Home Architect Natasha Marie Llorens on Dana-Fiona Armor

Natasha Marie Llorens on Dana-Fiona Armor

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A pair of long, delicately colored tubes were arranged in parallel on a low plinth at the entrance to the gallery. One end of each elongated form bent over the edge of the traditional pedestal, like a creature curious about what lay beyond the pedestal, but connected to nothing – not the ground, not even its companion. Pneumatophore #2 and #4 (all works 2022), resemble oversized water snake toys – hollow latex or rubber, liquid-filled shapes designed as stirring devices to train motor control and concentration. But Dana-Fiona Armor’s sculptures are made of blown glass tinted pink rose and dark purple with melanin, oxides and metallic salts. Their title refers to a type of aerial root structure that some plants develop to obtain oxygen in waterlogged habitats.

Armour’s recent exhibition “A Tale of Symbiogenesis” continued a research project she undertook with French biopharmaceutical company Cellectis, which specializes in genome-editing technologies. Under the guidance of several biogeneticists, Armor isolated the human MC1R gene, reproduced it synthetically, then engineered a virus to insert the gene into the DNA of the Nicotiana benthamiana, a tobacco plant commonly used for testing in biotechnology laboratories. The MC1R gene, when activated, triggers the production of melanin, the amino acid that causes human skin to tan when exposed to sunlight. Armor’s artistic research demonstrated that a human molecular structure could be created to exist within that of a plant.

The video Nicotiana Benthamiana Micro CT Scan – Pre Transgenesis ACT II shows a digital rendering of the leaf vein structure of the tobacco plant before its genes were altered. The simulation, rendered in matte greyish-pink tones, cuts through the model’s intricate exterior before entering the hollow passageway of its spine. With all visual noise digitally removed, the video mimics the medical imagery used to develop biologics. Three brightly colored microscopic photographs of the same subject, Microscopic view number 4, 5, and 6 (Microsopic View Number 4, 5 and 6), use the same science-based formal vocabulary. Pervasive and opaque, Armor’s depictions of the molecular world are indistinguishable from the corporate imagination of the biotech industry. They in no way express the ethical complexity involved in obliging a plant to harbor a little humanity. The assumption here is that humans can transgress the genetic integrity of non-humans for aesthetic reasons.

To build three cast glass wall pieces, Side veins 1, 2And 3 (Secondary veins 1, 2 and 3), Armor combined crystal, opaline and colored glass to create bony structures inspired by the tobacco leaves that she had genetically modified. These works came closest to the title and plot of the exhibition, the notion of symbiogenesis, the process by which two organisms merge to form a genetically distinct and more complex one. Yet these haunting quasi-skeletons retain a precious quality, as works of art categorically alien to biological processes such as putrefaction.

In a text on Armor’s work commissioned for his first exhibition at Andréhn-Schiptjenko, in 2021, curator Nicolas Bourriaud asked: “Is art, as a whole, in itself a dead element inserted into life? of human society? This is a profound question that Armor tries to answer by emphasizing calcification or crystallization as a tool for producing forms. Perhaps the cynicism implicit in Bourriaud’s question about the death of art stems from the inert quality of Armour’s work, the absence of formal life with which it renders symbiogenesis. Rather than critically addressing the death of art, Armor produces a simulacrum that ignores the difference between, on the one hand, invading other beings for the sole purpose of implanting ourselves in them, and, on the other hand, , to develop resilient hybrid lifeforms capable of surviving the man-made disaster at hand.

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