Biolab: where art and science converge
- Fine Art
In the heart of AKI ArtEZ in Enschede lies a space unlike any other – Biolab. This extracurricular wonderland within existing curricula allows students to explore a world where science and art collide. The creative force behind Biolab, Dr. Agnieszka Anna Wołodźko, has made a space for those students who are inquisitive and want to combine the fields of ecology and art.
Een breading ground for ecological consciousness
Biolab is more than just a physical location; it is set up to facilitate a way of thinking that drives the Biomatters programme, an artistic research project open to students from all fields. Agnieszka: "Biolab is a multidisciplinary space. It encourages students to challenge conventional perceptions of life, explore the potential of living bodies (living organisms, red.), and how we can address those subjects within artistic practice. Biolab transforms students into investigators. It introduces them to theoretical frameworks and then immerses them in hands-on experiences. Students learn the practicalities of working with scientific tools, growing bacteria, fermenting, and even crafting bioplastics."
Bridging theory and practice
The journey began in 2017, when Agnieszka pioneered Biolab at AKI, introducing the concept of biological laboratories within an art school setting. Reflecting on this venture, she shares: “Given my background in philosophy, it was challenging to gain trust and emphasize the urgency of asking questions that usually do not belong in the humanistic and artistic domain. After all, I am not an artist, and I am not teaching students how to create art. Rather, with the collaboration of many guest artists and AKI colleagues over the years, we explore what art and design can do. We investigate how the artistic way of thinking and creating can address problems, uncover complexities and address issues that theoretical inquiry alone cannot encounter.” Despite financial constraints, Agnieszka persevered, nurturing this space where ecological questions could be explored in unprecedented ways.
Rediscovering art in biology and biology in art
Agnieszka, a trailblazer in her own right, dives into the uncharted waters of artist and designer engagement with living bodies. “In my teaching I often expose students to difficult positions and materials. For instance, we work with bacteria to challenge anthropocentrism, and explore fermentation to learn how to live with and imagine ourselves as multiple. Through workshops on paper-making, microscope visuality, and novel biomaterials, we initiate vital dialogues about ecocritical and ecological practices. These experiences serve as potent reminders of our responsibility, emphasizing that we are not innocent when working with these biomaterials."
What does it truly mean to create responsibly and with care?
“When students engage with living bodies, the question of responsibility and care take on a different urgency. Students literally have to often decide themselves what is a bad and what is a good thing to do, while working with living bodies. Moral values, in that sense, aren’t fixed; they are deeply rooted in the context, relational and far from certain. Most significantly, students realize that they are already entangled in the very problems they confront. They cannot remain detached observers; instead, they are active participants in these ethical dilemmas. It's an ethics learned through hands-on experience because you have to immerse yourself in the questions, getting your hands wet and dirty, to grasp the complexity, in order to create.”
Reintroducing forgotten techniques
Biolab is dedicated to reintroduce forgotten skills and frequently ignored techniques that, due to the dominance of certain forms of knowledge and art within academia, have fallen into obscurity. “Through this program, we delve into essential questions such as how meaning is created, how embodied forms of knowledge can be practiced, and how these forms can be expressed as tangible artistic practices. For instance, natural dyes have recently sparked new curiosity regarding their potential for industrial applications. However, there are reasons behind their abandonment by society, namely the violence of colonialism that was an inseparable part of the dye industry.”
The importance of questioning
Agnieszka’s approach inspires students to reconsider their roles as creatives. “It's about the journey of questioning, not just producing. The program goes beyond mere academic pursuits; it shapes citizens capable of responding to complex ecological challenges with creativity and care." Every year, the Biolab exhibition showcases a range of projects – from exploring speculative design with plants to creating digital life. Hallmark of this transformative journey is the importance of asking questions and investigating problems. Agnieszka’s teaching transcends the ordinary, urging students to confront urgency, vulnerability, and the courage to embrace difficult questions.
- BioLab page of AKI ArtEZ.