2018 Fall Workshop Series

This past November, the Nature Lab continued its Graduate Fall Workshop Series with sessions led by current Assistants Tareq Alzawawi [MFA ID ‘19], Charlotte Clement [MID ‘20], and Kit Son Lee [MFA GD ‘21]. Titled “Nature-Design Philosophies” and “Cli-Fi Chimera Lab: Speculative Adaptation for Climate Change Survival,” the two workshops explored different threads of design/art thinking and their relationship with nature.

In the workshop led by Tareq Alzawawi, participants were asked: What’s the difference between nature-design philosophies like biophilia, bioart/biodesign, and biomimicry? Although these intersections of design, science, and nature appear across creative disciplines, many artists and designers cannot distinguish between the different approaches. “Nature-Design Philosophies” was a moment for students to define, discuss, and implement these three distinct domains of the biological in art and design.

Starting with definitions from notable figures in the field, participants were introduced to work that characterized the distinguishing aspects of each approach. The conversation then turned to the rich diversity of natural specimens in the Lab, which offered a plethora of examples of biological strategies that could inform making within the different philosophies. Supported by the Lab’s equipment, participants looked analytically at several specimens and generated concepts based on their understanding of the three methodologies. The workshop closed with a group discussion and sharing of ideations.

In the following workshop led by Charlotte Clement and Kit Son Lee, student participants were asked the overarching question: How does one make the inconceivable feel urgent? As the pronouncement of the consequences of climate change grow more dire, our continued inaction points perhaps towards a failure of imagination. “Cli-Fi Chimera Lab” employed the frame of Cli-Fi (combination of “Science Fiction” and “Climate”) to engage creatively with evolutionary adaptation as a means of thinking through the possible conditions of near-future ecosystems.

The workshop began with an overview of climate change predictions for the next century (spoiler alert: it’s not good). With these possible biomes in mind, the presentation moved to real-world examples of unnatural (human-influenced) selection and already-existing instances of adaptation for extreme conditions, followed by examples of work that engage with these evolutionary mechanisms.

To help with synthesizing these various concepts, Charlotte and Kit developed a speculative evolution card game specifically for the workshop. Participants drew random kingdoms, traits, habitats, and/or timescales from which they generated imaginary organisms using evolutionary principles. Players defended their “chimeras” by explaining their survival mechanisms under climate change conditions, a process that encouraged critical engagement with the demands placed on living creatures by global warming.

Participants then took their imaginations from the game to the Edna Lawrence Natural History Collection and the Microscopy Lab, observing features within specimens that could be co-opted towards their personal chimeras. After a period of sketching, the group shared their speculative creatures, explaining their habitats and adaptations to a plausible future world.

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