Infusing food with information
Six shiny pillars metallically dropping from a grid of wires and artificial light above. The hovering skeleton of a room inside a room. Firm pink clouds perfectly penetrating the polished surface.
These are the physics of swedish artist Oskar Jakobsen's work Intelligo. As we walk under the installation, Oskar takes out his phone, checking the time, looks up and says, »here it comes«.
A quiet white steam exiting a wet rubber tube, headed for the mushroom of information - the product of his installation - a pink oyster mushroom, slowly growing form the the carefully carved escape holes in the stainless steel constructions surrounding us.
Into the room of Oskar Jakobsen's installation, walks a grey haired couple. They split up and both stop in front of a pillar, obviously wanting to touch the seemingly fluorescent organic material showing in a few of the holes. The man looks at Oskar Jakobsen, who is right now waving his arms around, explaining where the idea to the installation came from. »What is this?«, asks the man.
Yes exactly, what is it? It looks like something you have never seen elsewhere. It looks like a sterilized future farm of rare food resources. It looks like a scientific experiment. And in some ways, it is.
We meet at Oskar Jakobsen's studio in the Royal Danish Art Academy. It is a supreme mess. It is the exact opposite of the clinic creation hanging in one of the tall white rooms of the museum on the other side of the courtyard. The artwork Intelligo is Oskar Jakobsen's visual representation of a topic that has been in his head, and on his battered desk for a long time now. Data-infusion of DNA.
Humanity has a huge problem with storage. Over the last couple of years, more data were created, than in all of preceding history. DNA shows to be rather good for storage of data. It is ultracompact, and if kept cool, it will not degenerate over time. In fact, a single gram of DNA can in possibly hold 215 million gigabytes. So in principle, all data ever recorded by humans would fit in a container about the same size and weight of a couple of pickup trucks.
Since 2012 scientists have been storing data in DNA. But it has been expensive and they have had problems storing a satisfying amount of data. Recently, computer scientists at Columbia University succeeded in storing large amounts of data in DNA, and reading it again. This could be a potential solution to our storage problem, but it also opens doors to other scenarios.
Back in the studio, in front of the desk, Oskar Jakobsen pushes back a pile of notebooks, electronic devices, and tiny tools, and carefully puts down a handful of his harvested pink oyster mushroom. He looks at it, explaining that tendencies such as bodyhacking and polyphasic sleeping started the thought pattern behind Intelligo. The initial phases of his work process, he describes as rhizomatic thought patterns. Thoughts appear and when they have been haunting him for long enough, he simply can’t deny them. Over time, as he researches and begins giving form to his thoughts at his studio, two or more ideas that seem to have absolutely nothing in common begin touching. New connections slowly start to show themselves to him. If the connection strengthens, Oskar Jakobsen starts working hard on versions of a physical manifestation of what comes out of the touch of the topics. At some point the concept stands clear for itself as a new creation. A creation rising from the connection between seemingly unrelated phenomenons.
Intelligo illustrates a data infusion of great literature into the DNA of the pink oyster mushroom. When the mushroom is harvested, they are packed with labels saying James Joyce Ulysses or E. H. Gombrich Story of Art, and put into an installed fridge. This is the physical representation of the idea, that we can actually eat and digest data-infused mushroom, and who knows, in some years maybe unzip the information with our body and store it in our brain, and thereby learn by eating.