Upcoming Event: War Book + Politics & Persuasion panel

Sunday, August 9th,  | Picturehouse Central, London W1D 7DH | Tickets: here

This film and discussion event will explore the process of decision making from scientific, social and political perspectives. A preview screening of acclaimed feature film WAR BOOK will be followed by discussion with experts in psychology and politics, looking at how decisions are made and the impact that group and social dynamics bring to bear.

 WAR BOOK | Dir: Tom Harper. UK. 2014. 95mins

A chilling war game between a group of government officials exposes the fragility of our everyday life and those who govern it. Written by Jack Thorne, directed by Tom Harper and starring Adeel Akhtar, Nicholas Burns, Ben Chaplin, Shaun Evans, Kerry Fox, Phoebe Fox, Sophie Okonedo, Antony Sher and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, WAR BOOK takes place over three days as nine civil servants gather to take part in a policy shaping scenario. They are there to take decisions on Britain’s reaction to an international nuclear attack. Only two participants know the truth – that the country is secretly facing a real nuclear threat, and that their theoretical responses may become reality sooner than they can know.

At first the participants are casual, playing out the scenario against a backdrop of their own petty squabbles and personal ambitions, but as the scenario escalates and the group begins to address the breakdown of civil order, the reality that they are deciding our futures dawns. When personal politics crash irrevocably into the room, each is forced to look closely at what they really believe, and how much their decisions are actually worth.

Illuminate at Cork Film Festival

We’re currently collaborating with Cork Film Festival to develop some fabulous science-film-art-and-discussion events for their 2015 festival. If you don’t want to wait a year though, we’d suggest you get over to Cork this month (12th – 15th November) for Illuminate, their film and discussion strand focusing on mental health. Building on the Battle for the Brain programme which was co-curated for the festival last year by Rich Pickings, Illuminate features films and discussion with some of Ireland’s leading artists, filmmakers, clinicians, lawyers, psychiatrists and philosophers.

The programme includes Out of Mind, Out of Sight, a powerful film by Emmy award-winning filmmaker John Kastner who spoke as part of Rich Pickings’ programme last year. The film looks at what happens to people who suffer from mental illnesses and have committed violent crimes. Kastner gained unprecedented access to a forensic psychiatric hospital and follows the treatment of patients struggling to gain control over their lives, so they can return to a society that often fears them. Speakers at the event include: John Kastner; Professor Harry Kennedy, Director of the Central Mental Hospital and lecturer of Forensic Psychiatry TCD; and Aine Hynes, Chair of the Irish Mental Health Lawyers Association and practicing expert in Mental Health Law.

Check out the full programme here: www.corkfilmfest.org/2014/festival-events/illuminate/

Bioprinting, Babies and Nanotech Chat at Open City

Our Rewiring The Body event, originally programmed for Cork Film Festival, returned in a rebooted, expanded programme for Open City Docs Fest last week. The event explored ‘the intersection of technology and the flesh’ with a series of short films covering everything from plastic surgery to 3D printed prothetic limbs, from cyborgs to synthetic organs and from the imagined social hierarchy of future body augmentation to life-saving breakthroughs right now. The films ranged from documentary to animation, experimental and sci-fi work.

We also welcomed two excellent speakers to the event. Up first, artist and designer Agatha Haines asked us the question ‘Are Two Heads Better Than One?’, looking at the idea of forced evolution (or human body design). If we can see the human body as a system of interchangeable parts, what would stop us “searching for better components than we have now”?

Using the Frankenstein story as a starting point Agi soon showed the modern Dr Frankenstein not as a madman in a dark cellar, but as a rather mild looking man in a lab coat. Rather than a monster, we see a layer of chicken heart cells beating inside a petri dish. This wasn’t dissected from an intact heart, Agi explains. It wasn’t even grown in a lab. Instead it was ‘printed’ by a bioprinter. This can can print tissues and organs layer by layer (much like a ‘normal 3D printer) forming a 3d structure by replacing ink with cells. Agi asked us to think of the impact a technology like this could have on life expectancies and organ transplant.

While body augmentation can seem like the territory of sci-fi, Agi listed some of the everyday augmentations we accept as beneficial or necessary – glasses, dental braces, walking sticks. How much further does Neil harbisson, the self-proclaimed cyborg, go by wearing an ‘eyeborg’ – an electronic eye that renders colour into sound allows him to look at colours and hear the shades as frequencies?

The invention came from his frustration at his complete colourblindness. Now he has an extraordinary, unique relationship to colour. Agi listed many other prominent examples of body augmentation – some born of disability, some of curiosity. She also referenced head and foot binding, reminding us that this is by no means a new phenomenon.

Looking to the animal world, Agi showed examples of genetic engineering ranging from the amazing Spider-goat (goats which have been engineered to produce milk with an extra protein which spider silk can be extracted from) to cats that glow as they have been ‘edited’ to include jellyfish genes. 

Agi also touched on issues around IP and ownership of genetically engineered humans, if this becomes a common activity. Referencing the Icarus myth, she asked the question “In a society obsessed with self-improvement, could modification have the potential to alter what it fundamentally means to be human?”

Finally, Agi showed some of her own work – arresting pieces around augmentation of adults (she prototyped a few designs on herself) and babies (she showed some freakishly lifelike models she had made to demonstrate possible applications).

She also showed her designs for hybrid organs bioprinted using human and animal cells. This included an organ designed for people who are at risk of heart attack. Acting as a defibrillator, this organ is designed to recognise when your heart goes into fibrillation and shock it back to normal (using cells from an electric eel). Agi discussed the communications she has had with scientists when designing these imaginary objects and the issues that any attempts at real-world application would have. Despite these issues, the idea and execution is convincing and the idea of this becoming a reality is similtanously alarming and comforting.







The next talk came from Research Scientist Melissa Bovis. Melissa discussed some common misconceptions around nanotechnology – many of these related to the size of what it deals with. She went on to explain that Nanotech operates on the billionth scale…1 billionth of a metre. She showed that it is the very minuteness of the scale that allows scientists to manipulate materials, re-arranging them structurally to create new materials with different properties and behaviours. She gave the example of carbon. Re-arranging the atoms into different structures can give you either diamond, soot ….or carbon nanotubes.

Melissa went on to explain that there is no such thing as a nanobot – at least not in the sense that many people understand them. Conventional robots only exist on the macro scale. However terms like ‘nano cars’, ‘nanogears’ or ‘universal joint nanobot’ are given to nanostructures to describe their shape.  Currently, many of them are theoretical. Melissa showed a montage of dozens of products that rely on nanotechnology in their production, ranging from socks through to glass, cosmetics and many food products. She also talked about her research area, using nanotechnology in administration of cancer drugs, and related areas in which nano composite materials can be used to create grafts of organs and body parts. Read about Melissa’s work in the light-activated delivery of chemotherapeutics here and about her Science Museum Lates here.



Research Scientist Melissa Bovis joining Rewiring the Body

We’re very happy to announce that we’ll be joined at Friday’s Rewiring the Body event by Melissa Bovis, who will give an insight into the much-misunderstood world of nanotechnology.

Melissa works as a Research Scientist at the Division of Surgery and Interventional Science at University College London.  Upon completing her undergraduate studies in Biochemistry & Genetics at Leeds University in 2004 she carried out research at Imperial College London in the Department of Biomedical Materials & Regenerative Medicine before pursuing a PhD at University College London in Nanotechnology & Biomedicine.  Her current research focuses on using nanoparticles to delivery anti-cancer drugs to tumour tissue following their release through laser light-activation.

Melissa hosted a successful nanotechnology workshop entitled ‘How Small Are We Talking?’ at the Science Museum Lates event in February this year, and on Friday evening she will be joining us to help distinguish between what is science fact and what currently remains science fiction in the world of nanotechnology.

Twitter links for Melissa:

@UCLDivofSurgery / @MelissaBovis




Supervenus at Rewiring the Body

We’re pleased to announce a new addition to our upcoming Rewiring the Body programme – Frederic Doazan’s award winning animation Supervenus. This film is a comic, gruesome look at perceived female beauty and the changes we impose on the natural body in an effort to meet this idea of perfection.  You can see the teaser below and the full film at the event.

Supervenus (Teaser) from Frederic Doazan on Vimeo.


Rewiring the Body – links

Ahead or our Rewiring The Body event at Open City Docs Fest, here are a few bits of reading and watching which might be of interest. More to be added over the next few weeks.

1. Practical Transhumanism: 5 Living Cyborgs: wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-09/04/cyborgs

2. All the Ways Nanotech Could Fix Our Bodies: fastcoexist.com/3030926/all-the-ways-nanotech-could-fix-our-bodies-in-the-future

3. Explore a wealth of beautiful rendered and imaginative explorations of the body’s interaction with technology through Lucy Mcrae’s work: lucymcrae.net

3. ‘Invasion of the Body Hackers’, Financial Times Article on Slate.com: slate.com/articles/life/ft/2011/06/invasion_of_the_body_hackers.html

4. Listen to this talk by artist and designer Daisy Ginsberg on ‘Synthetic Aesthetics’

Daisy Ginsberg: Synthetic aesthetics from PopTech on Vimeo.

Cork Film Festival 2013 highlights on VODO

Cork Film Festival has launched its very first video on demand initiative in partnership with VODO, with seven shorts and seven features being retailed on a pay what you want basis, alongside bonus content. The package includes films screened as part of Rich Pickings’ events at the festival as well as Devil In The Room, as short film produced by Rich Pickings.

The initiative has three tiers: Pay What you Want (four shorts including Devil In The Room as well as one feature); Beat the Average (three features and three shorts); and Beat the Premium (including Tony Palmer’s recently reissued 1974 Leonard Cohen doc Bird on a Wire, and John Kastner’s prize winner mental health sensational doc Not Criminally Responsible, screened as part of Rich Pickings’ Battle for The Brain event in November).

Not Criminally Responsible

“We’ve been working with Jamie King and the team at VODO since straight after the Fest last year”, said James Mullighan, Creative Director of Cork Film Festival.  The bundle went live on Wednesday 14 May, and runs until Tuesday 3 June. Find it at: Vodo.net/cork


Rewiring the Body at Open City Docs Fest

If you missed our Rewiring The Body event at Cork Film Festival last year, you can catch a rebooted version of it in June at Open City Docs Fest. We’ll be screening short documentary, fiction and experimental films which explore the intersection of technology and the body. From cyborgs to bionic eyes and from 3D printed exoskeletons to pain management through virtual reality, these films blur the borders between science and fiction as traditional boundaries of the body are crossed.

We’re delighted that we will be joined by artist and designer Agatha Haines, who graduated in 2013 from the Design Interactions program at the Royal College of Art. She made a splash with her graduation show which featured beautifully rendered sculptures of bioprinted organs and surgically enhanced babies.


Rich Pickings at Cork Film Festival

Thanks to the Cork Film Festival for hosting three Rich Pickings events as part of it’s fantastic 2013 programme in November. Triskel Christchurch provided a grand, atmospheric backdrop for a diverse set of events which covered mental health, technology and the body and political activism. We’re looking forward to partnering up with the festival again next year for more forays into the strange, soulful, scientific and sublime.

Q&A with Canadian Filmmaker John Kastner following the screening of his feature documentary NCR: Not Criminally Responsible

Audrey Ewell discusses the genesis of her political feature 99% The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film as part of ‘Rich Pickings: 99%’ from Cork Film Festival on Vimeo.