‘As a designer and artist, I’m interested in whether biology can ever truly be designed, and if it can, using design to ask what we should – or shouldn’t – be designing with it.’ Says Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg who is one of the first speakers we can announce for What Design Can Do 2014 on 8 & 9 May in Amsterdam.

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is a London-based designer, artist and writer, exploring emerging technologies. Her latest work, Designing for the Sixth Extinction, is an intriguing peak into the future of biodiversity and nature conservation. In this project Ginsberg investigates synthetic biology’s potential impact on biodiversity and conservation by imagining that novel companion species designed by synthetic biologists could support endangered natural species and ecosystems.

In this scenario patented new species are released into the wild to compensate for biodiversity lost due to widespread monoculture farming of biomass for biofuel and chemical production. The idea behind it is that preservation of natural biodiversity is worthwhile not just for sentimental reasons, it is also a valuable DNA library for future biological designs.

Ginsberg presents this vision in a large print of a synthetically rewilded, biodiverse forest and excerpts from fictional patent applications for four organisms from a closed technological ecosystem.

Designing for the Sixth Extinction is part of Ginsberg’s ongoing effort to investigate new roles for design, by testing experimental design methods that can help to imagine alternative ideals around our understanding of progress. Another current project, the exhibition ‘GROW YOUR OWN…’ on which we reported earlier, does the same. The project on coloured diagnostic bacteria E. chromi, on which she worked in collaboration with others, got lots of attention in 2009.

As Design Fellow on Synthetic Aesthetics (Stanford University/University of Edinburgh, 2010-2013), Ginsberg curated an international research project investigating the ‘design of nature’, developing novel modes of collaboration and critical discourse between art, design and synthetic biology. Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature will be published by MIT Press in March 2014.

Ginsberg studied architecture at the University of Cambridge, design at Harvard University and Design Interactions MA at the Royal College of Art, where she has returned to begin doctoral research in 2013 on ‘The Dream of Better’. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including MoMA New York, the Design Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Israel Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo and the National Museum of China.

Ginsberg’s The Synthetic Kingdom is currently on show in the Biodesign exhibition in The New Institute in Rotterdam (until 26/1). 

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