Phylogenetic Atelier: De-extincting a species from the past


Commission from the Science Gallery Dublin, part of the Trinity College Dublin. Scientists, futurists, and philosophers have theorized about the immortality of an organic body as the ultimate stage of the luxury hierarchy and advocate that biological perpetuity could be achieved in the indefinite future. This awareness regarding the possibility to extend our stay on the planet combined with the new responsibility towards next generations to come — felt by most of us as the reminder of the excessive exploitation of our resources — seem to have infused the meaning of the term with a more nostalgic aftertaste. This new approach to the idea of luxury puts its values in an entirely different context that emphasizes the notion of identity and inheritance. Expectations towards more sustainable solutions that could partly regenerate if not completely eliminate the consequences of our overindulgence seem to have been put mostly on the shoulders of new emerging bioengineering companies. Their ambitious plans towards redesigning and reprogramming living organisms are presenting us with a tempting future scenario that seems to feed into the new concept of luxury — the ability to save our decaying planet. By the means of synthetic biology, several attempts to preserve our biological resources have been made from private companies. Their communal aim is to restore the lost equilibrium between human indulgence eg. exploitation of our natural capital and what has been up until recently considered the natural level of fauna on our planet. Conservation attempts for preserving endangered species get usually overshadowed by the problems of biological exploitation present in large-scale farming institutions, the current initiative to restore the balance by using biotechnologies to either protect or revive species is still limited to a smaller number of initiatives. As our current society is becoming mostly driven by the aspiration to constantly innovate it is starting to lack the ability to analyze the cultural understanding of what we are experiencing in the process of innovating. Old definition and stereotypes of original and fake, natural and synthetic, alive and dead are becoming obsolete as new discoveries in the field of synthetic biology are being made. By re-addressing the currently obsolete vocabulary surrounding the field of biotechnology the aim is to re-categorize the outputs produced by the new technologies. This initiative might finally expose the need for specificity when it comes to exposing the source and production methods required for the formation of bio-design outputs with the emphasis on the requirement for a new categorization system. Portrayed within the project's display is a speculative scenario of a future venue that showcases a possible intersection, of practices such as laboratory work, museum environment and a luxury artisan gloves workshop. The product displayed in the fictional venue is a glove made from the de-extinct Passenger Pigeon skin – mocked up by creating pigeon leather to resemble the hypothetical outcome. The visitors are encouraged to move the mechanical arm and examine the gloves to understand the ambitions and the motives of the Revive and Restore, the organization to de-extinct the species as well as the positive and negative implications of releasing it into an open space, uncontrolled environment. A display of blueprints and informative posters alongside the mocked-up first edition of the leather showcases the process and findings of the project. The exposed documents include research from the Revive and Restore organization such as sequenced DNA from the Passenger pigeon and the Band-Tail pigeon, comparison of the two DNA, easily understandable graphics representing the proposed plan for the de-extinction process and a timeline of the development of The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback project.

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Here you can find a making-of video of the leather tanning process utilized for the production of the material.