Transgenic Mosquitoes, Musical Tomatoes, and Urban Fruit

If you are in or near San Jose, California, this weekend, these are just some of the delights that await at this year’s 01SJ Biennial.

IMAGE: Transgenic Mosquitoes of California by the Center for PostNatural History.

Under the pioneering and Utopian instruction to “Build Your Own World,” the Biennial’s curators have assembled an enormous quantity of projects that, at a variety of scales, attempt to redesign our environment, infrastructure, atmosphere, and culture.

Unfortunately, some events have already come and gone — I would have loved to have been able to attend Tuesday’s Still Life with Banquet, in which media artist Grahame Weinbren partnered with chef Kitty Greenwald to serve a meal presented in Dutch still-life format, surrounded by video footage of the food’s decay.

IMAGE: Click for video. Still from A1 (Linard), by Grahame Weinbren. Timelapse presentation of a twelve-week shot, based on a still life by seventeenth-century French painter, Jacques Linard.

It’s a clever conceit, but also — I imagine — functioned as a visceral reminder that our obsession with only buying flawless fruit and vegetables over-prioritises a single, freeze-framed moment in an organic cycle.

Ongoing displays include a Seed Garden Library, arranged by micro-climate suitability, from artist Amy Franceschini’s lovely Victory Gardens project, as well as a transgenic mosquito from the collections of the fascinating Center for Post Natural History. The insect, which has been developed in a biosecurity level 3 laboratory at the University of Bamako, in Mali, is designed to resist the malaria parasite, and should be ready for industrial production as early as next year.

According to a report on SciDev.Net, “The researchers hope that resistant mosquitoes will one day take over wild populations, eventually wiping malaria out.”

IMAGE: Amy Franceschini, Victory Garden Seed Library. (Photo by Amy Franceschini).

The San Francisco-based Studio for Urban Projects (SPUR) have created Public Orchard, an installation that includes heritage fruit trees as well as a discussion space to explore creative solutions to overcome city government resistance to urban edible landscapes. SPUR notes that “fruit trees are discouraged in the permit process because of concerns about the mess on city streets,” while fruit picking in parks is often “technically illegal, as it encourages ‘the destruction of park property.'”

In response, their installation investigates low-maintenance models of urban edible landscapes, municipal codes that encourage public foraging, and collaborative opportunities to harvest and preserve food.

IMAGE: i-Weather, by fabric | ch, an installation at the Biennial that creates “an open-source artificial climate” — a parallel 25-hour day based on the most up-to-date knowledge of human metabolism, circadian rhythms, and the medical efficacy of light therapy.

IMAGE: Sunshine Still, an Biennial installation by futurefarmers that uses a converted moonshine still to convert organic waste and algae into “engine-ready ethanol fuel by day and drinkable ethyl alcohol by night.”

Rebar, the creative genius behind today’s PARKing Day, are also represented at the Biennial, with their FarmCycle, “a pedal-powered alternative to the fossil-fuel driven tractor,” better suited to the needs of urban farmers. On a similar note, my generous hosts from earlier this week, Georgia Tech, have collaborated with The Public Design Workshop to create the Growbot Garden, which investigates a scaled-down form of precision agriculture, incorporating robotics and sensing technology into community gardens and green roofs.

IMAGE: Ladybug board, part of the Growbot Garden Flickr set uploaded by Public Design Workshop.

Today’s events include a pop-up edition of the forageSF Underground Market, set up to skirt around legislation that keeps foraged produce out of farmers’ markets by restricting booths to “primary producers,” and not “gatherers,” as well as a not-to-be missed talk by Darrin Nordahl, author of Public Produce, on “municipal agriculture,” or practical strategies to encourage food production on public land (5:30 p.m., registration required).

Meanwhile, tomorrow’s highlights include a biodiesel bus tour of San Jose’s historic urban orchards, as well as an Imaginary Airforce Flight Attendant Training at designer Natalie Jeremijenko’s xAirport facility — your chance to glide along a zipline above the biodiverse riches of a constructed wetland (as opposed to squeezing into a fossil-fuel guzzling 747 on the environmental wasteland that is a runway built on “reclaimed” marsh).

IMAGE: xAirport, courtesy David Fletcher.

IMAGE: SLO DOG, a hot dog roller grill-inspired entry into Saturday’s Green Prix.

The Biennial closes on Sunday, September 19, accompanied by a Tomato Quintet (a “full set of tomato ripening data in a musification which is accelerated by a factor of 240X”) and accompanying fresh salsa. I wish I could be there — let me know what you think, if you go.

IMAGE: Tomato Quintet, in the recording studio. Photo by Greg Niemeyer.

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 18, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    This exhibit is one of the reasons I miss the Bay Area! Also, will the transgenic mosquito get its own post?

    p.s. Is SPUR the San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association?

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