The American Arts Incubator – Poland “Layers of Life” workshop questioned “What is Life in the Bio-Tech Era?” through the lens of empowerment – exploring this pivotal point we are at in evolution across many strata, including personal, social, emotional and environmental impact, questioning how we can empower ourselves and our world, creating concepts and projects that provoke new ideas to shape a more resilient future.
Our inquiry resulted in presentations at a pitch event and an exhibition titled "Wystawa Warstwy życia" or "Layers of Life: What is Life in the Bio-Tech Era?" at Centrum Nauki Kopernik/ Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw, Poland. It was a very inspiring month of growth and development working together. The work was exceptional, and the amount of development and accomplishment in this short period of time was nothing less than astounding. I felt proud of the participants and proud to be involved.
Posters outside of Copernicus Science Centre announcing “Layers of Life” Exhibition. Photo by Amy Karle.
The opening night was May 11, 2018. The evening kicked off with presentations from each group, who presented their projects and competed for funding to continue the work before a 200+ member audience and esteemed panelists: Aleksandra Hirszfeld — philosopher, artist, curator, writer/journalist; Joanna Jeśman — Culture Expert, Professor, Researcher; Wiktor Gajewski — Director of Copernicus Science Centre, Dan Hastings — Cultural Attaché, US Embassy Warsaw; and Amy Karle — Bioartist, Artist in Residence at Copernicus Science Centre, American Arts Incubator Exchange Artist, and teacher/faciliator for American Arts Incubator — Poland “Layers of Life” workshop class.
The pitches and projects were impressive and well-conceived in their creation and presentation. The judges asked poignant questions and gave great feedback! In the end, we determined all of the projects were so strong that the sustainability award funding would be divided equally amongst all groups so that they could all continue to pursue their great work. Thank you to our panelists for intriguing questions and thoughtful feedback, and thank you to the participants for your thoughtful and inspiring work!
The opening of the exhibition “Layers of Life: What is Life in the Bio-Tech Era” at the Copernicus Center Pavilion overlooking the Vistula River was a celebration of the learnings, advancements, and achievement, and shared the projects which were a collection of art installations and bio-art projects in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). The show and the event was a huge success! Over 500 attendees visited the exhibition throughout the evening.
At the end of the night, The "Heavens of Copernicus" Planetarium at Copernicus Science Center hosted a special screening of a film by Artist Amy Karle recorded primarily from her work in the salt mines in southern Poland and under the microscope in the biolab at Copernicus.
The point we are at in evolution is biology and technology merging. This can be destructive or empowering depending on how we use it. I explore how nature creates and how to use this mergence with technology to our benefit: to heal, enhance and empower us. My larger project as an artist studies what it means to be human. I use the body, art and design, science and exponential technology (including 3D printing, regenerative medicine / synthetic bio, AI, etc.) as mirrors to the self and mirrors to who we can become.
As American Arts Incubator Exchange Artist and Artist in Residence at Copernicus, I considered "Layers of Life" and how we form: biologically/socially/emotionally/spiritually — on all levels, while questioning, “What is life in the bio-tech era?” I wanted to transcend these layers — from the micro to the macro, from the individual to the social, from the internal to the external, from the depths of the earth to the sky, space, and beyond.
I conducted research in the labs at Copernicus Science Centre and in two UNESCO heritage sites: the Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines; in one of the deepest parts of the earth accessible to humans (in Bochnia), and studied concepts of space at Copernicus. I also researched how nature forms and grows: in this case, the natural additive manufacturing (natural 3D printing) of salt water/brine and crystallization. I considered salt as a vital, life-sustaining element in our bodies and of our earth, and learned about theories surrounding the origins of life, which astrobiologists propose may have began with salt.
ARTISTIC RESEARCH in labs and mines conducted with the support of Copernicus Science Center Bio Lab, Stanisław Loboziak, Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines.
PRINTS Crystallization under various conditions under the microscope. Created in the Biolab at Copernicus Science Center with support from Stanisław Łoboziak:
PERFORMANCE ART in Wieliczka Salt Mine. Film by Grain Films, software by Aaron Thomen, with support and sponsorship by Wieliczka Salt Mine.
SCULPTURE on the origins of life in salt and water. Considering the role of salts in our bodies, earth and universe; how nature forms and grows; and women's empowerment, these works are 3D printed sculptures with natural additive manufacturing crystal growth. “Crystal Copernicus” is a large scale sculpture made with generous sponsorship by Titanic Design and support from Benjamin Julian.
PLANETARIUM SHOW artistic video and sound art in Planetarium exhibition created with Grain Films (Maciej Przemysław Wróbel, Kacper Bartczak, Adam Woropiński, Piotr Wilhelmi), Copernicus Planetarium Team (Weronika Śliwa, Mateusz Borkowicz, Paulina Majda) and Copernicus Bio Lab / Stanisław Loboziak.
A very special thank you to: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs — U.S. Department of State's , ZERO1, U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Centrum Nauki Kopernik, Kopalnia Soli "Wieliczka", Kopalnia Soli "Bochnia" Planetarium Niebo Kopernika, Titanic Design: Rapid 3D Printing, Grain Films, and all those without whose generous support this project would not be possible.
Aggregation of biological data extracted from our bodies is a fact. Our virtual identities are being turned into a resource. The body, which used to be the source of power/life/vitality, is being turned into a generator of data, which is then used in ways that we often find mysterious. Global corporations know us better than our partners, families, and friends — better than we know ourselves.
Is escapism the only alternative to being a passive data provider? Can this situation be seen not only as a threat but also an opportunity? Can our interference with the digital data collection systems create a new space for social change?
Empowerment does not happen in the process of alienation but consolidation. Together we become strong. We believe in collective intelligence and cooperation between humans and technology. The installation “Pulse Translator” proposes a tool that transforms biological data and uses them to generate a new message.
PULSE TRANSLATOR collaborators would like to give special thanks to: Copernicus Science Centre, AAI, Amy Karle, Piotr Gołąbek, Piotr Pobłocki, Dagmara Kiradze, Mateusz Pawełczuk, Jacek Rosiński, Monika Urbaniak, and Kinga Szymańska. Created in cooperation with FabLab powered by Orange.
The Breath of Life is a prototype of a chamber with an oxygen reactor that intensively produces oxygen by water plants. The lung cleansing ritual is based on aquatic plants: cabbage and Canadian urea, which, thanks to their ability to carry out an intensive photosynthesis process, provide continuous oxygen production.
The project is a response to the growing problem of air pollution and everyday stress. We live fast on a day-to-day basis and do not think about processes such as photosynthesis carried out by plants to obtain oxygen which is essential for our lives. We are building roads, factories and many others structures, leading to the destruction of more and more plant species, resulting in the development of many civilizational diseases.
The chamber allows us to perceive with the naked eye this invisible-essential life function thanks to the oxygen bubbles produced by plants. The project shows in a physical way the process of photosynthesis and how important their preservation is to our survival.
Additionally, the chamber is a place where you can calm down and regenerate your lungs using conscious breathing. The high oxygen content has a positive effect on brain activity, which is the added value of the project. This experience is accompanied by breathing instructions to optimize body oxygenation and relaxation. Why is this so important? Because for most people stress is a factor that blocks them from developing their competencies. We can control this by breathing!
Breath is a powerful tool to regulate our mind and emotions. To enhance the experience, we’ve created a light and sound structure on the head to visualize the rhythm of breathing (by changing the color of the lights in coordination with the inhale and the exhale) with a mask through which air is taken in during breathing, saturated with oxygen from the reactor. Vases with water plants are live bioreactors that can filter air on the industrial scale and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
BREATH OF LIFE collaborators would like to give special thanks to: Copernicus Science Centre, AAI, Amy Karle, FabLab powered by Orange and Bartosz Andrzejczak.
Recent scientific discoveries are turning our attention towards the ability of plants and animals to perform photosynthesis, a process which until recently been attributed only to the plant kingdom. In our project, we ask questions and speculate about the possibility of using this mechanism. We travel to the future where plant-based tissue garments with chloroplasts and printable chloroplast tattoos can give us an extra shot of energy. The costume is accompanied by an installation showing the process of immobilizing algae Scenedesmus obliquus and closing them in alginate spheres. We were inspired by symbiotic relationships between plants and animals.
"The Breath of Life", "Oddech życia" by Agi Sadurska. Film accompanying Chlorobody / Plantenstein and sister project Breath of Life.
CHLOROBODY / PLANTENSTEIN collaborators would like to give special thanks to: Copernicus Science Center, AAI, Amy Karle, Piotr Gołąbek i Piotr Pobłocki from Fab Lab powered by Orange.
We are currently able to culture only 1% of our microbiome in laboratory conditions. It is 2 kg of our body weight and affects our health and well-being. We were inspired to build a Petri dish that is 60 times bigger than the standard size, where we gathered microorganisms living on our workshop group cell phones.
Here, we can observe their mutual interactions, which also take place when we shake each others hands, kiss another person, or move through the world. It is a visualization of the world that is not accessible to us because we can not perceive it with the naked eye. Moreover, we usually relate bacteria to being sick, whereas only a small fraction of them are pathogenic. Most of them collaborate with us, protect our organisms, and drive life on our planet. Our microbiome is our unique biological imprint.
P.D. would like to give special thanks to: Copernicus Science Center, AAI, Amy Karle, Piotr Gołąbek i Piotr Pobłocki from Fab lab, Kuba Stańczyk from “Dobry Plan," and company Plexipol.
How does our mind process emotions and how does our body use them? Could visualizing our emotional processes make it easier for people to express their feelings and understand the feelings of other people? How would our body and our society work if knowledge of emotions was more common? Would we be healthier if we knew how positive emotions are formed?
We want to show the unnoticeable, a layer that connects all the people in the world, and help them create beautiful and wise things. We want our recipients to see, hear, and experience by themselves the way emotions work, what they are used for, and how to use them. We want to encourage scientists to study emotions.
Our goal is to create the Pavilion of Emotions, a place that will fill our educational gap and help us gain knowledge around emotions, making it easier for us to make good and wise choices. The Pavilion will be a place of education, inspiration, and stimulation of our imaginations, where people will be invited to explore how important emotions are in our lives. At the exhibition, you will see a model of the Pavilion that symbolizes the mission of our project.
We used the model of Paul Ekman, which describes the six basic emotions that account for all the richness in our emotional lives. Our project’s main characters are Sorrow, Anger, Fear, Disgust, Enjoyment, and Surprise.
We have created an artistic visualization of sound waves accompanying words that describe our feelings and molecules of chemical compounds that co-create emotional states in our brain: dopamine — whose deficiency causes sadness, adrenaline — released by anger, noradrenaline — a fear-related compound, histamine — related to disgust, serotonin — a neurotransmitter associated with joy, and acetylcholine — which triggers surprise.
We have also designed a new Molecule of Empowerment. Who knows, maybe soon it will turn out that there is a molecule in our bodies that brings out the best in us?
The project also features a Dictionary of Indeterminate States – an educational game that encourages people to reflect on how the expression of feelings is culture-related.
LAYERS OF EMOTIONS was created in cooperation with FabLab powered by Orange with special thanks to: Copernicus Science Center, AAI, Amy Karle.
Inwertomin is a visual representation of air monitoring stations. It encourages you to stop, breathe in fresh, pleasantly cold, and clean air, and to reflect on the problem of air pollution in the city.
Inwertomin is based on the concept of a reversion of the traditional chimney. Instead of spitting out hot fumes, it absorbs polluted air from above and releases it cleaned through the bottom side. The device's functional base is a cooling and moisturizing installation which moves the air inside downwards. One of the solutions we considered in order to achieve this effect is using a cooling substance in Inwertomin's external layer. Inwertomin's core consists of air filters inspired by coral reefs and moss. Their structure enables airflow within large surfaces. The pollution gathering on the filters causes Inwertomin to change its color from white to brownish-grey. The Inwertomin transforms itself gradually according to the airflow — it becomes dirty at the top and remains clean at the bottom. It acts as a warning totem visualizing the degree of air pollution.
*Descriptions on the projects above were provided by each team.
These projects were produced as part of American Arts Incubator, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by ZERO1. The incubator in Poland was produced in collaboration with U.S. Embassy Warsaw and the Copernicus Science Centre.
As an American Arts Incubator exchange artist, Artist Amy Karle’s task was to focus on public diplomacy and social innovation to empower women in STEAM in Warsaw, Poland. She led workshops and field trips, taught new media art skills, encouraged collaboration, and facilitated and supported teams to create community projects using art and technology to address social challenges in the model of a hybrid artist residency and Silicon Valley type incubator. The workshop concluded with the presentations, a panel review, small grants funding, and the public exhibition discussed above.
Follow the conversation, get updates and inspiration at American Arts Incubator — Poland Facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/361402877645612/
We are more than halfway into American Arts Incubator — Poland, and it has been an amazing journey witnessing our growth, development, and empowerment of participants and myself through the “Layers of Life” workshop.
Each exchange focuses on a social challenge unique to that country. The social challenge for my exchange focuses on women’s empowerment in STEAM. Before I went to Poland I started asking my family, friends, and colleagues what “empowerment” means to them. It is unique to everyone and a very interesting question to ask. I was impressed by the answers that I was given, it revealed so much about each person and opened my mind as well.
When I got to Poland, I started asking the same question — and quickly learned there is no word for “empowerment” in Polish. So, from the beginning of the workshop we consistently explored what “empowerment” means to each of us, and collectively, how we could explore and express it in theory, practice, our work and our everyday lives. We are still exploring this as we prepare our projects for the upcoming exhibition and pitch/panel review.
Once we brought the concept of empowerment into our awareness, it quickly became evident that considering empowerment — how we can be empowered, how we can empower others, how we can make a situation empowering, etc. — is a very powerful lens to look through and can bring about positive change very quickly.
We found the spirit of empowerment is from within and also in support from and for others to enable and empower each other. It's diverse, and unique to all of us.
From within, we have been finding new skills in ourselves as well as inner strengths to try new things with boldness and courage.
For many participants, it's the first time working with digital manufacturing and fabrication technologies, working in diverse groups (with artists, scientists, theorists), collaborating across disciplines to make projects, as well as presenting, pitching, and exhibiting.
For me too, this was my first time leading a workshop. From the very first day of leading this workshop, it became apparent that empowerment to me is creating the space for others to make their best work, and ultimately to be their best selves. Reflecting on my role in this workshop has taught me the value of this position from the very beginning and I have done my best to come from this place while facilitating participants and their projects to grow... and do my best to set a great example working alongside them.
As the work from the exhibition and panel review comes out, I hope you can see the astounding conceptual development, execution, scope, and refinement of what was produced in such a short period of time — and see the projects both as they are and all that they achieved within this short timeframe — as well as the potential of what these projects and this work can become.
This brings us to the other part of empowerment — support from others. We truly couldn’t have done what or as much as we have without the people who supported, collaborated with, and empowered us. Cooperation, collaboration, support, inspiration… I don’t know if I could name exactly what it was that brought us to grow and achieve so much in such a short period of time, but something that the people and institutions who supported us did, and something we have been doing for each other enabled us and empowered us to make a quantum leap in our work and feel good about ourselves in the process.
Learn more about our workshop and programming at:
The process of making art is like the process of exploring yourself. For me, it is one and the same. Making art is a process of exploring myself and the world around me, making sense of it in a way that is beyond the thinking mind… from a place of all of these stirred influences that made me into who I am… the stirred area of the collective unconscious too… when I’m creating my art, it's not just for me, and it's not just from me, it's from a place that I can only articulate through creating art, and a way for me to share this internal experience that is indescribable in any other way than through the language of art – to share it with others.
In the art-making process the past, present and future are all one, and all come through strong in my work. The work is really about presence though... in order to assimilate all of those forces into one it is about being present and letting them come though… it is not about the thinking mind and especially not about a to-do list.
The process of making art is like the process of exploring yourself: witness how past, present, future manifest into the material world. It’s about listening to ourselves, to our intuition, to nature, to the world around us, and to each other. It’s about just being... listening and observing… and balancing that with the creating and the doing.
Exchange: Connecting With Ourselves and Each Other
As an American Arts Incubator exchange artist to Poland, I bring my practice of body-based investigation and technological experimentation to explore what it means to be human. I use technology in my process as a mirror to the self and as a mirror to who we can become. My artwork can be seen as artifacts of a speculative future because I’m thinking about how to heal and enhance the body/mind/spirit and using technology and workflows to help us get there. It’s of vital importance that I explore this in a way that can be empowering and for our best and highest good, especially when using exponential technologies that have the potential to perpetuate evolution faster than natural means, and irreversibly.
As an artist I am a provocateur,
it is my own questions being reflected into my work.
As an exchange artist to Poland, I will share my personal stories and experiences, personally, and professionally. I’ll share what goes into my work and how I make my work, including methodologies of how I explore personal and universal stories of what it means to be human as the basis for creating meaningful and cutting-edge work in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math). I’ll share how I collaborate, how I get people excited about my work and working together, how I work across and with other disciplines, and how to develop proposals, document, speak about and share work. I will offer a workshop and guide group projects to build skills and connections through investigations of past, present, and future. Personal stories will be the basis for participants to create projects that acknowledge and/or enable them to break through barriers ingrained in cultural norms. I look forward to working alongside my Polish counterparts participating in the workshop.
Most of all I’ll be listening. Listening to the people, listening to the participants and listening to the area. It’s not just about what we can communicate verbally. There are life events, experiences and stories that we carry within ourselves, and show up in our identity, choices in life, health and well-being. Many of our experiences and emotions live in our body, and are not of the realm of language or thought. There are ways to access, study, communicate and understand these experiences we hold in our body and live through. Awareness, dialogue, experimentation and art making are some of those means.
I intend to make space for participants and I to create experiments that set us up to learn something about ourselves, or see ourselves in a new way and use STEAM in the process. I plan to focus on self-empowerment through opening the space and imparting tools for awareness, dialogue, experimenting, inventing, prototyping, creating and presenting STEAM related projects that function as a catalyst for self-awareness, individual expression and thus self-empowerment.
I hope to impart ways to get in touch with one's self (mind, body, emotions) and share it with others, excitement to experiment and prototype ideas, and I hope to provide insight and open minds into a way of thinking about exponential technologies and what it means to be human.
Art, Science, Technology and What it Means to Be Human
, 3D printed scaffolds for stem cell culture into bone is an example of integrating past, present and future as well as the human condition, emotional states, the body, mystic agency and scientific, medical and technological rigor all in one piece. “Regenerative Reliquary” embraces the mystery of life, religion/spirituality and life/death in a singular piece while making advancements in science, medicine and technology. It is not so much to speak to a single facet but to be a unified holistic model, communicating fundamental questions of what it means to be human and combining disciplines to open minds to future visions of who we are, and who we could become.
I was distinctly drawn to Poland because of the Polish people, their strength of character and unyielding spirit, as well as a softness and love that many carry inside. I feel there was something that I carry with me in my upbringing and my view of the world that I can relate to in Polish society, connect with and offer.
I grew up Catholic by heritage in an Italian American family in Endicott, NY, a small town largely comprised of European immigrants, including a large Polish population who came to the area because of the progressive policies of Endicott-Johnson Shoe Corporation. Women and immigrants were welcome to work there, and the company-sponsored library even had a section of books in Polish. My Grandmother and her friends were factory workers. Growing up, I visited many of my Grandmother’s Polish friends and heard stories of the “old country," witnessing their emotions and emotional style as they spoke. My extended family is Polish and I have a strong interest in learning about how contemporary Polish people relate to themselves and others, where they’re from, their view of the future and notion of present.
Since accepting this role of American Incubator artist to Poland with a focus on empowering women in STEAM, this assignment has had me questioning my own empowerment, when I feel empowered or disempowered... and what to do (or not do) about it. Sometimes it is about external constraints but often it is more about our internal constraints.
Much of self-empowerment is how we feel. It’s a balancing act between internal empowerment and related action (or inaction). A big part of it is centering in how we do feel, accepting that – without trying to run away – and then also considering the best case scenario of how we want to feel, the best case scenario of who we want to become – even if only in a specific situation. Sometimes that requires outward action, but often the first action starts within ourselves.
How do we access what is on the inside and present it in ways that will be received? Present it in ways that are true to ourselves and empower us – regardless of the outcome?
This non-attachment to the outcome was a foreign concept to me, and required practice – but has empowered me – this notion to do our best in a way we feel good about regardless of the outcome… and then balancing that with focusing on a desired outcome and evaluating what the outcome is. It hasn’t always been an easy practice but it has helped.
Planning this project and working with various parties has made me acutely aware of when I feel empowered and disempowered. No one can tell you how to feel or if your feelings are wrong or right – they are your feelings. However, others can hold a mirror up for you to see yourself. Do you want to look?
To speak to the heart and the mind, we have come from the heart and mind.
We can’t let success go to the head, and not let failure go to the heart.
All images © 2016, 2017, 2018 Amy Karle