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BioArtists Joe Davis (MIT and George Church Lab at Harvard) and Bonnie van Vugt (UvA) will present their artistic research project on ‘Encoding water’, followed by a dialogue moderated by IAS Artist in residence Esmee Geerken. The artists explore the possibilities of encoding different materials and with that invite us to think about a new kind of archive for human knowledge.

Event details of Truth, Water, and Memory: Landscape painting for beginners (on-site)
Date 14 November 2022
Time 15:00 -17:00

BioArtist Joe Davis (affiliated with MIT and George Church lab at Harvard) is bridging the gap between art and science. He has been working on tons of ArtScience projects using synthetic and molecular biology and bioinformatics, using media including centrifuges, radios, prosthetics, magnetic fields, and genetic material. In the past he has worked together with scientists exploring the storage potential of DNA, by encoding microbes with 3D images. Together with rMA Arts & Performance research student Bonnie van Vugt he will present a new project on encoding bulk materials such as water, perfume and eventually landscapes.

Ordinary drinking water can hold information by precisely varying amounts of their respective component substances. Not only water but bulk materials like sand and clay, and even mixtures of scent are made up of different substances and are thus capable of holding information. This means that the soil of our earth can be encoded to hold information and become an archive for human knowledge. Codes are systems of signals, symbols, textures, colors, shapes, and forms coupled with procedures for meaningfully combining them. Information science, on the other hand, has become the study of structures intentionally removed from meaning and purpose. Nothing is just zero or one, black or white. Everything has texture, nuance, the measure of what is true and real and what is not.

Inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’ short story ‘On Exactitude in Science’, about an imagined empire in which science has become so exact that only a map of the same scale as the empire itself will fulfill, the two are planning to make a map of a landscape that coincides with the landscape itself – using nonlinear encoding techniques. Exactitude in Science hinted at scientists that believed they could produce a perfect map of the world, as the only map that would ever be perfect is a precise reproduction of its territory: a paradox. Now it seems that a map of the world that coincides with the world might turn out to be possible. With this project, the artists invite you to imagine a new kind of library and to think about the legacy of human archives.



Walk in with tea and coffee


Welcome to the IAS ArtScience event by Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes and introduction by Esmee Geerken

15:30 Presentation by Joe Davis and Bonnie van Vugt
16:15 Dialogue moderated by Esmee Geerken


University of Amsterdam - Institute for Advanced Study
Oude Turfmarkt 147
1012 GC Amsterdam