Manned Flight - Rotifers in Action

Manned Flight - Rotifers in Action

Thu 21 Apr — Sun 12 Jun 2022
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Opening hours: Wednesday - Saturday: 2pm - 8pm

Finissage: Sunday June 12: 3pm - 6pm

What if the laboratory beckons to the studio, and what if science and art intersect? What happens when pencil and petri dish reach out, or when projector and pipette closely embrace each other? 

Manned Flight - Rotifers in Action combines science and art in a seldom explored and unprecedented way. Years ago, the long-term research in the evolutionary biology laboratory of Professor Karine Van Doninck (ULB and UNamur) took an unusual turn. She and her scientists started working together with passionate artists from diverse backgrounds, active in various disciplines. The subject of this research and this exhibition is the rotifer. Though smaller than a millimeter, these multicellular animals represent an evolutionary scandal. The asexual females clone themselves without any intervention of males. In that respect, the title of this exhibition is certainly not without irony!
Rotifers have been evolving on Earth for more than sixty million years. They are particularly strong: although they live about thirty days on average, they can withstand a beating. Recently scientists were able to revive rotifers from thawed permafrost. They recover very quickly, even after exposure to high doses of radiation. These purebred superwomen represent a future model organism whose possibilities pose challenging questions for science. At the request of Professor Karine Van Doninck and curator Ive Stevenheydens, the artists participating in this exhibition worked with the characteristics of the rotifers. Although they are not seldom referred to literally in these conceptualized works which were created for this occasion, these creations play more often with the dizzying philosophical register which the characteristics of rotifers induce. These artists therefore investigate the peculiarities of the rotifers in a - literally - experimental way. At the same time, this exhibition illustrates the importance of imperfection for evolution’s sake, and holds up a poetic mirror to images, such as the age-old human desire for immortality. Manned Flight shows an oversized scientific set-up that transports the visitor straight into the laboratory. In this way we want to provide insight into the fascinating experiments and the findings that scientists conduct on this matter on a daily basis. Alongside the program there will be fascinating lectures and meetings, concerts and performances and of course a smashing party!

Participating Artists:
Dara Birnbaum
Ophélie Lhuire
Gerlando Infuso
David Bade
Caroline Vincart
Natasha Papadopoulou
Ohme & Aiko Design
Koen Vanmechelen
Vica Pacheco
Tujiko Nuriko
DJ Klakke
DJ Alfred Anders
Concept and idea: Karine Van Doninck
Curator: Ive Stevenheydens

Group Exhibition with 8 ARTISTS

Dara Birnbaum (°1946, New York) is one of the most important female representatives of video art. In the early years, the first half of the 1960s, this medium still represented a kind of meta-medial guerilla art, in which artists mainly focused on the artistic research into the limits of the medium itself. Only later, from the first half of the 1970s, video was used because of its semiotic qualities and its potential for social, artistic and above all cultural-sociological reflection. Birnbaum's first videos were developed within this framework. Early on she explored the medium of television, which at the time had found its way into the households of the general public. Birnbaum often used the repetition of images, mostly found footage, whose natural flow is interrupted with snippets of text and music. She is also known for her engagement in the feminist movement within the video arts, which emerged in the mid-1970s (today scientists still strive for a greater presence of women in the field). Aspects such as femininity and gender equality are therefore recurring themes in her work.

In 1978, Birnbaum caused a stir with her television code-based video Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, which is still considered one of the most important works in the history of video art. In this work, she uses images from the popular TV series Wonder Woman. The artist pastes together the moments where the main character transforms into a superheroine by means of a seemingly endless repetition and underpins the work with a catchy disco soundtrack. This video forms the overture to Birnbaum's career as a video artist, in which she carefully dissects and criticizes stereotypes about femininity, mediatization and politicization within the (American) mass culture.

In the context of Manned Flight, Birnbaum's work could also be read in a different manner: this Wonder Woman can be seen as a metaphor for the rotifers, particularly for their survival instinct and their ability to reproduce through cell division, without male intervention. It is also an ironic nod to Professor Karine Van Doninck, whose passionate research into rotifers forms the basis of this exhibition.

The artist and illustrator Ophélie Lhuire (1992, Virton) is a member of Atelier Ton Piquant, a collective of 7 committed illustrators who, in their gallery/workspace, organize events on illustration and the printed image. Lhuire's work combines art and science and is based on a fascination for didactic and naturalistic drawings. She makes illustrations, in black and white or monocolour, referring to botany, the animal kingdom or the human body. She meticulously sketches the external and internal structures of a wide range of living creatures. This translates into wonderful felt-tip pen drawings that are reminiscent of Jules Verne's universe. Her drawings of animals, including a squid, a nautilus, a murex and a limpet, feel nostalgic and futuristic at the same time. As a result, Lhuire's somewhat mischievous imagery fluctuates somewhere between the style of old engravings and contemporary tattoos.
For Manned Flight Lhuire designed, in consultation with Professor Karine Van Doninck, a game consisting of 54 cards: Evolution Game. More than having fun like with other 'classic' card games, this Evolution Game allows the player to learn about the evolution of the eye and brain of various molluscs and crustaceans. Furthermore: those who play will experience first hand that only gradual evolution can lead to progress - contrary to the view of creationism (or the theory of creation). This might sound a bit complicated, but the game isn’t difficult at all! Our attendants are happy to explain how this card game works. So take a seat at the table, play along and experience the basic concepts of evolution. The exhibition also includes the beautiful drawings designed by Lhuire for this insightful and educational game.

With his audiovisual works, Gerlando Infuso (°1986, Anderlecht) weaves a fragile and rather dark universe in which poetry, surprise and amazement prevail. Image by image, a fantastically animated world comes to life on the editing table of his studio. He is a true craftsman and uses classic animation techniques. Infuso, who also works as a painter, creates all the decors and puppets himself in materials such as silicone, wood and porcelain. In addition to making long and short films, the artist collaborates with musicians for music videos and also produces creative audiovisual works on commission, for example for television commercials. Over a period of two years, Infuso developed Eternal, a stunning animated film showing the characteristics of rotifers and their journey into space. This effectively took place in 2019 and 2020, when scientists sent the rotifers to the International Space Station (ISS) to test their resistance and development without the presence of gravity.

For the artist, this work is also a daring technical experiment - in his own words, "a probing and research process just like that which takes place in a scientific laboratory". Eternal is constructed with an innovative animation technique that can measure up to the intricate essence of the rotifer in terms of difficulty and precision: the film came about through the manipulation of extremely small particles. For months, Infuso meticulously moved sand, dust and minuscule glitter on a black background in his studio.

Eternal was shot in stop-motion. Each second of film therefore requires 24 carefully composed compositions. Here, they pass before the eye in rapid succession. In addition to the film itself, the artist provides an insight into his working process by means of the 'collages' presented on tables. While Eternal reduces our field of vision to the size of an image - much like looking through a microscope - the film draws us into a hypnotic dance to an imaginary, infinite space. Partly thanks to the abundantly rich music by Erwann Chandon, Eternal immerses the viewer in a multi-coloured magical-realistic universe.

David Bade (°1970, Willemstad - Curaçao) is a Dutch sculptor, installation artist, painter and drawer. For the realization of his sculptures and actions, he often chooses a participative approach and involves various groups and bystanders in the creation process. In 2006, together with Tirzo Martha,he founded   the Instituto Buena Bista (IBB) on his native island of Curaçaowhich provides an artist-in-residence programme, organizes cultural projects and offers training opportunities for local young talents.

For Bemande Vlucht he will deliver a string of new works that can be seen and actively experienced both outside and inside PILAR. The laboratory of researcher Amin Shavandi (ULB) has been in need of renewal for several years now. This spring, artist David Bade visited the site. He immediately fell head over heels in love with the now unused retro futuristic lab. The dozens of ceramic research tables and the slender metal taps - which undeniably have something human in their elegance - particularly caught his attention. Bade's new two-part creation Rotiferen springen in de bres (Rotifers jump into the breach) goes back to an expression. In the old days, when a hole was shot in a fortress wall, the bravest jumped forward, in the breach, to fight and protect the others. The rotifers are thus for Bade a metaphor for possible saviors of our future – which is uncertain for each of us. Moreover, this artist considers the researchers in Professor Karine Van Doninck's lab as those who will jump into the breach. They take risks in their fundamental search for new questions and answers, where uncertainty is precisely the driving force to persevere. Curiosity, experimentation, chance and imagination are often rewarded with surprising answers, which in turn raise new questions. Sometimes it also fails. Things explode or boil over - something that is often a good sign for Bade's art.

Outside at PILAR, this idiosyncratic artist makes a new 'laboratory sculpture' with pieces and furniture from the old ULB laboratory, with parts from his studio, and with wood, iron and large chunks of foam. This way, his sculpture brings together the past and present of the two universities of Brussels in a language that everyone speaks and to which everyone can contribute. Instructions can be found on the spot. Inside, in the exhibition space, Bade presents a second interactive installation in which, in addition to the various objects, his paintings and drawings are also included. He displays these on light boxes that were once used to study X-rays. Here, too, everyone is invited to make their own contribution, which will also be explained on the spot.

The work of the photographer and artist Caroline Vincart (°1973, Hamme) explores the boundaries between the abstract and the anecdotal, between the intimate and the distant. Vincart plays with the material - or plastic - elements of her medium. Vincart manages to transcend the mere photographic representation of her subjects: her photographs incorporate her own experiences, reflections or critical position mixed with elements that take place in the margin. By reducing the amount of digital manipulation and opting for presentation (as opposed to representation or documentation), Vincart avoids the immediate consumption or direct reading of a photograph. She rather aims for an interaction with the viewer, for a long lasting aesthetic experience of her observation.

Her contribution to Manned Flight is the result of a short residency period in Professor Karine Van Doninck's laboratory, in the spring of 2022. Here, the artist meticulously observed a variety of activities. We see various external elements of this workshop, as well as stages of the scientific research process. But Vincart mainly shows the interactions between the scientists and their subjects - the rotifers. This research requires precision, constant focus and resistance, because failure is a part of it. Is there a differentiation or variation between these repetitive manipulations?

Using the characteristics of microscopic research, such as magnification, injection and data rendering, Vincart presents a series of images that formally resonate with a similar protocol. This results in different formats, in repetitions and in successive sequences. In doing so, Cycles & Variations draws fascinating parallels between the core elements that make up DNA and the pixel that makes up a digital image. Vincart does not overlook the human component in this series, her contribution traces gestures of exchange and of affection. They are unexpectedly poetic in the often clinically considered space of the laboratory.

The practice of Natasha Papadopoulou (°1975, Thessaloniki) twirls around language and body language, designing somatic regimes for disciplined bodies and contorted minds. Papadopoulou appropriates pedagogical methodologies and physical practices of the wellness industry, juxtaposing them with linguistic schemes as ways to ignite a body and mind consensus of the senses.

In the exhibition, Papadopoulou presents an installation/sculpture that contains rotifers and celery juice, accompanied by a sound work. In the Erlenmeyer flask presented on a light box, rotifers evolve during the course of the exhibition - an experiment that the scientists of the laboratory of Karine Van Doninck did not dare to try yet. The song Dis~ease - Fight the Virus invites listener to try celery juice as an antidote against viruses hiding in the tissues and creating mental and physical issues. Papadopoulou refers here to the convictions of the American health guru Anthony Williams. He advocates viruses to be an underlying cause for many mystery illnesses and celery juice to be a miracle antidote to eradicate viral overload from the physical body. Somewhere across potassium, manganese, vitamins K, A, B2, B6 and C, one can see clearly that the future has to become green and rotifer!

Dis~ease - Fight the Virus is one of the five songs of An Educational Album - a project where scientific research is applied into educational songs. A collaboration with composer Yiannis Loukos and producer George Lemos, An Educational Album is an attempt to merge the disparate disciplines of sonic industry and medical health, to infuse the music genre with holistic data sharing ideals. Papadopoulou and her companions create a pop album of medical facts, vitamin rhymes and anatomy lessons.

This installation was created in close collaboration between Professor Karine Van Doninck, Aiko design and the scientist, researcher and electromechanics engineer Raoul Sommeillier. Raoul is also a co-founder of Ohme, the Brussels-based organization that develops innovative practices for scientific mediation, interdisciplinary artistic creation and innovation through inventive collaborative practices.

Displayed in a retrofuturistic arrangement specially designed for this exhibition, Untitled shows a large number of scientific elements that scientists use on a daily basis in their research on rotifers. In addition to laboratory pipettes, a coat, Erlenmeyer flasks and vases, Falcon tubes, petri dishes and so on, this set-up mainly contains the rotifers themselves. So feel free to take a look through the microscope and see for yourself how rotifers behave and evolve!

The installation also documents the missions of the Rotifers to space, as part of the so-called Rob1 and Rob2 projects. On display are the metal modules including the Teflon bags that housed the rotifers on their journey to space. They might look rather ordinary, but this is high-tech, top-of-the-line equipment designed by Kayser Italia, an independent company specialized in aerospace systems. These modules and Teflon bags thus transported the rotifers back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS), during the space missions in December 2019 and in 2020.

In addition to the scientific materials and works, two educational videos are shown further down this room. These were made within the framework of Rotifer-in-space.com, or RISE; a project that uses rotifers as a new model for research into space. In the first short video, engineer Richard Coos follows the preparations of the team of scientists. We see them preparing, in Belgium and America, for the first mission of rotifers in space. After the launch of the Rob1 at SpaceX in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Coos shows some footage of the research and the exhibition at the Kennedy Space Center. The second video Project RISE - Rotifer in SpacE is a short work that students of the Haute Ecole Albert Jacquard in Namur made as a graduation project in collaboration with a group of scientists from UNamur (at the time the laboratory of Professor Karine Van Doninck). This film, in a style unintentionally reminiscent of that of television commercials and promotional films, also shows the skills of rotifers and the high-tech environment of the RISE project.

Ēngines of Ēternity is a transdisciplinary project that takes the biological phenomena of cloning and DNA repair as metaphorical departure points for an art installation about humanity’s enthrallment with cultural immortality. Cultural immortality has long fascinated humankind, with such diverse examples as the Roman Empire, the Han Dynasty, and the Mayan Civilization, all assuming perpetuity through monumental works in art and architecture. This aspiration of cultural immortality is also deeply embedded in the imaginary of space exploration. Space settlements are often presented as the culmination of technological and cultural evolution. However, the quest for cultural immortality is often imbued with conflict because of convictions of superiority and impulses of colonialism, and this will be no different in outer space. Ēngines of Ēternity explores these human tendencies through the lens of the smallest animals on Earth, rotifers. On the surface, rotifers seem an unchanging biological culture, perfected through evolution, cloning itself endlessly, and surviving extreme conditions such as drying or freezing. However, during drying, genetic material gets broken and repaired, and in the process diversity is generated. Moreover, DNA from totally different organisms such as fungi, bacteria and plants were discovered inside the rotifer’s genome. This horizontal gene transfer is another mechanism through which rotifers seek out diversity. In Ēngines of Ēternity it’s precisely this contrast between stasis and flux that is used as a metaphorical device to reflect critically on the aspirations of humankind in space. What concept of culture and identity will we develop in space? Who will have a say in this? And if we end up with a rich diversity of cultures and identities, how will we maintain cohesion? Ēngines of Ēternity is a joint effort between SEADS and the laboratory of Karine Van Doninck (UNamur/ULB). In a series of space biology experiments, rotifers were sent to the ISS in 2019 and 2020. SEADS sent a human fingerprint code along with the rotifers. This code formed the algorithmic seed for an evolving artwork. After each space mission the genetic expression from the rotifers was used to parametrically evolve the art. As such, Ēngines of Ēternity engenders new forms of co-creation between humans, biological organisms, algorithms, and outer space. 
Presented here is a cluster of new works. Photographs, drawings, abstracted diagrams, a video essay, sculptures, and objects are composed into a monumental installation. The installation brings together a variety of scientific and creative processes that the Ēngines of Ēternity team has been developing over the past few years. In addition to the results of artistic and scientific processing of the genetic data of the rotifers, the installation also contains some of the experiment bags with their visual code that effectively have been to space.

Concerts, performances, talks & lectures

The duo, Lou Savary and Luc Bersier, recently packed their bags in the Swiss Alps to start a new life in Brussels. Their debut album Leviosa (Knekelhuis, 2021) contains chansons, synthpop and cute minimal wave. Reymour's broad musical spectrum is unctuous yet curious and plays on a wide range of feelings and doubts, drenched in a playful melancholy.
WED 04 MAY 2022: SEADS
The SEADS collective will bring an audiovisual live performance based on their Ēngines of Ēternity art installation on display in the exhibition. Different members of the collective will jointly mine and remix the vast archive of visuals and research materials of the project. The collective will employ an improvisation and live coding approach, spawning ever-shifting meaning, in line with the conceptual themes of the Ēngines of Ēternity project. 

Talk on transdisciplinarity: lecture by artist Koen Vanmechelen followed by a conversation with Karine Van Doninck.

3 men on a chaotic sound mission to asgardian space.
Ana Victoria or Vica Pacheco was born in Oaxaca (Mexico) and moved to Brussels a few years ago. Her work as an artist and her music is eclectic and energetic. She likes to arrange the most heterogeneous or dangerous elements together. It may proliferate!
Tujiko Noriko is a multi-talented artist: composer, singer-songwriter, graphic designer and filmmaker in one person. Graceful, elegant and melancholic. Her avant-garde pop has appeared on class labels such as Mego, Tomlab, FatCat Records and PAN Records. This evening Tujiko will perform a dance concert that aims to make everyone smile.
Collector, curator, connector, risk taker: Alfred Anders is an artery of the Brussels music scene. Like a researcher, the founder of Crevette Records, passionately digs up hidden unknown gems. They move, intrigue and above all incite you to dance.
DJ Klakke runs Knotwilg records, a coastal label that acts as a personal portal to accessible experimental music, regardless of genre. This walking music encyclopedia brings a festive set that sounds like a fallen record cabinet, swinging between Boney M and John Cage.



Concept and idea: Karine Van Doninck
Curator: Ive Stevenheydens
Coordination: Jolien De Nijs, Joris Thys
Exhibition set-up PILAR: Dries Boutsen, Bjorne Baeten
Graphic design: Corbin Mahieu, Lennart Van den Bossche
Text: Ive Stevenheydens
Translation: Jolien De Nijs, Joris Thys
Communication PILAR: Gijs Ieven, Jade Corbey
Coordination PILAR: Lieselotte Vaneeckhaute
Concert Programmation: Ive Stevenheydens
Concert coordination PILAR: Jade Corbey
Scientific team ULB: Rohan Arora, Emilie Berns, Jérémy Berthe, Laurent Grumiau, Marc Guérineau, Antoine Houtain, Alexandros Vasilikopoulos.
Scientific team UNamur: Jérémy Berthe, Richard Coos, Boris Hespeels.
Former researchers, involved in this project: Lucie Bruneau, Victoria Moris, Emilien Nicolas, Paul Simion.

Special thanks to: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Université de Namur, SCK - CEN, Kayser Italia, SMAK - Gent, Belspo (PRODEX), European Space Agency (ESA), European Research Council (ERC), Innoviris Brussels, Loterie Nationale - Nationale Loterij, FNRS – Fonds Wernaers, CJM Vlaamse Overheid – Innovatieve Partnerprojecten, Maecenas funds, BAR PILAR, CALIPER, INFORSCIENCES, Morgane Belin, Evy Ceuleers, Francis Geldof, Lise Laurent-Michel, Dorian Senique, Amin Shavandi, Patricia Van Doninck and Jaspers-Eyers Architects, Maarten Vanermen
Wednesday - Saturday: 2pm - 8pm
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