Novel Forms & New Materialities

Melanie Jackson, Philip Ball and Esther Leslie discuss the ‘invisible era’ of material culture

'Novel Forms & New Materialities’ explores the radical transformations to our material world provoked by contemporary science and technology. It asks how engagement with new forms and modes of material performance promises to conjure into existence unseen materialities, narratives and possibilities. An  evening of presentations, film extracts and discussion follows an afternoon creative writing workshop. You are invited to book for one or both.

As molecular biology and nanotechnology converge, promising a proliferation of new, designed biological entities and smart materials, how is our physical environment and visual culture affected? What is at stake in these manipulations of material at this this scale? How might this reshaped matter in turn shape our visual, tactile world, as well as our dreams?

Science writer Philip Ball sets the context and considers what cultural,sociological and scientific factors have enabled these technological advancements, and our changing relationship with materials in this new “invisible era”. 

Artist Melanie Jackson and writer Esther Leslie have been collaborating on an investigation into the impulse for transformation and novel forms. Contemporary science re-imagines biological and chemical function as an engineering substrate, a complex fully programmable animate object, opening up a potential for us to “grow” any form. Goethe's idea of the Urpflanze - a primordial plant that contains within itself an infinity of potential forms – recurs startlingly in the present moment when matter, from the molecule up, is coerced to adopt fantastical forms and exhibit new behaviours. They will present readings and extracts from a forthcoming film essay and exhibition The Urpflanze (Part 2).

Afternoon writing workshop, ‘Using Biological Themes to Engineer New Fiction’, with Rachel Rodman

Rachel Rodman demonstrates how existing literary works can be recreated using techniques from molecular biology. In this workshop, we will explore metaphors comparing texts and organisms, and examine how “genetically” altered works can serve as starting points in the composition of new fiction. 

Limited places. Early booking recommended. 

Rachel Rodman earned a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 2008 and has since worked to promote innovative collaborations between fiction writers and scientists. She has taught writing workshops at the University of Wisconsin, Birkbeck, and Middlesex University. Her writing work combine themes from the biological sciences and from literature/creative writing. She has presented her work at Kingston University and at the 2010 NAWE Conference. Examples of her work can be found at LabLit, PANK, and The Human Genre Project: 

Speakers' Biographies

Melanie Jackson is an artist and a lecturer at Slade School of Fine Art, UCL. Recent solo exhibitions include The Urpflanze (Part 1), The Drawing Room, London (2010) Road Angel, Arnolfini, Bristol (2007), Made In China, Matt’s Gallery, London (2005). She won the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2007. Jackson's Urplanze (Part 2), commissioned by Arts Catalyst, will be presented at the John Hansard Gallery in 2013.

Philip Ball is a science writer with a background in chemistry and physics. He worked for Nature magazine for 20 years and has release a succession of books including Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century and Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules.

Esther Leslie is Professor of Political Aesthetics in the Department of English and Humanities at Birkbeck. She is the author of Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry (2005). Leslie is collaborating with Melanie Jackson on her new work Urpflanze (Part 2).