Henry Tan (Bangkok) - Laurie Ramsell (Birmingham)
Supported by British Councils 2019 - Connecting Through Culture Grants
Laurie Ramsell is UK artist based in Birmingham. Laurie has been an artist Fellow at Birmingham Open Media for over 4 years, working with living materials such as bacterial cellulose and slime mold to create bioartworks. In 2017 he developed a 3D clay printer to explore sustainable printing methods and materials. Laurie's current research explores city infrastructure using cell biology.
Henry Tan is Bangkok based artist, Co-founder of Tentacles Art Space, member of Freaklab, Thailand and metaPhorest, Japan, Global Bio Community fellow 2019. Henry's ongoing project is to engineer and monitor dreams to question state surveillance and ideology, Henry collaborated with scientists to send synthetic Pearl to International Space Station for 1 month in March 2020.
BIOCAMP TOKYO AND BEYOND -
Laurie and Henry first met at Biocamp Tokyo 2018 - a 10 day long series of workshops and seminars, bringing artists from around the world whose artistic practice share an interest in life sciences and biotechnology.
The goal of our exchange is to build off that initial exchange at Bio Camp Tokyo and continue to develop an understanding of how bioart practices impact ourselves and our communities.
This funding will support us to be able to visit and explore each other's respective countries in order to unlock knowledge, materials, networks, and potential audiences that will support and develop our bioart practices in the long term. Neither of us has previously visited each other country, so this is an important opportunity to spend time with each other to learn and understand the contexts in which we have both been inspired to investigate creating bioart.
LAURIE IN BANGKOK -
Exhibition at Bangkok Art and Culture Center. Learning about the Thai Monarchy, community art projects, and the history of LGBT+ in Thailand.
Taking boat trip along Chaophraya River. Exploring the city by different transport lines (road, tuktuk, motorbike, train, subway) to experience what Bangkok is like to move around, how people connect and sites of interest.
Freaklab - KMUTT University. Demonstration of Atomic Force Microscopy (used to map out nano textures on surfaces) in the laboratory, and Freaklab projects, ranging from 3d food printing, monitoring water pollution with snails, etc.
Bangkok Gallery night 2020 - Tuktuk tour. Visiting galleries and art centres around the city which stay open later than usual. A broad range of cultural exhibitions, showcasing museum collections, commercial and contemporary artworks.
Yer space - ceramic studio. Tour of local artists studios, particularly working with clay such as Eiair, who crafts miniature organic sculptures inspired by diatoms; and Professor Takanao Todo, exploring 3D printing within ceramics at Chulalonkkorn University.
Asiatique - trying Durian first time. Henry took Laurie around local markets and introduced him to popular Thai foods. Laurie also visited Chatuchak market to find locally crafted ceramics.
HENRY IN UK
Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Henry's trip to UK was cancelled. Cases rocketed in the UK and travel was strongly advised against. As cases diminished, lockdown restrictions prevented all non-essential venues to remain closed, only recently reopening in July 2021 - meaning that visiting the UK during this time would have been unpredictable and unproductive.
To continue our collaboration, we chose to look at a living material which we could both work with and explore ways of connecting virtually. The material we settled on was slime mold, known for exhibiting non-human intelligence in laboratory trials, and producing tendrils which create a web of networks. Henry and Laurie planned to search for slime mold around Bangkok and Birmingham, finding it in the wild by exploring our own cities. We then questioned what would route would that slime mold would potentially take to connect Bangkok to Birmingham?
Slimemold is a single-cell organism able to solve complex problems. Slime mold can be found almost everywhere on Earth except Antarctica and Iceland, where there is no food sources for them. They often appear on forest floors and lawns, where they feed on dead organic matter like leaves and grass. It is also known as Physarum polycephalum
A slime mold's ability to solve mazes was discovered when biologists from Hokkaido University in Japan decided to test their cognitive abilities using food placed at different points inside a maze-like structure made out of agar jelly. The slime mold will grow towards the food source until every piece is eaten. Then it will retract into its original shape and start all over again until it has consumed everything within reach. They will stop moving only once all food sources have been exhausted - which means that if you placed an unlimited amount of food across its entire stretchable body, it would never stop moving!
We became interested in creating a map of minerals, soils, rocks, and spices which reflects the materials which would move along the historic silk road between East Asia and Europe. If we introduce a slim mold culture onto the map, how will it react to the different substances?
Slime mold has been introduced to maps before, but always along flat two-dimensional surfaces, usually in petri dishes. 'Organs on a Chip' research looks at turning stagnant 2D petri dish colonies of bacteria into 3D realistic models of what organic environments are really like. We could apply this to maps too.
By creating 3D maps rather than 2D ones we will get a more realistic idea of how a slime mold colony would travel between different areas - no necessarily in a straight line like on a flat pertri dish, but possibly around mountainous terrain.
There are 7324 miles between Bangkok and Birmingham, with two obvious high topographies in Uzbekistan and Bhutan. We could 3D print a paste which slime mold can grow on and explore how its route compares to that of the original silk road.