Synthethic Natures

Our topic “Synthethic Natures” is about new connections between people, materials and machines, innovations and preserving nature. The title, a portmanteau of synthetic and ethics, plus nature, already signals that we’re trying to bring together time-honoured knowledge and new approaches. And that’s what the bioeconomy—which is made up of the sectors and services that utilise biological resources such as plants, animals and microorganisms to enable a paradigm shift from a petroleum-based present to a plant-based future—is all about. These advances are also based on (digital) technologies and techniques.

The relationships between controlled interventions in nature, more sustainable economic cycles and technical “solutionism”—the belief that every problem has a technological solution—are currently the subject of intense debates. There seems to be an urgent need to democratise the discussion of processes, regulations and technologies (in the bioeconomy) and for open negotiations as social disparities are becoming apparent in this area too.

We’re looking at the spaces and media where the future is being designed—and at how provocative debates can be had, tolerated and carried further.

Along with working together to identify the challenges and opportunities the bioeconomy can provide, we’re also interested in making an active contribution to contemplating and implementing sustainability in a culture and industry that consumes large amounts of resources. Our technology squanders a huge amount of raw materials and energy (both in its manufacturing and operation), most of which come from non-renewable sources. Software is still too often coded without any thought put into its operating efficiently, which has an additional impact on the carbon footprint. And once mobile or networked devices are phased out, these gadgets become electronic waste instead of being recycled into new resources.

In times of great scarcity, environmental and resource policies also determine who gets how much of the global environmental space. To this end, it’s imperative to bring together European and international perspectives while especially including representatives from the Global South. We’re looking at agricultural research, biotechnologies, new products and the political, ecological and social aspects associated with these issues. We’re approaching data and material cycles utilising an interdisciplinary perspective with hands-on offerings, (art) objects and presentations.

The topic Synthethic Natures is specifically taking us where life sciences, digitisation, the environment and artistic approaches meet. The focus is on a mix of a multi-perspective stage programme, decentralised workshops, and laboratories, not to mention artistic interventions across the entire re:publica 20 festival grounds.

We hope that our “bridge building” will contribute to better protection of the environment and assist in working towards a future that is inclusive and desirable for everyone.

Taking advantage of an open source approach, attendees will have easy access to scientific (re)sources, techniques, technologies and materials and be made aware of current problem areas.

Central Issues:

  • How can “artificial” forms of nature, scientific and technical innovations help preserve the planet?
  • What can innovators learn from nature? And how are they already intervening in nature?
  • How were and are “new” forms of nature and life forms being represented in art and science fiction? How useful are these fictions for modelling the future?
  • What roles to culture, sensors, cognition, technical mediation and media mediation play in our understanding of nature and its “reality”? How do technologies change the way we view and value nature?

Confirmed keynote speakers for this topic so far include Marisa Olson, Pinar Yoldas and Dirk Baecker.

"Synthethic Natures" is being funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the Science Year 2020—Bioeconomy initiative.