InScience Film Festival

InScience Experiments: Day 2

Day 2 of InScience 2023 started with InVision, the industry day for professionals from the film world, science and the creative industry. Alexis Gambis, filmmaker, biologist and founder of Imagine Science Films, kicked off the day with a keynote speech. Gradually he elaborated on the fundamentals of the Science New Wave, a film movement that fuses scientific data with film magic, with a preference for experimentation and personal expression. Various instructive workshops also took place, including on the ethical boundaries of interviewing. The audience was very interested and fired many questions to the speakers, which often led to concrete answers instead of abstract theoretical considerations.

HAN Unexpected took place in the Amazing Discoveries Stage, on Mariënburgplein in front of LUX. There was extensive debate about innovation in healthcare, with a strong focus on themes such as diversity, equality and affordability for all. It was a fruitful conversation with an enthusiastic audience, from which important lessons emerged – such as the importance of talking less about target groups, by focussing on talking with the target groups.

A cyborg with a passport

Cyborgs are a thing of science fiction. Iron Man, Terminator, Robocop. They are characters in movies, where they feature as representations of futuristic dreams. You can imagine my surprise when last night I found myself standing eye to eye with an actual, living cyborg. 

Contrary to the examples (and luckily for me) this cyborg was much more of a pacifist. His name is Neil Harbisson and he has identified as a cyborg since 2004. Apparently, my notion of cyborgism is shamefully outdated, but InScience’s Big Ideas Talk once again brings me up to speed.

Ignoring colours
Harbisson was born with achromatic vision, which basically means his world has always been black and white. He tried to ignore the existence of colour, but that turned out to be difficult. Blue cheese, green energy, Pink Floyd; colours are so important that they are even embedded in our language.

Light to sound
Harbisson is also a very musical and creative person. In 2003 he developed an antenna that turned light frequencies into sound frequencies. This allowed him to hear the vibrations of colours in musical tones, because each colour has its own specific frequency. It started as just a tool, but a year later he found doctors who were willing to permanently attach the antenna to his body. 

Cyborg identity
Although this sensory system is incredibly special, I must admit I did not immediately realize what the difference was between the antenna and a regular implant. These days, quite a few people walk around with chips and medical devices that are incorporated into their bodies. The difference, Harbisson explains, is that he considers the antenna to be a part of him and his identity. After a few months of correspondence with the UK Passport Office, his antenna was accepted on the photo in his passport, making him an official cyborg.

The benefits of an antenna
Now if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to know what cool things the antenna can do in everyday life. The list is surprisingly long, so I will pick some of my personal favourites. Since the antenna turns colours into music, that changes how Harbisson sees people. To him, skin colours range from light orange to dark orange. He also composes music via colours and turns sounds into visual art.

Dreaming of colour
The antenna is even equipped with WiFi. Five friends from every continent were given permission to send him colours. If they do so while he sleeps, it alters his dreams. Furthermore, the antenna also allows him to sense infrared light and ultraviolet light, which, according to him, is very useful if you want to know whether there is an activated alarm in the room.

Critical sounds
So far, this all sounds pretty amazing. But the audience does ask some critical questions. “Can you be hacked?” It turns out that has already happened once, but now he uses an NFT via blockchain, which makes it very safe. “How do you sleep?” On his side, but he admits that headboards are a nuisance. “What colour is the chair you’re sitting on?” The room goes silent while he points his antenna. “A turquoise blue”, Harbisson answers. Applause erupts from the audience. He passed the test – with flying colours.

(Text: Regina Behoekoe)

Foto: Almichael Fraay

Geographies of Solitude

POST was the place to enjoy nature yesterday. Jacquelyn Mills’ documentary Geographies of Solitude paints a portrait of Zoe Lucas. This naturalist and environmentalist lived for many years on remote Sable Island, where the wild horses were her immediate neighbors.

Geographies of Solitude takes us to the island, but also to the world of cinematography. Mills herself experimented with analog film on the island, for example by exposing photographic film to starlight. It makes the documentary, which won the InScience Jury Award this week, even more dreamy.

After the screening, viewers had the opportunity to experience up close what it is like to use these alternative ways of film development. Karel Doing, artist and filmmaker, shows how he makes beautiful photos with plants and home-garden-and-kitchen materials. A large table is moved forward in the room, on which everything is ready. People stand curiously around the table so as not to miss anything of the process. Doing lays his leaves on the photographic paper and begins his composition of natural materials.

The audience watches mesmerized as Doing answers questions. “Why still work analog if you can do it digitally?” For Doing it is about the connection he gets with the material, which gives the images an extra poetic value. In addition, he is well aware of the deeper costs of his art. For example, to take pictures – both digital and analogue – you need chemicals and metals. These are often taken from nature in a polluting way.

Art is therefore not only creation, but also consumption. Doing tries to weigh this up every time, just like filmmaker Jacquelyn Mills. The demonstration shows even more clearly how much dedication and energy the documentary must have taken. The audience agrees: in this case, the art was well worth it.

(Text: Regina Behoekoe)

Foto: Coen Koppen
Foto: Coen Koppen

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