Moving Perspectives: Biology is Technology


By Sarah Pini (@pini_sarah) and Jestin George (@jestinARgeorge)

For the first Anthroposphere digital issue we would like to present the work we developed during a week-long research laboratory organised by Critical Path and Sydney Festival in partnership with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) in Sydney in January 2019. The ‘Choreographic Hack Lab’ asked dance artists to collaborate with specialists from other disciplines to respond to the idea of the Anthropocene, the present geological epoch in which the earth’s ecosystems and biodiversity are being disrupted by human impact on the planet.


Our collaboration during the Lab primarily aimed to investigate the binary concepts of nature and technology. Predominantly, these concepts are understood as being mutually exclusive and at loggerheads. Furthermore, they are each deeply entangled in emotional and cultural perceptions. Nature is often associated with the pristine, the good and the pure. On the contrary, technology is usually connected to socioeconomic power and perceived as existing through the destruction of the natural world and natural behaviours. Given this highly dichotomous relationship, we usually only consider two responses to the Anthropocene: either we continue advancing unsustainable technological practices or halt progress and ‘revert’ to nature by looking to the past. However, synthetic biology and the redesigning of biological systems could offer an alternative option⎯a living, growing, biological technology. Such an alternative would be capable of disrupting many fossil-fuel based industries and reshaping technology as we know it. But as we look back at the repercussions of previous industrial revolutions, should synthetic biology strive to be the next highly disruptive technological revolution?


It is critical that a common set of values in a shared society be at the forefront of such a revolutionary future technology. During our collaboration, we explored how such values are not static, nor are they dictated by a monolithic public entity. Instead, these values have to be constantly refined and renegotiated by engaging various public spheres. With this in mind, we also questioned how our collective and unique definitions of progress could affect synthetic biology design and applications. In a future re-imagined with these types of biological technologies, how do we consider, and design with, various perspectives, including the non-human organisms and microbes on which these technologies are built?

To suggest a creative provocation to these issues, we present here a collaborative visual work: a video installation displaying multiple frames simultaneously to open an unusual perspective to ‘Laboratory Life’ involved in developing biological technologies, and the human and non-human organisms that inhabit it. Our visual work leads the viewer to explore synthetic biology’s core principles choreographically. Through this video work, we suggest a reconsideration of the relationship with our lived environment and its inhabitants, including the ‘subjects’ and ‘objects’ we interact with as part of our practices, shaping and shaped by our perspective. This present video is the first episode of the series that we intend to build up entitled Moving Perspectives, with inputs from various points of view on significant anthropogenic issues from across the globe.


Grounded in a feminist post-humanist approach influenced by Donna Haraway in “The Cyborg Manifesto” – one that recognizes a continuity between all living creatures⎯including plants, animals, microorganisms and humans – our work invites the audience to reconsider the Anthropocene through different perspectives, including video art and choreography. By looking at ways to rethink the Anthropocene, and how can we reorient, act, think, move, and feel differently, our work aims to bring into dialog dance and synthetic biology. This collaborative visual work intersects ideas and visual outputs of movement from synthetic biology in order to interrogate the current ways we consider ‘solving’ the anthropogenic epoch, thus contributing an interdisciplinary space for sharing diverse viewpoints.


Sarah Pini (@pini_sarah) is an interdisciplinary researcher and artist based in Sydney. She works across the fields of anthropology, visual arts, film, mix media and performance, cognitive science, dance and choreography. Sarah’s artistic research captures the interconnections of movement, emotion and environment and how their dynamical relationships shape embodied narratives and sense making. She is completing a PhD in Cognitive Science at Macquarie University, working interdisciplinary on the cognitive ecologies and the enactment of stage presence across different dance genres and performers. Sarah’s work is featured on DANCE CINEMA and can also be found here.


Jestin George (@jestinARgeorge) is a biotech PhD candidate at C3 Climate Change Cluster at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), working with CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to make microalgae better cell factories, as well as a freelance artist. Jestin sees a vital gap between the types of exciting technologies being developed in life sciences research and the creatives who could be designing with them. Jestin is interested in engaging with varied publics about the future of biological technologies through collaborations with artists. She aims to use non-conventional platforms to contribute towards two-way knowledge sharing to improve biotechnology and biodesign. Her artworks can be found here.

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