Artist in lab: Making a field of interpretation for BioSolar Cells

The application of BioSolar cells in a new energy system will have a profound impact on the production and use of energy resources. This project explores a new way of engaging the public by addressing the questions raised by BioSolar Cells that concern society at large, outside the realm of scientific research or industrial production, with artistic probes for debate. The core of this project is to implement and reflect on a new form of science communication, in which active participation of the public is central. We are seeking to establish a shared or public responsibility for the cultural, social and ethical implications of the research into BioSolar cells. This new communication form involves bioart:  an art form in which both research on biosolar cells and public debate are visible. The focus is on science communication and engaging the public in scientific thinking by means of art, but without communication with beautiful pictures; hence without using art to achieve a specific goal.

In the project, artists, scientists and scholars create an open space for public discussion of the implications of the biobased economy. Artists design Genetically Modified photosynthetic living constructs that go beyond the idea of beauty, in order to evoke an experience of the implications of the BioSolar Cells program – and its follow-up in a biobased economy – to the public. These artists implement their ideas in BioSolar Cells laboratories that are involved in the research program, mainly through the Arts and Genomics Centre at Leiden University and the Agrotechnology & Food Sciences Group (AFSG) of Wageningen University Research center. The practical science implementation is carried out by a graduate student with comprehensive skills in life sciences and with experience in artistic practice. The artists involved in the project use artistic media, including GM photosynthetic constructs, to provide the public with a window on the science of the three themes of BioSolar Cells. The project will be a success if it produces a new form of science communication and commitment from the public for active participation in a debate based on art for public debate.

The art works and interactive artistic performances are presented and discussed at public events with the objective of shaping ethical guidelines.  These events will be analysed by a PhD student who will draw conclusions on how to produce new ethical guidelines in the context of the vast historical humanities background.


For BioSolar Cells, Adam Zaretsky developed the so-called 'Errorarium'. This machine contains mutants of a model plant for DNA testing: Thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). The mutants have been produced with Zinc finger nucleases. These are small proteins that bind to very specific DNA strands of the thale cress genome and cause mutations once they are bound. The mutations result in up- or down-regulation of the plant's genes. The activity of a gene depends on environmental conditions, such as the availability of water, nutrients, temperature and light.  The Errorarium allows the visitor to manipulate the conditions that the plants are in, and, therefore, in principle, hands-on manipulation of the plant's genes. So it's not just a machine for creating nice (or ugly) sound and light effects, but by turning the knobs the visitor is also manipulating living beings.

At present, the Errorarium is installed at the Ja, Natuurlijk exhibition in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, which runs from March - August 2013.

The video below shows some live images of the Errorium when it was installed at the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. Adam Zaretsky, Rob Zwijnenberg and Bert van der Zaal talk about the ethics and aesthetics of Arabidopsis mutation from artistic and scientific perspectives.

The video below shows some live images of the Errorium when it was installed at the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. Adam Zaretsk, Rob Zwijnenberg and Bert van der Zaal talk about the ethics and esthetics of Arabidopsis mutation from an artist and a scientist perpsective.

Plant Dipping Performance

This video explains how Adam Zaretsky and David Louwrier created mutagens of Thale cress using Zinc fingers at the Sylvius Laboratory in Leiden.

Injecting Algae in Zebrafish embryos at Llowlands 2012

Can we create a symbiosis between cyanobacteria and zabrafish, so the zebrafish can use the bacteria's capacity to convert the energy from sunlight into sugars, which is chemical energy? After injection the embryos are put in the Errorarium.
How does the public of a large music festival in the Netherlands react: do they feel pity for the animals, are they curious, and do they want to inject the embryos themselves?

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