The Grafting Parlour's Parlour, mixed media, installation, Thessaloniki Biennale, Thessaloniki, Greece, 2009

Additional contributing artists: Jon Stevenson; Fang-Yu Lin; The League of Imaginary Scientists
Contributing scientists: Natalie Kuldell and her Biological Engineering Laboratory at MIT; Finnish naturalist Panu Oulasvirta; Professor Eshel Ben Jacob, School of Physics and Astronomy, Tel Aviv University
Images for "The Parlour" on loan by Professor Eshel Ben Jacob, School of Physics and Astronomy, Tel Aviv University
Picture by Bareket Ben Yaakov, using bacteria Petri dish from Eshel Ben Jacob.


The Grafting Parlour


biennale 2

The Grafting Parlour.

graft: transplant, implant, splice.

parlour: from french 'parloir' denotes audience chamber.

Author name: Saoirse Higgins for The Grafting Parlour.

e-mail: <>

Abstract:The Grafting Parlour is a collective of artists and external researchers who exchange and combine their methodologies through thoughtful experimentation. Our collective was formed through the framework of the eMobilArt lab project. Our art practice includes interdisciplinary research viewed in the gallery, workshops, performative experimentation and public discussion.  The Grafting Parlour’s conversations with scientists in the field punctuate and re-direct our research and methods of enquiry. We have developed portals into live habitats, spanning from the sky to the forest to the laboratory, creating accessible interfaces to these remote habitats and biological forms.
(about the group)The Grafting Parlour is part of the e-MobilArt initiative, a mobile laboratory that has facilitated interactive media artists working together throughout Europe in a yearlong process. The Grafting Parlour consists of five digital media artists - Nurit Bar-Shai from USA/Israel, Kelly Andres from Canada, Anttii Tenetz from Finland, Lucy Hg from USA (from The League of Imaginary Scientists) and Saoirse Higgins from Ireland. As the name suggests, our work is very much about process and live playful experimentation with living materials along the interface of science and art, nature and man. Our work focuses on remote communication, local and global, micro and macro and real-time experience and notions of time – especially how the term time-based media can be expanded and portrayed through other organisms and their unique sense of time.
(scientists and artists – mutual interests)We observe that both scientist and artist have a passion to understand the vast, focusing on individual parts that may connect together as both the artist and the scientist examine symbiotic systems. As artists, we are interested in examining these systems through our particular lens while simultaneously peering into other researchers lenses thus viewing their world and blending these visions together. We ‘graft’ different versions of these worlds together and observe in our Parlour the possible emergence of new forms and systems. (process) We are interested in the studio and the garden as a laboratory as these environments inevitably inhabit "process". Therefore the exhibition is not the end of a process- it can be opened and perpetually changing, developing, expanding as well as decaying. For us, the gallery or museum becomes the performative space of the laboratory. Exhibitions act as nodes in our continuous explorations as they allows us to ‘publicly display’ our dialogues to the audience along with other participatory elements, e.g live workshops, performance, and conversations grafted from the local.

(methods of practice)From the beginning of the project we kept the creative framework as open as we could to promote interesting threads and nurture natural sparks and moments of inspiration, both individually as artists and collectively as a group. The main challenge to this process was to keep the creative collaborative momentum going while being physically dislocated from each other.
Apart from intense emailing sessions and group skype conversations we had three key weeks in the year for our official workshops in Athens, Rovaniemi and Vienna. In between these intense sessions, we developed a successful strategy whereby we took part in festivals and exhibitions along the way and treated the time we had together as opportunities and a means to continue developing our work. These became nodes that inhabit our mobile lab, our mobile research. For example, Professor Natalie Kuldell’s laboratory at MIT became our temporary studio and our visits to the lab become methods of practice.

(scientists collaborating with the Grafting Parlour)

Many specialists generously shared and discussed their research with us on subjects ranging from Prof. Jeff Lichtman's “brainbow” research, at MCB Harvard, ( Professor Esa Turunen research and ideas on the world and the aurora borealis at Sodanky research centre in Finland ( to the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki’s Laboratory of Forest Botany collection of local plants and trees. ( These scientists’ studies are, quite literally, interfaces with nature.

Fig.1 video still from ‘white stag’ filmed in Northern Finland. ‘Force Majeure’ exhibition, The Lab, Dublin. Oct. 2009. Copyright -The Grafting Parlour.

(portal / collaborations)

Our collaborative interaction has taken various forms, for example: a live microscopic portal into the bioengineering laboratory at MIT during the Lightwave exhibition at the Science gallery in Dublin ( Growing light and other conversations used the webcam, digital microscope and projector to enable public access to a normally closed, private active laboratory space. We broadcast our portal using an open source internet tv site, which connected via computer to a digital microscope in the laboratory. We projected the daily live experiments into the Science gallery café.
(on loan collabs / portals / archive and the living.. )
In May 2009 we exhibited at the first eMobilArt exhibition at the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki. This exhibition was held in conjunction with the 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale. We created a living collection or catalogue of eco-sensory experiences in nature. This had many elements with a live link to the skies of the arctic circle, a rainbow maker triggered by plants, a garden of live, growing wheatgrass, real-time day-long surround sounds from remote forests, delicate projections of bacteria onto china plates. The bacteria projections were lent to us from Professor Eshel Ben Jacob’s bacteria research at the School of Physics and Astronomy, Tel Aviv University ( and an Avermedia scanner set up to view the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki’s Laboratory of Forest Botany collection of local plants and trees.

(establishing question in public)

Early in our open process and collaborative journey we formed research questions through a public discussion. A Citizens Call to Synthesize! took place during the ISEA 09 pre-symposium-( We organized it as a transatlantic web-cast exchange and discussion addressing ways the public can interact with science, and how a new model for an interactive laboratory could fit into the history of science and knowledge. It took place with The Grafting Parlour members spread out between Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin ( and in Dr. Natalie Kuldell's BioEngineering Laboratory at MIT ( with her students. Also with Varda Gur, Ben Shitrit and Professor Micha Spira at the Bloomfield Science Museum, Jerusalem, ( and the DIY Bioengineering group from the Personal Genome Project at Harvard Medical School ( ref. A three-way telematic discussion broadcast into the laboratory, the museum and the studio.

Our installations are performative in tone, drawn from our cumulative collecting and synthesizing of our encounters through the year, with video and audio collected from remote habitats, art/scientific residues, and live experimentation with living material to engage collaborators and visitors. We continue, as a group, to collaborate beyond the e-mobilart lab project and we are grateful to the e-mobilart team for bringing us together and facilitating our process-lead work. It has been an incredible year of energy and fun, with many adventurous threads on the way, which we explored not knowing the exact outcome, but relishing the journey and speculative experimentation. We look forward with anticipation and excitement for the next residency or ‘node’ that will gather us together to play and collaboratively dissect our world as artists.