The Biodesign Challenge

The task… BioDesign Challenge.

The brief… Biodesign in the Anthropocene.

The timeframe… 8 weeks to come up with a project that interrogates the value and pertinence of biodesign in the context of the Anthropocene. Seven MA Art & Science students joined the MA Material Futures studio. They paired up and got to work. This project was the first collaboration between MA Material Futures and MA Art and Science.

Liv Bargman (MA Art & Science) paired up with Nina Cutler (MA Material Futures) and together they developed The Quantworm Mine. 

Here Liv reports on their process and the unexpected outcomes.

We had an intense 8 weeks of collaborating, experimenting, testing. After some initial conversations, Nina and I discovered we had common interests and common ground – specifically soil and its polluted state. Professor Carole Collet facilitated the project, and the crits were really helpful and rigourous. It was great to be working in such a stimulating and busy environment in the MA Material Futures studio, amongst some really great designers, thinkers and makers. 

Our project, The Quantworm Mine, explores interspecies collaboration and the biodiversity of soil. Researching the power of earthworms to bioremediate contaminated soil in post-industrial sites, the two devised potential systems to harness this particular process. 

In our first weeks of the project, we were introduced to the fast emerging and alternative fields of Biodesign and synthetic biology. With visits from Bento Lab at Central Saint Martins – we also visited Imperial college’s synthetic biology lab, run by Dr Tom Ellis.

Our MA Art and Science course leader, Heather Barnett, ran a workshop with slime mould encouraging us to collaborate and work with living systems.


Visit from Bento lab to the Material Futures Studio.


Workshop: extracting DNA from a banana. 


In February, we visited a disused mine in South Wales and began to piece together Quantworm Industries System, where mining communities could be recast as quantum dot farms in which worms convert toxic ground into useful material. Current quantum dot production uses raw toxic materials and is not particularly sustainable; our project proposed a more natural production line, which also reverses damage done to the ground through decades of heavy industry.


Stevie the coal miner, explained to us the community spirit and comradery still felt from the mining industry.

The big pit coal mine, Blaenavon.

Within our proposition, eating the heavy metals on the ground the worms become biological producers of quantum dots, a material used in nano-technology for photo-voltaic cells. We discovered this research from a paper in Nature, by professor Mark Green at Kings College London. (Article by Wellcome Trust).

We had a final presentation of our projects. The work from the other teams were incredible. But only one team could go and we were chosen to represent Central Saint Martins. 


In June 2017, we presented BioDesign Challenge Summit, at MoMA, amongst over 20 other international teams and about 27 judges. The projects were wide ranging in their approach: some were more solution/ product based; a handful were in the critical design camp. 


Liv Bargman and Nina Cutler presenting their project at BioDesign Challenge Summit at MOMA, New York

We were announced as the winners and took home a trophy by artist, Luke Jerram.  See the list of all the winning projects here.


Towards the end of the year, another opportunity arose for us to go to NY again. We were invited to speak at Biofabricate in December 2017 at New Lab, Brooklyn – an annual summit for the emerging world of grown materials.


Last week at CSM was Green Week, hosted by Plural Futures. Our project is displayed in the big windows until the end of February. We even have some quantum dots on display, kindly donated from Professor Mark Green’s lab at Kings College London.  

And finally, our project will be in a new edition of Bio Design: Nature, Science, Creativity by William Myers, published by Thames & Hudson, out later in 2018.

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In my final thoughts on the project; I think the collaboration was fruitful. I hope that more of these collaborations happen with Material Futures. MA Art and Science attracts students with skills not just in the fine arts, and I think the course lends itself to projects like these.
The Biodesign project was a fast paced one, and I will be able to apply the rapid prototyping and storytelling to workplaces after I graduate in industry. Illustration is a good core skillset for visualising speculative and critical design, I’m sure to do a PhD in further exploring these connections. 
Nina and I are already working together again as part of UAL Futures Studio. In March, we’ll present a project on conscious networks, at an alternative UN summit on alternative narratives to emerging technologies; the environment and building local communities being in sharp focus. 


More about Plural Futures UAL Green Week 

More info on our project can be found via these links:

Article – written by Teleri Lloyd Jones

Nina Cutler’s work 

Liv Bargman’s work



Sarah Craske wins this year’s NOVA Award with Biological Hermeneutics

Sarah Craske, recent graduate from MA Art and Science, takes top prize at the prestigious MullenLowe Nova Awards. We asked her about the award winning project and what she’s going to do next…

The NOVA Award received by Sarah Craske & collaborator Dr Simon Park, from Jose Miguel Sokoloff - President of MullenLowe Group Creative Council

The NOVA Award received by Sarah Craske & collaborator Dr Simon Park, from Jose Miguel Sokoloff – President of MullenLowe Group Creative Council


What is Biological Hermeneutics?

The work Biological Hermeneutics explores what a transdiscipline can look like, through the speculative presentation of a collaborative approach to knowledge and data, practice and space, language and method, equipment and materials.

The translation of an historical text – a 1735 copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses – was presented through artistic and scientific enquiry. Our Bacterial Printing methodologies were demonstrated by the inclusion of the microbiology still growing in bioassay dishes, cultured directly from the book’s pages and installed on shelves similar to those found in walk in incubators. Our developing archive of book bacteria was also installed alongside The Metamorphoses Chapter; digital and silk screen prints that accurately located the bacterial colonies back onto the original pages themselves. These results, interpreted by myself, reinforce the contextual view, which is so important to me as an artist – human interaction with Ovid’s tales having been brought back to life.

The work, which has taken over two years to develop, was created in collaboration with microbiologist Dr Simon Park and historian of science Professor Charlotte Sleigh. 

Biological Hermeneutics installed in Degree Show One. From left to right, The Metamorphoses Chapter, Biological Hermeneutic Printing, The Biological Hermeneutic Archive, The Metamorphoses Chapter.

Biological Hermeneutics installed in Degree Show One. From left to right, The Metamorphoses Chapter, Biological Hermeneutic Printing, The Biological Hermeneutic Archive, The Metamorphoses Chapter.


How do you feel about winning the top prize of the Nova Awards?

Surprised. It’s really wonderful to win. It is reassuring that what we have been so intently pursuing over the past two years is recognised to have some cultural value. The work has felt risky, uncomfortable and difficult at times, so it is rewarding that it is being recognised for the risk and innovation we have been trying so hard to apply and achieve. Also personally as an artist, I am seeking recognition that the work contributes and furthers debate within creative practice, which I believe this award endorses.

A detail from The Metamorphoses Chapter

A detail from The Metamorphoses Chapter


What will the prize enable you to do?

I will be reinvesting the money into continued transdisciplinary practice. We haven’t decided yet what this will exactly mean – I didn’t expect Biological Hermeneutics to win, so no plans had been made! However, the award now enables further risk taking to take place, which I hope will lead to further innovation. It provides the space to enable experimentation, which is invaluable and a rare opportunity. Usually with money comes required outcomes and targets, this award genuinely allows for creative freedom. We have talked about developing a printing process using bacterial inks developed from the bacteria found on the book … we could do more scientific testing to see where that leads. 

A detail from the Biological Hermeneutic Library.

A detail from the Biological Hermeneutic Library.


Why was it important to work in a transdisciplinary way?

I personally believe the collaboration of disciplines is extremely important. My MA Art & Science research focused on the importance and role of creativity in solving what are philosophically named ‘wicked problems’. Issues of knowledge, data, sustainability, global warming, etc… I believe can only really be solved if the disciplines are able to work together, whilst retaining their expertise and specialism. This is reinforced by the funding councils also recognising this potential in collaboration, who are now encouraging interdisciplinary practice. Therefore, trying to create a truly collaborative and inclusive practice role model is extremely important to me. Biological Hermeneutics was a speculative proposal of what a transdiscipline could look like.

I think more genuine art and science collaboration is occurring, however there are still challenges to overcome to enable Art & Science practice to become easier. These disciplines have been developing and establishing themselves for hundreds of years, and some of the results of that are the institutional mechanisms that now have difficulty in adapting to new ways of working, which breakdown these established boundaries. To put this into context, the MA Art & Science is the only Masters programme of its kind currently in the UK. 

A detail of the biological hermeneutic printing methodology.

A detail of the biological hermeneutic printing methodology.

All photography by Vic Phillips


Congratulations to all other winners of the Nova and to those shortlisted from a pool of 1300 graduating Central Saint Martins art and design students – especially to MA Art and Science graduate Julius Colwyn, shortlisted for his work In the Midst of Things.

In the Midst of Things, Julius Colwyn

In the Midst of Things, Julius Colwyn


Read more about the Nova Awards in the press

Creative Review

The Creators Project

MullenLowe: About the Nova Awards