Designing for Micro-Paradise

Article written for Paradise book published by the Royal College of Art (ISBN 978-1-907342-50-9)

Made to accompany the RCA exhibition, PARADISE, presented at the Milan Salone 2012.

Cover design by Marine Duroselle

“Peering into the Hubble Space Microscope, we are presented with an invisible ‘micro-Paradise’ belonging to thriving microbial communities. With advances in genetic engineering and molecular biology, this miniature landscape has somewhat become a shared playground, where humans dictate some of the play.

Objects of micro-manipulation picks at (literally and metaphorically) one of the residents of such micro-Paradise, called ‘rotifers’. These tiny creatures, fraction of a millimetre in size, are the subjects of human manipulation. A series of objects are presented, each designed with the animal’s anatomy and behavioural patterns in mind.

Many residents of micro-Paradise are the current workhorses of pharmaceutical industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars  every year, and are being genetically manipulated to churn out consumable products. Such acts of tinkering with the alphabet of life – and thereby altering the corresponding stories of those that express them – have not only become a daily ritual for mankind, but have given us an apparent power to play God in the world that we can barely see.

Rotifers are no different. With their extraordinary capabilities of withstanding sub-zero temperatures and extreme dryness, as well as their curious lifestyle involving prolonged hibernation and self-modification, makes them an intriguing and valuable asset in scientific research.

But how much do we consciously engage ourselves with microbes? We live in the world where they are studied in the confines of laboratories, with our everyday interactions limited to consumptions of their biochemical products and experiences of symptoms of illnesses caused by them. What are the accessible and tangible ways in which we could engage with the hidden world?

Objects of micro-manipulation aims to address some of these questions, through designing scaled-up objects intended to create tactile interactions with our chosen protagonists, the rotifers”.