Artist Xin Liu's AI Exploration Redefines Life Forms at Rhizome's 7x7 Event

“As AI understands more and more of the biological realm, and with technologies like synthetic bio, it effectively can create entire new biological beings,” said Liu.

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Xin Liu, a trailblazer in the convergence of art and engineering, defies disciplinary boundaries with her interdisciplinary approach. Transitioning from engineering to art, Xin found liberation in exploring themes such as introspection, nomadic life experiences, and the interconnectedness of knowledge systems. Through her immersive narratives, she seamlessly weaves together science, technology, politics, and spirituality, resonating deeply with audiences globally.

Collaborating with biologists at Ginkgo Bioworks and delving into AI-centric events like Rhizome‘s recent Seven on Seven (7×7) event at the New Museum in NYC co-presented by Hyundai Motor, Xin sparked candid conversations about the ethical implications of technological advancements. Her recent exhibition, ‘Gleaming Bodies’, challenge perceptions of time manipulation and immortality, encapsulating moments of suspended time and human desires.

In the dynamic landscape of the 7×7 2024 event, Xin found inspiration in diverse pairings, envisioning a future where creation and connection unfolded like a captivating reality TV show. Through her art, Xin continues to bridge worlds, inviting us to reimagine the boundaries of creativity and human expression. Learn more about her work this year’s Rhizome 7×7 event in the interview below and head to Rhizome’s website for more information on the conference.

How does being both an artist and an engineer shape the way you create experiences?

I was initially trained to become an engineer but later went to RISD for my master degree because I realized the lack of liberal arts in my education. It’s unfortunate how the current pedagogy separates knowledge systems rather than nurturing individuals with a broader and holistic view of the world. Honestly, I never felt so free after I started making art. I deeply believe that interdisciplinary experience\exposure is critical to engaging with contemporary society. Science, technology, politics, ecology, philosophy, psychology … all are integral parts of culture and our daily lives.

Art making always ended up being self-portraits. I am a vessel for all these experiences. They go through me and my work reflects them all.

Can you share insights into your work in 7×7 by Rhizome and what aspects of AI you are exploring in collaboration with technologists for the 2024 edition?

This time with Rhizome’s Seven on Seven (7×7) program, I worked with Christina Agapakis and Josh Dunn, two biologists from Ginkgo Bioworks. It was an exciting opportunity for me because I have been a fan of their work since my student days in Boston. To give you a brief overview, Ginkgo Bioworks specializes in using cells as miniature factories. They are capable of producing almost anything that can be naturally produced by biological cells, including chemicals and proteins.

At the beginning of the collaboration, I was provided with a variety of samples to look at. One protein from milk, in particular, caught our attention. It was produced by yeast, which had a piece of DNA from a cow inserted into it. The yeast was able to use this DNA data to produce milk protein. It just sounds the most bizarre to me.The definition of a mammal in the Animal Kingdom is closely related to how we breed our offsprings. However, we can produce microorganisms that create milk proteins like a cow. So where is the boundary of life forms? What defines a biological being?

The first sentence in our presentation: Yeast that lactates.

I find this extremely fascinating and almost surreal, like a hallucination. As AI understands more and more of the biological realm, and with technologies like synthetic bio, it effectively can create entire new biological beings. There is yeast that lactates, that bleeds, that sweats… AI can synthesize, merge, adapt and evolve life forms like never before. It can create its own body, its own fungi networks, its own scoby existence.

This process of finding gaps and moments of connection and alienation in the biological world is quite trippy. So we delivered a dreamy-like performance lecture on the creation of that synthetic protein from the perspective of biologists.

Looking at your body of work, are there specific pieces that hold special significance for you, and what stories or emotions do they convey?

I’m always deeply connected to art that I am creating at the moment. Recently, I finished an exhibition in Japan named ‘Gleaming Bodies’, which was based on a series of artworks exploring technologies such as cryogenics and egg freezing. I find it fascinating that egg freezing, a technology that preserves women’s ability to reproduce, shares similarities with cryogenics, which is often used to preserve a protagonist’s immortality for centuries in science fiction. Both technologies manipulate time, productivity, and reproductivity.

In my sculptures and installations, I aim to capture the moment when time is suspended. It is both at the pinnacle of technology but also a fearful relationship with life. What is this desire for immortality? Ultimately, can we ask for that?

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