Biofilia - Base for Biological Arts


Crude Matter

Crude Matter

Chief investigators – Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr

Crude Matter is a beginning of a series of artistic meditations into the notion of the substrate as the main context for life. Loosely based on the story of the Golem (literally means crude, unshaped or raw) we will explore the “alchemy like” transformation of different materials into substrates which have the ability to support and act on life. Crude Matter attempts to destabilize the prevailing logic of the transformation of life into raw material for engineering ends; to bring to question the logic that seems to privilege the information embedded in DNA over the context in which life operates. Take for example recent experiments, which demonstrated that stem cells destiny can be determined solely by the stiffness of the substrate on which they are growing – soft equal fat cells, hard – bones. In a collection of vessels, life will be grown and die over a range of materials and forms. We will poetically recreate these experiments while touching on some of the important lessons of the Golem story: The creations of life from crude matter and human knowledge; to know when human hubris and life should not mixed.

The project includes extracting matter from two distinct and very symbolic sites; the banks of Vltava (Moldau) river in Prague – form which, according to the legend, the Golem has been formed, and a 1942 crash site of a German Junker 88 bomber in the very far north of Finland.

The found matter will be sent to material science labs around the world to be analyzed and to extract biocompatible substances which will be used as scaffolds for tissue growth. The initial tissue to be used will be amphibian cells, representing both the regenerative dreams of contemporary medicine and the water land interface.

Other forms of analysis will take place to systematically and artistically understand the relationship of the chosen sites with the different notions of the concept of the environment/milieu.

The research phase of the project is being supported by Aalto University through Bioflia, with additional support from SymbioticA, The University of Western Australia, University of Helsinki Kilpisjärvi Biological Station and The Finnish Bioart Society.

Melliferopolis - Honeybees in Urban Environments

Melliferopolis, photo: Susanna Kekkonen

Melliferopolis is a trans-disciplinary collaborative project at the intersection of art and biosciences, focusing at:

  • Role of honeybees in urban natural processes
  • Function and properties of honey and bees as bio-indicators
  • Implications of the appearance of bees in the city and their interaction with human citizens

Bees and bee products as bio-monitors

Honey can readily be used as bio-indicator, giving information on quality of the habitat, quantities of available food, and impact of pollutants in a defined perimeter of the position of the hive. Melliferopolis' scientific investigations focus on honey as environmental monitor and the role of honeybees in urban ecology and natural processes.  Honeybees are a crucial cross-link in nature and have been assigned a key role in natural cycles, being essential actors in the production of food as well as guardians of floral biodiversity. 

Transmission of topics around bees as well as the scientific results through artistic expressions is principal to the project. The beehive invites to combine creative, scientific methodologies with artistic “science” and nature based expressions in collaborative processes, taking advantage of possible long term  collaborations between several disciplines of Aalto University as well as national and international co-operations. Bees and their world become inspiration for participants and visitors alike.

Melliferopolis was carried out during 2012-2013 as as a research project at Aalto Biofilia. From 2013 it continues as an independent project under the Melliferopolis umbrella. It  is an initiative by artist and researcher Christina Stadlbauer.

For more information, visit Project website (

Animating Semi-Living - Muscle actuators as cultural evocative objects

Animating Semi-Living, photo: Ionat Zurr

An interdisciplinary project examining shifting perceptions of what is living through case study of a vital machine; tissue engineered muscle actuators in custom made bioreactors. Furthering discourses about posthumanist perceptions of movement as an indicator for life with agency; suggesting new knowledge and modes of inquiry of material life.

This interdisciplinary project investigates the use of skeletal muscle (tissue engineered from primary cultures of established rodent skeletal muscle cell lines) as actuators, from conceptual and technical perspectives. The proposed project involves preliminary research and data collection into the growth, stimulation and animation of muscle tissue in vitro (in a tissue culture). The research has two main objectives:

1. Exploring muscle tissue constructs from cultural perspectives, mainly through art and design discourses and actualization, furthering discourses about humans’ perceptions of movement as an indicator for life with agency.

2. Initial research into the growth and use of muscle tissue actuators as  “motors” that generate movement.

Collaborators: Dr. Ionat Zurr, Mr. Oron Catts, Dr. Chris Salter, Dr. Jonas Rubenson, Dr. Stuart Hodgettes

Project is funded by the Australian Research Council Council.  

For more information contact:

Dr. Ionat Zurr
Visiting Professor, BiofiliA, School of Art, Design and Architecture, Aalto University
ionat.zurr [at] uwa [dot] edu [dot] au


Climate Whirl Project

TreeTable_Agnes Meyer_Brandis_web.jpgClimate Whirl Project is a project combining eco-physiological and artistic research. The project was carried out during  2012-13 as a collaboration between researchers at Division of Atmospheric Sciences (Department of Physics) and Department of Forest Sciences at University of Helsinki,  and Biofilia –Base for Biological Arts at Aalto University.
The objective of the project is to use novel methods at the intersection of arts and eco-physiological research for transmission of the complex and multilevel research, carried out at SMEAR II station at Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station in South Finland, for a wider audience.
In the beginning of  2013 Climate Whirl Project organized a call for shortlisted artists, that were asked write a proposal for and art-residency in the Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station, including the development of
- a project related with the station´s research areas, more specifically with the research related with the interaction between forests and the atmosphere,  and
- an art&science workshop in spring 2014 around this particular topic.

German artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis has been selected to Hyytiälä forestry station for two-months residency to do her own artistic work, linked to the investigations by the SMEAR II research station. The first part of the residency started in August 2013 and Agnes will continue her research in the station until the end of September.

In her work, Meyer-Brandis interweaves trans-disciplinary research and thought together with insightful use of technology, creating fantastic art. In the last years she has explored the formation of the water droplets during scientific weightlessness flights by German Space Agency, trailed along the migration routes of the mysterious Moon Geese and designed apparatus that enhance cloud formation. During the Hyytiälä residency her work is centered around the trees, the communication between men and trees, and the role of the boreal forests in the formation of the aerosols in the atmosphere. The residency results will be seen in August 2014 as a participative workshop in Hyytiälä Forestry Station and an artwork.

More information about Agnes Meyer-Brandis:

The residency is carried out in collaboration between the Institute of Atmospheric Research and Earth System Science and Department of Forest Sciences in Helsinki University, and Aalto Biofilia. It is funded by Kone Foundation.

Drosophila titanus


During his research period at Biofilia, Andy Gracie will be continuing work on his ongoing project 'Drosophila titanus',in which the impossible task of breeding a species of drosophila fit for survival on Saturn's moon Titan is undertaken with scientific rigour. New experiments for conditioning, acclimatisation and selection will be developed alongside a new incubator/simulator apparatus. He will work in parallel with drosophila S2 cell lines; culturing cells and growing them into new forms with 3D printed substrates and scaffolds. He will also begin to investigate the possibilities of artificial cell differentiation and insect structures through work with hormones and imaginal discs.

Throughout the work, a strong theoretical and conceptual focus will be retained on the nature of drosophila as a living metaphor for the human body as defined by scientific practice, and the challenge of extracting the metaphor, poetry and ambiguity of art from the rigour and goals of scientific procedures.

Andy Gracie has worked for many years across various disciplines including installation, robotics, sound, video and biological practice. His work is situated between the arts and the sciences, often creating situations of exchange between natural and artificial systems. More recently his work has begun to reflect cultural associations with the science of astrobiology; notions of the origins of life coupled with a re-examination of its boundaries and speculation about its future possibilities and potentials. His artistic practice employs scientific theory and practice to question our relationships with environment and the notion of the ‘other’ whilst simultaneously bringing into focus the very relationship between art and science.

More about Andy Gracie´s work:

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