Rotifers, or wheel animals – creatures that have successfully reproduced without sex for 60 million years – could be an incarnation of the human dream of immortality. This is the kind of philosophical and social imagining you get when you let artists from various disciplines loose on the research of molecular and evolutionary biologist Karine Van Doninck. When scientific data is used for art, suddenly rotifers become so much more than rotifers.
The result of this cross-pollination between art and science is a new exhibition at PILAR, the House for Art & Science at VUB, called Bemande Vlucht/Vol Habité/Manned Flight: Rotifers in Action.
According to Karine Van Doninck of ULB, a parallel can even be drawn between the cloning behaviour of rotifers and the growing conservatism in our society. “Humans try desperately to hold on to their own values, they struggle with migration... But all this leads nowhere in the end: it is a dead end in evolution.”
The curator of the VUB exhibition is Ive Stevenheydens: “In addition to the scientific setting of the research, the exhibition also displays the work of eight artists,” he says. “A photographer, for example, portrayed daily life in the lab, focusing on those things that are commonplace for scientists but seem very peculiar to an outsider. By involving artists, their research suddenly takes on a different and much broader perspective. The artists of SEADS, surprisingly, talk about cultural immortality and have made a work of art that has gone into space and evolves with the growing amount of scientific data. Another artist poured the rotifer’s journey to space into a poetic animated film. And artist David Bade will create a participatory work of art on the spot, with young people and other visitors. These are all very exciting and refreshing approaches.”
The exhibition, which runs from 21 April to 12 June, also has a hard scientific section.
Van Doninck: “For instance, with the European Space Agency’s approval, we can for the first time show some of our rotifer modules that went into space. We will also look at scientific aspects of our research, including the rehydration of the rotifers. The cross-pollination with art ensures that we dare to think much further.”
The exhibition is aimed at a very broad audience, of all ages, including children. It opens on Thursday 21 April at 18:30
Manned Flight/Vol Habité/Manned Flight: Rotifers in Action
21 April-12 June
Triomflaan, VUB Entrance 6