We live in an era of collapsing and compounding simulations. While science continually defines the world in greater detail, technology incorporates this knowledge into new models. Advances in software and new interests in natural systems have led to a rise of bio-mimetic architecture and design. Natural patterns are translated into code in parametric 3D modeling software, importing billions of years of R&D to solve today's design problems. Relatedly, new work in synthetic biology is blurring the lines between nature and technology. Bacteria are genetically engineered to function as nano factories to produce pharmaceuticals, and soon robots will fabricate new organs from your own cells. As the limits to what we can make and manipulate fall away like calving glaciers, our ethical responsibilities and our need to imagine the future become even more profound.
My current work is an exploration of the intersection of these areas. As an ongoing research project with collaborators at the Baltimore Underground Science Space, I am developing a 3D printer that builds with living plant cells. This work explores the relationships between nature and technology and the conflation of the two. Here simulation is more than image or spectacle. Bio-mimetics are employed, not just as a techno-natural style, but as a complex system that requires rigorous work and a strong sense of care. Mimesis takes on a much more performative role, and is manifested through multi-layered algorithms. In addition to the control systems I have written in the software and the systems encoded into the firmware and hardware of the printer, we can also write code for our biomaterials if needed. Working with the same fundamental building blocks of natural Biology – the nucleotides of DNA – we can even write code in the same format as nature.
The work in this exhibition is an outgrowth of this long-term bio-printing project and serves as a means to explore the complex issues involved in this process. I have written an algorithm that generates tree structures based on natural patterns. This code has been exercised to generate a wide variety of trees, shown here as drawing and sculpture. Branches grow and spawn offshoots, reaching upward toward the sky and out away from neighbors. Developing and utilizing this algorithm has given me a greater appreciation of the vital growth of plants and a more keen understanding of the internal logic to the development of botanical forms.
The 3D models of trees generated by my algorithm are being used at a tissue engineering lab as potential vascular systems for 3D printed organs. Biomedical uses are outside the scope of my bio-printing work, but the similar concerns regarding growing plant tissue raises some interesting questions. What if I apply this vascular system to a model of an inanimate object? Could I then print that object with plant cells – perhaps even tree cells from the original inspiration? This object would be miming a vascular system that is miming a tree structure. It would also be *functioning* as a vascular system and *made* with tree cells. It would be miming multiple things at once and miming the same thing in multiple modalities. Furthermore, it would mime something and simultaneously be that thing which it mimes. In addition to all of its bio-technical complexities, philosophically, ambi-mimetic objects challenge our existing categories and open new forms of meaning.