This exhibition introduced the “Genomix Mask” which is fabricated by collaboration between AI and authors. It intends to tell us about four ages of the world: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, and Chthulucene. In the beginning, people can use technological power to extract resources and well-being from the world. However, over-extraction and exploitation emerged, and negative consequences existed. Therefore, Donna Haraway proposed us to make kin with nature. Authors interpret “making kin” by infusing DNA of humankind and animals (i.e., iguana, monitor, virus, and octopus) as a representative of nature. Ironically, to reconcile between human and nature, we need help from an ‘Artificial’ Intelligent (AI). To some extent, it says that it is an un-thought of ours. How AI contributes to this work? It learns heat-map of DNA and styles of animal organism and then generates many infused patterns that we can use to recompose as a mask.



IEEE VIS 2017 (guest)


Conceptual idea

This exhibition deliberates on the interplaying between technologies, nature, and humankind. Since the Anthropocene emerged, human reached to technology that can control significant parts of geography and society were separated from nature. The mental model that we are not a part of natural things makes possible to exploit them as commodities. Afterwards, capital and its accumulation were a center of the world-system. It was not just the economic relationships, but also the way of organizing nature (Moore, 2016: 6). Hence, capitalocene and platationocence emerged. To put it simply, capital accumulation creates prosperity at the expense of human (i.e., labor and small capitalist) as well as nature. The latter case is damaged by its characteristics. First, it cannot express in term of ‘real’ price. To be sure, there is a market price of nature; however, it might not include a real value of things. The value of them for other fabricated living things or even plants in this world. Second, nature has a high tolerance. Alas! Its patient has limitation. Beyond some threshold, it might strike back. Global warming and other catastrophes are strong signals of this theme. Therefore, alternative voices are needed. Donna Haraway called for a making kin with nature (Haraway, 2015: 161). For her, bringing the humankind back to be a part of nature are a necessity, but it surely is not a smooth pathway. We must face monstrous reactions during this becoming epoch – Chthulucene. Whether we agree or disagree with this proposal, the urgency of an environmental crisis and alienated roles of human from nature are inevitable. In this work, authors interpret making-kin by focusing on DNA.


Technical Explanation

To illustrate connections between human-in-nature and nature-in-human, across this periodization: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, and Chthulucene, we infuse many DNA from different organisms alongside with human’s DNA to create the masks. The process of transforming DNA into art piece starting with using ClustalW2 DNA sequence alignment algorithm to compare nucleotides (A,T,C,G) from human DNA and DNA from other species. The similarity between two distinct DNA is used to generate a heat map visualization that shows the similarity and distinction between two distinct DNA.  We then stylize the visualization using deep learning style transfer algorithm (Gatys : 2015) to transfer the texture from the picture of the selected organisms on their DNA and vice versa.  The deep learning network was pre-trained on VGG-16 model with 16-19 weight layers and 3×3 filters in all convolutional layers.  The weight content/weight style is optimized to 8.5, 3.0 and the algorithm was performing 30 iterations. After the stylization, the visualization was used as visual elements for the artist to put to assemble the masks. This process is bio-inspired by the transcription process in living cells. On the philosophical level, our process depicts our motivation to supersede ourselves into the masks that we create. On the other hand, like a mask, they superficially cover us. This contradiction is not a problem per se as incompatible between human and nature is realistic and unavoidable.


Interpretations of (some) Results

In Capitalocene mask, authors interpret that capital accumulation is not just an intermediary process, but it is a telos of a capitalism per se. During this period, capitalists emerged as a class and ones who have no capital are transformed to be a proletariat. Their labor power is alienated from themselves and sell as a fictitious commodity. Simultaneously, natural things and animals have no voices and subjectivity even if they are also exploited heavily. It inevitably leads us to negative consequences. To illustrate these false, we choose three mutant animals as metaphors. Mutated iguana usually links to a strike back of nature in Japanese movie, Godzilla. Secondly, Varanus is often used as a synonym of badness in the Thai language. Finally, Eagle is a proxy for freedom, reliable, and honorable. But, mutant eagle reverses these meanings. These distorted animals are still warning us silently from nowhere. As you can see, it is the deathful mask. People are left behind the iron wings and repressed by the black spear-like shape. To heal and handle with unfavorable consequences of capitalocene, Donna Haraway proposed us to make kin with nature. Under this process of making kin, we need a patient which can be seen as a sickness and tolerate at the same time. There is no pleasure and easy pathways. We will face many cruel and fearful challenges like monstrous tentacles, therefore, we use genes of virus (invisible strike back of the nature) and octopus.



Humankind used to be a part of nature. But we continuously separated and finally ended up with overexploited it. This practice soon or later makes adverse outgrowths to our destiny. Therefore, some scholars propose to reconcile and to re-member as nature. Transforming and infusing DNA from animals with the human is an allegory of this proposal. Furthermore, our work tries to experiment visualized techniques and develop them more and more, aesthetically and technologically.


Freak Lab