AboutZoos, Since 2008


How ani­mals could evolve tech­ni­cally, an artist’s impression

pub­lished 31 Decem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 03 Novem­ber 2014

Take a stroll through French artist Vin­cent Fournier’s gallery of ani­mal pho­tographs, and you’re likely to come across some crea­tures you’ve never seen before. Like, for instance, a jel­ly­fish that is capa­ble of elec­tron­i­cally trans­mit­ting data across the Abyssal depths of the ocean. Or, per­haps, a scor­pion that can per­form semi-​automated surgery on humans.

Ibis by Fournier“These crea­tures come from the future — an imag­ined future, based loosely on cur­rent research on syn­thetic biol­ogy and genetic engi­neer­ing,” says Fournier, of his project Post-​Natural His­tory, a series of digitally-​altered pho­tos of ani­mals that do not yet exist. “The idea is that these are liv­ing species, repro­grammed by mankind to bet­ter fit our envi­ron­ment as well as to adapt to new human desires.”

Fournier, who has pre­vi­ously worked on pho­tog­ra­phy projects involv­ing robots and space tech­nol­ogy, got the idea for Post-​Natural His­tory while brows­ing the spec­i­men col­lec­tions of the Muséum National d’Histoires Naturelles, in Paris.

“I met a spe­cial­ist in evo­lu­tion­ary genet­ics, and we dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­i­ties of how liv­ing species could evolve accord­ing to tech­nolo­gies and the chang­ing envi­ron­ment,” he says. “And so I became inter­ested in the idea of exag­ger­at­ing the present in order to cre­ate spec­u­la­tive fiction.”

.…the viewer is not cer­tain whether these species are real or not, or even when and how they were made
.« Vin­cent Fournier

Each of the cre­ations began with Fournier pho­tograph­ing a taxi­der­mi­cally pre­pared spec­i­men from an actual liv­ing species. Then, work­ing with spe­cial­ists at a 3D imag­ing lab­o­ra­tory in Brus­sels, he added fic­tional adap­ta­tions to them, embell­ish­ing the crea­tures with fea­tures such as an antenna that trans­mits GPS data (for the bee­tle) or metal legs that can resist extreme tem­per­a­tures (for the ibis).

Sub­tlety is the key. “I didn’t want the trans­for­ma­tions to be over­stated, noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar,” Fournier says. “It could be a ges­ture, a tex­ture, a detail. Thus, the viewer is not cer­tain whether these species are real or not, or even when and how they were made.”

The adap­ta­tions, Fournier imag­ines, result from the mar­riage of two emerg­ing sci­en­tific fields: syn­thetic biol­ogy, which involves the cre­ation of entirely arti­fi­cial bio­log­i­cal sys­tems, and genetic engi­neer­ing, which involves manip­u­lat­ing an exist­ing organism’s DNA.

Some of these imag­ined crea­tures seem to exist in order to advance human inter­ests — the fish, for instance, can serve as a remotely con­trolled mil­i­tary drone — while oth­ers have been engi­neered to sur­vive in a hot­ter, more extreme cli­mate of the future.

Fournier freely admits that his cre­ations aren’t the most likely human-​engineered species to arise in the future. “My project is more about ques­tion­ing the fron­tier between the liv­ing and the arti­fi­cial in an aes­thetic way,” he says. “It is the imag­i­nary and fan­tasy side of sci­ence that I am inter­ested in, its fic­tional and extra­or­di­nary potential.”

Fournier likens the cre­ations to the items in Renaissance-​era “Cab­i­nets of curiosi­ties,” which con­tained extra­or­di­nary spec­i­mens and arti­facts brought back from far­away lands. “It’s like a cab­i­net of curios­ity, but with a dif­fer­ent approach: The jour­ney goes into time, rather than space,” he says.

To heighten the unnerv­ing sense of real­ism of these imag­ined species, Fournier pre­sented them in the style of a clas­si­cal ency­clo­pe­dic illus­tra­tion, com­plete with sci­en­tific names. “They have the very strange beauty of things that are both famil­iar and strange at the same time,” he says. “It is usu­ally at the sec­ond glance that you realise that things are not what you think they are.”

Cur­rent expo­si­tions of Fournier’s work of art:
- Sci­ence Gallery, Dublin, Ire­land 24.10.201319.01.2014 (Grow your own | Life after nature)
- Nether­lands Archi­tec­ture Insti­tute, Rot­ter­dam, Nether­lands 27-​09-​201319.01.2014 [extended] (Biode­sign)
Rabbit by fournier

(Source: Smith­son­ian mag­a­zine Col­lage of Arts and Sci­ences Blog, 27.12.2013; web­site Vin­cent Fournier)

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