Li Yu, artist and designer trained at the Yunnan University, in media design at the Ecole supérieure d’arts & médias of Caen, France, and at the Haute École d’art et de design (HEAD) of Geneva, Switzerland, was at La Paillasse in Paris for a new stage in her poetic and crazy project “Space Seed”.
Space Seed is a space capsule conceived as a bottle in the sea that aims to give birth, on another planet, to a witness plant, converting our data, our genetic and digital identity to something organic. The Chinese artist Li Yu would like to code information in a bacteria and is asking herself wether information should be stored in DNA plasmid. To answer this question, she has been multiplyin contacts with biologists, computer scientists, engineers and companies in biotechnologies. In Paris she teamed with Galactic Labs, a new initiative from La Paillasse that wants to bring hackers to space. After a meet-up on 10th of January, she moved to the Hackuarium, the Lausanne biohackerspace, with the will to connect as well with the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Swiss Space Center, the Swiss Space Systems company and other swiss institutions. We asked her few questions after her visit at La Paillasse.
Can you tell us how you work with La Paillasse? Galactic Labs? Hackuarium? Or other labs?
My philosophy is about how to work on the best resources, and I’ve been studying in both country, in addition to China. I see the difference between those three countries and search the best in each. France have a lot of creative and mind blowing ideas and philosophy, they have a part of character which is very adventurous and also a part of crazyness that lead them to do some extraordinary things, but they are less focused on functional aspects. Swiss are very serious in research and engineering, especially those two great engineering school EPFL and ETH, where I could find brilliant engineers and very generous scientist to work with me. China have massive resources and extremely practical, goal focused, pragmatic, but is less focused on experimental way of doing things, they lack of creative thinking. The practical part is very similar as Swiss people, so my best combination is to be able to work in EU for ideas and research, and then make my prototypes in Shenzhen. For the moment, Lausanne have more people available in the aeronautic engineering part so I will be working with them to accelerate my project.
Is transhumanism ideology influencing your project?
I’m curious about transhumanism, people can think I’m very into it from my Facebook or other social media posts collection. But for the moment I can’t give a concrete and correct opinion about that, I’m observing, I actually don’t have enough knowledge to give smart opinions. But instinctively, I think the nature is superior than any other human made artificial things. If you let the nature regulate itself, it’s smarter than humans. I agree with Joi Ito, the Director of the MIT Media Lab, who said: “One hundred years from now, the role of science and technology will be about becoming part of nature rather than trying to control it.” And since now more and more alarming opinions appears from scientists that are warning about the AI and transhumanism, I start wondering if it will be really do good to the humanity. Somehow my project Space Seed seems to have a lot of transhumanist aspects, for example the idea towards eternity. But the difference is it doesn’t propose a concrete solution to extend our present life, but just a complementary, an extra addition of our digital life, and also consider how to conserve it, to protect it in order to have a continuation in the future in philosophical means. But it’s another way to discuss how we could expand human life in its own material and its own composition. It’s not a solution and a goal. And transhumanism aim is towards a functional goal.
Is your project influenced by the idea of panspermia, this theory that says life came on Earth from space? Or is it influenced by reversed panspermia, the return of basic forms of life into space?
Yes, it’s one of the key things I’m interested in. But I don’t take it as a absolute belief. I’m just experimenting the idea. I have influences from this theory, but for the moment I keep my channel open to different theories, in order to know where exactly the human and life come from! Space seed could be a reverse engineering of panspermia theory, to expand this theory/idea and provoke us to think differently. It’s also a speculative project in scientific theory, not just a design project.
How do you approach the protocols of Planetary Protection ?
Planetary protection is trying to respect the planet and keep it not being contaminated by other species, bacterias. It’s very important for scientific research that study the question of where the life comes from, how the planet was formed, how the system was formed, how the universe works, where it comes from! It’s very important to understand those questions in a research perspective. Its human’s great respect towards the planet and the original environment. I always think it’s important to have concern about what we are doing, instead of blindly play the God before we really know how to control the consequence of it.
Illustration of the «Space Seed» project, the space seed that contains personal data, from landing to germination: