In the 1960s, when computers were still in their infancy, experiments were conducted with biological computers – systems with living organisms that process information, learn and adapt. For example, they tried to build a biological information processing machine in a pond with the help of water fleas, pieces of iron and magnetism. The experiment failed, but now inspires artist Oscar Santillán for an art project on technology, ecology, AI and cybernetics, which he will start at NIAS in February. Santillán is particularly interested in the similarities between biological computers and ideas from indigenous Andean cultures about ecosystems (such as ponds and lakes) as living organisms with a form of consciousness.
Oscar Santillán (1980) was born in Ecuador, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in design. He received his Master of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in the USA. He works on the interface of art, science, science fiction, lost knowledge and alternative perspectives. For example, he made an installation with Neil Armstrong’s DNA, extracted from a chewing gum which the astronaut spit out in the 1970s during a scientific expedition to the Amazon. An Ecuadorian expedition member picked it up and kept it for decades, until Santillán created a work of art with it about humans, plants and space travel.
Santillán’s work has been exhibited in, among others, the Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar (NL), Humboldt Forum, Berlin (DE), LACMA, Los Angeles (US). He has received fellowships for artists’ residences from Skowhegan (US), Jan van Eyck (NL), Delfina Foundation (UK) and Leiden Observatory (NL). Recently Santillán initiated “órbitat”, a platform for collaboration between science, art and cosmology in Latin America. Santillán lives and works from The Hague.
The Artist-in-Residence Fellowship is supported by NIAS and the Society of Arts with the aim of stimulating cross-fertilisation between the arts and science. Previous holders of this fellowship were Jan Rosseel, Arne Hendriks and Ana María Goméz López.
NIAS and the Society of Arts are both part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).