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Bonsai Earth

Sunday, 28 April, 2019 - 10:00
Rotonde Bertouille, BOZAR
Ravensteinstraat 23, 1000 Brussels
VUB Crosstalks
Guest lecture

The Biosphere 2 experiment (Biosphere 1 = the Earth) was an audacious eco-optimistic project to understand complex life systems on Earth, and for space applications. Its hermetically-sealed structure of 1,2 hectares contained seven biomes. Two manned experiments took place. In the first, a crew of 8 were sealed inside 1991-93; the second experiment for a crew of 7 ran March-September 1994.
Biosphere 2 was conceived by John Polk Allen and Institute of Ecotechnics for one hundred years of complex-systems laboratory science, seen as crucial to help reverse ecological devastation worldwide. The epic architectural structure still stands, but no longer serves this purpose. Now operated by University of Arizona as an educational facility, it is the second largest tourist attraction in the state, after the Grand Canyon.

What are the lessons learned from Biosphere 2, seen from different disciplines and sectors? What do the insights from the experiment mean for today’s global environmental challenges? And where does technology come in?


10:00: Intro + film by Bas Smets (landscape architect)

10:30: Lecture by Kathelin Gray (Biosphere 2; co-founder of Ecotechnics)

11:15: Short reflections by Angelo Vermeulen (artist), Ivan Henriques (artist), Philippe Claeys (VUB geologist), Tom Lenaerts (Bio-informatics Institute BXL), Karine Van Doninck (evolutionary biologist, Université de Namur).

12:00 - 13:00: Living Library - an interactive format known as the Living Library in which participants can take place around tables and each table will be hosted by one or two people. These people are researchers, artists, activists, authorities who all deal with dimensions of the earth to analyze and predict the possibility of the earth as an ecosystem in the next future.  The hosts remain seated, the participating discussants will rotate 2 times.

Chaired by Marleen Wynants (Crosstalks)


Participation is free. Register here.


Philippe Claeys is a geologist, planetary scientist and geochemist working on the consequences of asteroid and comet impacts on the evolution of the bio-geosphere, such as mass extinction of organisms, or large scale global climatic changes. He heads the research unit Analytical- Environmental- & Geo-Chemistry and the interfaculty Earth System Sciencegroup of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. When not traveling the world looking for clues to better understand the 4.5 billion years of evolution of planet Earth, Philippe enjoys working in the lab with PhD students and close colleagues on projects ranging from astrobiology to geoarcheology. He contributes a broad view on the bio-geo-evolution of Earth.

Kathelin Gray is a director, producer, curator, and writer. She has co-founded projects which integrate art, ecology, science and culture. These include the Research Vessel Heraclitus, Biosphere 2 closed ecological system experiment, Institute of Ecotechnics and October Gallery, London. She was the artistic director of Theatre of All Possibilities, which toured internationally for 18 years and served as an artistic ‘think tank’ for envisioning projects. Its successor is Theatre for the Reconstitution of Reality, a pataphysical research initiative. She is also Managing Director of Ecotechnics Maritime Ltd., and consults to William Burroughs Communications.

Ivan Henriques is a transdisciplinary artist and researcher working in multimedia installations examining living systems. He explores hybrids of nature and (technological) culture creating new forms of communication between humans and other living organisms. He considers nature as inspiration and a necessary factor in the development of the technological world. Ivan developed the interdisciplinary group Hybrid Forms and is the director of the mobile residency program EME (Estúdio Móvel Experimental, since 2008). 

Tom Lenaerts studied Computer Science at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, where he also obtained his Ph.D. in 2003. Since 2008, he is associate professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles where he is co-heading the Machine Learning group in the Department of Computer Science (Faculty of Sciences). In 2007 he became also officially affiliated with the Artificial Intelligence lab at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research interests cover the following topics: evolution of cooperation, public goods, group formation, cognitive aspects in evolution, trust, behavioral experiments, cancer dynamics, protein communication, signal transduction and the analysis of oligogenic diseases.

Bas Smets has a background in landscape architecture, civil engineering and architecture. He founded his office in Brussels in 2007 and has since constructed projects in more than 12 countries with his team of 17 architects and landscape architects. Starting from a precise reading of the existing land, his projects reveal a landscape, visible but yet unseen. These projects vary in scale from territorial visions to infrastructural landscapes, from large parks to private gardens, from city centres to film sets. He often teams up with architects, artists, and scientists. His realised projects include the 10 hectare park of Thurn & Taxis in Brussels, the rooftop garden of the PMQ Design Centre in Hong Kong, the Sunken Garden in London, and the memorial for the victims of the attacks in Brussels of 22/3. Recently he was selected as the landscape architect for the public space around the new Performing Arts Centre at the World Trade Center in New York City.

Karine Van Doninck is an evolutionary biologist researching the so-called rotifers, tiny multicellular animals that reproduce without males. The species only counts asexual females and has been succeeding for millions of years to propagate with variation: an evolutionary scandal in science. In 2017 Karine received a grant from the ERC (European Research Council) worth almost 2 million euros, to raise her fundamental research on rotifers to the next level. Another project is in collaboration with ESA (European Space Agency) and envisions sending rotifiers into space, because these animals are not only notorious as ancient asexuals but they are also highly resistant to drying, freezing and ionizing radiation. The first launch is planned in 2020. Animals with exceptional reproductive mechanisms and extreme resistances are her major research subject.

Angelo Vermeulen is an artist, biologist and space systems researcher. In 2009 he co-founded SEAD (Space Ecologies Art and Design), an international transdisciplinary collective of artists, scientists, engineers, and activists. Its goal is to reshape the future through critical inquiry and hands-on experimentation. Biomodd is one of their most well-known art projects and consists of a worldwide series of interactive art installations in which computers coexist with internal living ecosystems. For the last ten years, he has been collaborating with the European Space Agency’s MELiSSA program on biological life support for space. Currently, he works at Delft University of Technology, developing bio-inspired concepts for interstellar exploration. He advises several European space companies, and together with the LDE Center for Sustainability, he connects space technology and horticulture to foster innovation in global food production. He is also preparing a series of art/science experiments on board the International Space Station.

Since 2003 Marleen Wynants has been directing Crosstalks. She started her career as a music producer, presenter and content researcher for the official Belgian Radio and Television in its pre-commercial stage. While continuing as a freelance journalist on music, art and gender, she ran the post-punk magazine Fabiola together with Jan Vanroelen, both leaving the scene in 1988, the year Hillel Slovak, Chet Baker, Divine, Sylvester and Roy Orbison died. Wynants continued publishing for major media groups in Belgium. She was a contributor to Janus, the magazine launched by Jan Fabre. She is the author of several children books, short stories and a large number of articles and columns on art and on science projects and on the people behind them.


VUB Crosstalks and STAL (a joint project by VUB, ULB and BOZAR) present this event in the frame of the I Love Science Festival.