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  • Writer's pictureFlow Australia

Spam robots in show that hints at future evolution

Not Natural at the University of Melbourne's Science Gallery asks questions about how humans, the environment and technology may shape each other in the future.


An artwork installation is seen during a media preview of the Not Natural exhibition at the Science Gallery At The University Of Melbourne in Melbourne, Thursday, February 15, 2024. Image AAP

In a Melbourne gallery, a small army of spambots - robots made from tins of spam - sit typing out a script generated by artificial intelligence.


It's science fiction, of course: a version of the classic novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, but one that's all about pigs.


The words appear slowly on a computer screen, making a simultaneously amusing and disturbing scene of spam that's typing... spam.


The installation with its porcine prose is a comment on technology and industrial farming by artist Neil Mendoza, part of the exhibition Not Natural at the University of Melbourne's Science Gallery.


Through 14 artworks by local and international artists, the show looks at the increasing friction between what humans consider to be natural and what we judge to be artificial.

"There are so many things it is possible for humans to do, but just because we can, should we?" asked curator Tilly Boleyn.


Near the spambot typists is an even more disturbing artwork, of synthetic skin and other organs that have been altered to show how they might cope with ever increasing pollution.

Artist Noémie Soula researched the effect of environmental pollutants on human skin and organs.


For Mythical Living Data, French artist Noémie Soula has researched how humans might cope with higher levels of uranium, cadmium and microplastics in the environment.


It's not pretty: the skin is marked with ringworm, the lungs are scarred with nodules, while other organs are marked with cysts.


"I use my own skin to make the mould to get the texture... it is speculative but absolutely based in research currently happening now," she said.


Soula models the body parts in plasticine and casts them in silicone, so gallery-goers can handle them.


It's intended to be disgusting, fascinating, and even shocking, the artist said.


"I think there is a provocation in my work that makes it a wake up call," she said.


Some of the installations are from big-name artists, such as Patricia Piccinini's large-scale sculpture Kindred, which depicts a loving orangutan-human family.

The 14 artworks on show include Patricia Piccinini's Kindred sculpture.


As for other mutant creatures, veteran graffiti artist JESWRI has created a giant mural of a fictional chickenosaurus, in an artwork referencing the science fiction movie Jurassic Park.


Visitors are invited to draw their own chimeras, which can be instantly scanned and animated to dance in a digital graffiti landscape designed by the artist.


In March, the Science Gallery will also host Masterchef-inspired events, where artists, scientists and philosophers compete using lab-grown meats and other types of future food.


Not Natural opens Saturday at the Science Gallery at the University of Melbourne.


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