The New Bio-ethics of Luxury

Figure 1, Tina Gorjanc, Pure Human, 2016, personal archive

Luxury can be a divisive word. Traditionally, luxury indicated a status symbol and worked as a social interface in a context of privilege, exclusivity, and accessibility. However, the last few decades have seen a decline in the possession of material, as luxury appears to have started refining itself from its social interest and become far more personal and individualistic.

Figure 2, luxury definition, Google Dictionary, screenshot on 23 May 2018

 

Scientists, futurists, and philosophers have theorized about the immortality of the human body as the ultimate stage of the luxury hierarchy and advocate that human perpetuity could be achieved in the indefinite future. This awareness regarding the possibility of extending our stay on the planet combined with the new responsibility towards next generations to come—felt by most of us as the remainder of the excessive exploitation of our resources—seems to have infused the meaning of the term with a more nostalgic aftertaste. This new approach to the idea of luxury puts its values in an entirely different context that emphasizes notions of identity and inheritance.

Figure 3, Tina Gorjanc, Pure Human 0.01, 2016, personal archive

Furthermore, as our current society is becoming mostly driven by the aspiration to constantly innovate, it is starting to lack the ability to analyse the cultural understanding of what we are experiencing in the process of innovating. Old definitions and stereotypes of original and fake, natural and synthetic, alive and dead are becoming obsolete as new discoveries in the field of synthetic biology are being made.

Figure 4, David Parry, Mark Post holding the world’s first laboratory-grown hamburger, 2013, PA Wire

Looking specifically at the de-extinction proxies, the paradox of what we categorize as a synthetic and, therefore, unnatural/unsustainable material becomes evident. The research behind the Phylogenetic Atelier project showcases the process and findings of The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback project— the template project from Revive&Restore that offers a blueprint for most of the de-extinction aspirations.

Figure 5, Tina Gorjanc, Phylogenetic Atelier, 2018, personal archive, blueprint of a pigeon

Portrayed within the display of the research project is a speculative scenario of a future venue that showcases a possible intersection of practices such as laboratory work, museum environment, and a luxury artisan gloves workshop. The product displayed in the fictional venue is a glove made from the de-extinct passenger pigeon skin—replicated by creating pigeon leather to resemble the hypothetical outcome. Visitors are encouraged to move the mechanical arm and examine the gloves to understand the ambitions and the motives of the organization Revive&Restore to de-extinct the species.

Figure 6, Tina Gorjanc, Phylogenetic Atelier, 2018, personal archive, project display

A display of blueprints and informative posters alongside the replicated first edition of the leather showcases the process and findings of the project. The documents displayed include research from the Revive&Restore organization: a sequenced DNA from the passenger pigeon and the band-tailed pigeon, a comparison of the two DNA, easily understandable graphics representing the proposed plan for the de-extinction process and a timeline of the development of The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback project.

Figure 7, Tina Gorjanc, Phylogenetic Atelier, 2018, personal archive, informative poster

Scaling down the complexity of the project to the debate already present in our society in terms of real and artificial leather, the project tries to understand and tackle the complexity of the much bigger scientific problem. Therefore, I am proposing that the public engage with some of the following questions:

Figure 8, Tina Gorjanc, Phylogenetic Atelier, 2018, personal archive, glove

> as biodiversity is decreasing at a fast speed, would enhancing it with synthetic biology techniques help introduce and sustain a more holistic ecosystem?

Figure 9, Jane Asholock, Petri Crop, 2015, Earth Island Journal

> if we are going to be able to bring back extinct matter, would that impact our willingness to care for the environment?

Figure 10, Tina Gorjanc, Phylogenetic Atelier, 2018, personal archive, pigeon dissection

> do we have the right to take ownership of nature?

Figure 11, Christian Leste, Greenpeace protest, 1999, Germany, protests against cloning

> is producing ‘fake’ copies of an extinct material an attempt to understand the past, or is it just an excuse to constantly create the desire for rarity?

Figure 12, Tina Gorjanc, Phylogenetic Atelier, 2018, personal archive, pigeon skeleton model

> if we can do it, does it mean that we should?

Figure 13, Tina Gorjanc, Phylogenetic Atelier, 2018, personal archive, leather detail


Tina Gorjanc

Tina Gorjanc is a Slovenian multidisciplinary scenario designer who is recognized for her work that merges the practices of fashion and textile design with biotechnological procedures. Her exposure to the media placed her as one of the leading promoters of critical and speculative design as well as an active advocator of bioethics, bio-sustainability and bio-design. 

With just over two years from opening her practice, she had the privilege to present her work on several events and exhibitions across the globe including Biofabricate New York 2016, Most Contagious 2016, London Design Festival 2016 and 2018, Demo-Adi Barcelona 2017, Echo Dubai 2017, Eye of Gyre Japan 2018, E-Cuerpo Mexico 2018 and 2019, Vienna Biennale 2019, etc. In May 2017, she has been awarded the A’ Silver Design Award in Public Awareness, Voluntarism and Society Design Category for her current work. Her work has been featured in the new TV series produced by the public Franco-German TV network ARTE in September 2017, which is dedicated to new emerging talents in the innovation design field.  

Tina is currently developing commissions from several galleries – Science Gallery Dublin in Science Gallery London – and private organizations – Somerset House, Architect Association in Westfield Center London as well as being an educator and writer for educational institutions such as Central Saint Martins, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, etc. She is also a contributing writer for Clot magazine.