Her academic trajectory started with a Bachelors in Computer Science, followed by a Master’s in Plant Biology (both from UT Austin) and a PhD in Bioinformatics from the University of Barcelona. 

At the center of her work is a fascination with the way living beings interact with their environment. This inquiry has produced a body of work that ranges from scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals, to projects with landscape architects, to working as an artist in environments from SVA to the MIT Media Lab. She has made contributions to understanding how plants respond to the force of gravity, how genome structure changes in response to stress, and most recently has turned her attention to the ubiquitous and invisible microbial component of our environment. Some recent highlights include the design for the bioremediation of a local toxic Superfund site which won a design competition, had a gallery exhibit, and a scientific publication. Her work with the MIT Media Lab led to the development of a novel approach to urban microbiome sampling using honeybees, an exhibit at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, and a curriculum for international workshops. Most recently, she has shown work at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in NYC, the Detroit Science Gallery and the Okayama Art Summit. She has consistently made the tools – software, wetware, hardware – needed to answer her research questions. 

She currently holds an Assistant Professor position in the Technology, Culture and Society department at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering in New York City.