Student Profiles: Ani Liu, Research Assistant in the MIT Media Lab

In a brand new series, the Arts at MIT profiles off-duty students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who experiment at the intersection of art, science and technology. Be it a continuation of their studies or an extra-curricular exploration, each of these students are a micro illustration of the breadth of cross-disciplinary work being done around MIT. We hope you enjoy this special peak into their workspaces, brainstorms, studios, vision boards and more.

Ani Liu is an interdisciplinary artist working at the intersection of art & science. At the MIT Media Lab, she currently creates research-based art that explores the intersections between science, culture, & implications of emerging technologies. Her work has spanned the scales of built installations, prosthetic wearables, virtual reality immersions, to synthetic biology, as she searches for the epiphanies linking technological innovation with emotional affordance. Ani’s work has been presented at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Asian Art Museum, MIT Museum, MIT Media Lab, Wiesner Gallery, Harvard University, multiple publications and two TEDx conferences. Ani continually seeks to discover the unexpected, through playful experimentation, intuition, and speculative storytelling.

Kisses from the Future: Speculative Intimacy Strategies from the Microbiome

How much of our identity is predestined by our DNA, and how much of our behavior is influenced by the the constellation of microorganisms that reside in, on, and around us?  What is genetic exchange without intimacy?  What invisible forces co-make me?

The bacteria that live on your body outnumber your own cells.  While we have 23,000 genes, our microbiome can contain up to 2 million unique bacterial genes.  There is a lot of emerging research on the role of all the microorganisms cohabit our body and personal traits, such as mood, behavior and health.  These findings unseat our relationship with notions of identity and genetic determinism: “Do I exhibit certain traits because of genes I inherited from my mother, because of the environment I was raised in, or because of the biome I have acquired through a life time of kissing and touching?”

Reflecting on these emerging findings, Ani Liu created a speculative love note of the future- design objects through which we might exchange these precious signatures of bacteria with each other.  If genetic fitness used to be a traditional parameter by which you might choose a spouse, what of their microbial wealth?

The Botany of Desire: Experiments in Interspecies Interfaces

Can biotechnology be used to create work as moving as music? Where are the thresholds between science and its ability to change our emotional landscape?

The current research of this project involves a set of plants, which bud, bloom, and smell in specifically designed and emotionally charged ways. In exploring potentials of biotechnology as a design space within olfaction and emotional memory, this set of projects explores evolving relationships between humans, nature, and new sensorial modalities to re-live transient experiences.