Orkan Telhan, Artist in Residence
Orkan Telhan, Artist in Residence through the Synenergene Grant, explores the future of food and the evolution of human taste using methods from Artificial Life and Synthetic Biology.
Today, what we consume as food is not only shaped by biological evolution but also by complex social and economic decisions imposed by humans. Since the earliest days, we grow what we like; what evolves through Nature is highly implicated by our anthropocentric “taste.”
During my residency at FLinT, I have explored the future of food and the evolution of human taste using methods from Artificial Life and Synthetic Biology. Together with Prof. Rasmussen, we have formulated a series of research propositions that explored human “taste” both theoretically and through experimental lab work. We outlined the foundations of an algorithm that can mathematically and biochemically explore ways to artificially evolve taste using models and techniques developed through Prof. Rasmussen’s artificial life research. This “taste machine” became a conceptual model to explore how evolutionary, algorithmic and cultural models of taste and flavor production can be intertwined together.
As a second thread of research, we explored different types of food encapsulation methods to create new interactions between different ingredients that make up the foundations of taste (i.e., sweet, bitter, sour, savory and umami). This resulted in a series of edible biochemical designs made of living and non-living ingredients. I have used this methodology to design an artwork called Bananaworks, which used probiotics, microbe-sourced proteins, and wild banana water to create banana-like artifacts that approximated some of the basic components of the banana taste.
While tasting-like banana, these artifacts did not intend to substitute nature-grown bananas but rather showed how banana taste can actually evolve and change besides the fruit. Unlike the traditional seedless Cavendish bananas, who are just clones of each other and threatened by extinction because of not being able to reproduce on their own, Bananaworks, introduced an alternative form of artificial biodiversity initiated by human taste.
The work was exhibited at Wetware: Art | Agency | Animation; an international art exhibition at the Beall Center for Art + Technology curated by Jens Hauser and David Familian and presented at the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) Conference on Neolife, Perth, Western Australia (Presentation title: Designing Life Within and Without, and at IT University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark (Lecture Title: Sweet Machines and Phantom Tastes).
Overall, this residency allowed us to use biotechnology and artificial life research to interrogate complex socio-cultural-environmental narratives from the lens of food production and taste. Among many other things, this residency allowed me to think, work, and imagine together with Prof. Rasmussen to develop alternative forms of critique that can contribute meaningfully art, science, and culture respectively. I believe that we will keep working together in the future and expand this research in to new horizons.
Here, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Steen, members of the Synergene project, Jens Hauser, Markus Schmidt, and Ole G. Mouritsen who supported many aspects of the project with their invaluable comments and feedback.