At the Intersection of Art and Science: The smell of extinct flowers resurrected with synthetic biology
New exhibit opening at Nature-Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial.
Collaborative artwork by Ginkgo Bioworks, Sissel Tolaas, and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg connects the past and future of nature.
Is it possible to resurrect the scent of long-lost flowers, driven to extinction by humans over a century ago? Now, thanks to a one-of-a-kind collaboration between leading scientists and artists, you can smell a flower that has been extinct for nearly 150 years.
Ginkgo Bioworks opens Resurrecting the Sublime, an immersive installation created in collaboration with artist Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, smell researcher and artist Sissel Tolaas, with the support of IFF Inc. This exhibit will debut to a US audience for the first time as part of Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial in NYC, co-organized with Cube design museum.
Resurrecting the Sublime allows visitors to experience a glimpse of the past through an extinct flower's resurrected scent. The exhibit serves as a tangible example of damage humans have caused in the past, and how synthetic biology could affect our relationship with nature in the future.
Using its foundry for organism design, a multidisciplinary team at Ginkgo led by creative director Christina Agapakis, business leader Jason Kakoyiannis, and technical program lead Christian Ridley used synthetic biology to revive the smell of the extinct plant by sequencing DNA from preserved specimens. They then resynthesized and injected that DNA into yeast to reproduce the flowers' scents.
These smell molecules are the starting point for chemical reproductions made by Sissel Tolaas. The reconstructed smells are then diffused in fragments into immersive environments designed by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, referencing the geology of the flower's lost habitat. As the smells mix, every inhalation is different, underscoring one of the main messages of the exhibit: we can look to the past, but we cannot bring it back. Resurrecting the Sublime asks us to contemplate our actions, and potentially change them for the future.
With projects ranging from experimental prototypes to consumer products, immersive installations, and architectural constructions, Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial will feature the work of sixty-two international design teams, including scientists, engineers, advocates for social and environmental justice, artists, and philosophers.
More information on the exhibition here
About Ginkgo Bioworks
Ginkgo Bioworks is the organism company, using the power of biology to build sustainable products in food, pharma, manufacturing, and more. Using sophisticated software and state of the art automation, Ginkgo's powerful platform for genetic engineering is making biology easier to engineer, enabling new products to be renewably manufactured with biology.
For more information, visit www.ginkgobioworks.com
About Sissel Tolaas
Scent expert Sissel Tolaas has been working at the intersection of smell and language since 1990 and uses aspects of science, art and design to research and create works that relate to the human experience of smell.
About Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
Through artwork, writing, and curatorial projects, artist Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg explores the human values that shape design, science, technology, and nature. Daisy has spent over ten years researching synthetic biology and the design of living matter.