Absence of Existence

In “Absence of Existence” I research the idea of immortality. Can humanity become immortal, and if so, what kind of ethical problems will we encounter and how should we deal with them? In this audiovisual presentation Cryonicists, - individuals who wish to be cryopreserved after death - futurists and others who pursue an immortal existence will talk about their motives, their perspective on aging and death and the future. They all have a contract with Alcor or CI, companies stationed in the US that offer to cryopreserve their clients at an extremely low temperature for an indefinite period of time after legal ‘death’. They hope future science will be able to revive them so that they can continue to live their much longer, or immortal, life in better health. They see aging as a slow disease and think science should treat it that way.

In the last decades scientific breakthroughs in medical science and biological engineering have influenced our life expectancy. Synthetic biologists have been manipulating cells in order to fight disease with great success. These breakthroughs have been making the headlines of newspapers all over the world. Chris Voigt, a synthetic biologist from MIT used biological engineering techniques to shuttle genes from photosynthesizing blue-green algae into the cell membrane of an Escherichia coli, a bacteria that can be found in the human gut and is not used to light. This genetic modification made the cell sensitive to light, a completely different function. Chris Voigt had the following to say about the technique used to built this light sensitive bacteria:

‘In the future we can program bacteria in order to be able to implement therapeutic effects for just about any disease you can imagine. We can create programmable biological robots that can keep our body’s healthy forever’

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Chris Voigts E. coli is now sensitive to light and can be used as photographic material. This new bacterial material was given to me by Dr. Voigt to experiment with. This gave me the unique chance to combine biology, the idea of immortality and photography. These subjects have become – due to personal experience – very important themes in my work over the last years.

These living portraits of Tim, Garret, David and Mike where made in the biological lab of the University of Wageningen in 2014 and 2015. Genetic engineering made it possible for me to make these living portraits but can also give Tim, Garret, David and Mike what they wish for; An immortal existence. The bacterial portraits aren’t allowed to leave the save environment of the laboratory for safety reasons and had to be photographed in the lab to use for this exhibition. These bacterial portraits are now stored in a cooling cell at location.