Ēngines of Ēternity: An Artistic Inquiry into Space Settlement Ideology Using Rotifer Experiments on Board the ISS

A.C.J. Vermeulen*, Diego Maranan, Pieter Steyaert, Nassim Versbraegen, Ann Peeters, Jeroen Verschuren, Arise Wan, Frederico D.A.S. Pereira, Nils Faber, Fattana Mirzada, Boris Hespeels, Karine Van Doninck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

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Ēngines of Ēternity is a transdisciplinary project that takes the biological phenomena of cloning and DNA repair as metaphorical departure points for an art installation about humanity’s enthrallment with cultural immortality. Cultural immortality has long fascinated humankind, with such diverse examples as Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, Hindu kingdoms, and Mayan civilization, all assuming perpetuity through monumental works in art and architecture. This aspiration of cultural immortality is also deeply embedded in the imaginary of space exploration. Space settlements are often presented as the culmination of technological and cultural evolution. However, the quest for cultural immortality is often imbued with conflict because of convictions of superiority and impulses of colonialism, and this will be no different in outer space. Ēngines of Ēternity explores these human tendencies through the lens of the smallest animals on Earth, rotifers. On the surface, rotifers seem an unchanging biological culture, perfected through evolution, cloning itself endlessly, and surviving extreme conditions such as complete drying or freezing. However, during drying and rehydration, genetic material gets broken and repaired again, and in the process, diversity is generated. Moreover, DNA from totally different organisms such as fungi, bacteria and plants were discovered inside the rotifer’s genome. This horizontal gene transfer is another mechanism through which rotifers seek out diversity. In Ēngines of Ēternity it’s precisely this contrast between stasis and flux that is used as a metaphorical device to reflect critically on the aspirations of humankind in space. What concept of culture and identity will we develop in space? Who will have a say in this? And if we end up with a rich diversity of cultures and identities, how will we maintain cohesion? Ēngines of Ēternity is a joint effort between SEADS and the laboratory of Karine Van Doninck (UNamur/ULB). In a series of space biology experiments, rotifers were sent to the ISS in 2019 and 2020. SEADS sent a series of thumb-printed glyphs along with the rotifers. This code formed the algorithmic seed for an evolving artwork. After each space mission genetic data of the rotifers was used to parametrically evolve the art. As such, Ēngines of Ēternity engenders new forms of co-creation between humans, biological organisms, algorithms, and outer space. In this paper, the core concepts of the Ēngines of Ēternity project are presented, together with reflections on transdisciplinary research and the need for a more holistic perspective on our future in outer space.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Event73rd International Astronautical Congress - Paris, France
Duration: 18 Sept 202222 Sept 2022
Conference number: 73


Conference73rd International Astronautical Congress
Abbreviated titleIAC 2022

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