Lana Kurdi & the Future of Gene Editing
‘Breeding the Super Generation’ made it to the Global Grad Show, organized annual within the Dubai Design Week last March, featuring 40 projects, 4 of which were Egyptian. For the Global Grad Show Kurdi had to present it as a video, due to limited space for exhibiting. “It’s good that she got to experiment with different formats on how to spread the content and share the information. Each medium has its own advantage. While the video is more easy to share, the installation in itself can give us ideas for display in scientific museums, and how to help people interact with difficult, complex topics.
Have you ever considered altering or designing your future children’s genes?
People’s responses vary between alarm, ambiguity, and excitement – but why are nearly 40 countries discouraging or banning further scientific research on the subject? How much do we really know about its implications?
Graphic Design graduate Lana Kurdi created her multimedia installation ‘Breeding the Super Generation’ to help us answer these questions, and maneuver the numerous ethical issues surrounding genome editing; including safety, consent, and accessibility to this technology. “The debates have been around for many years, but they arose again about 5 years ago when CRISPR technology made genome editing more accurate and convenient,” says Kurdi.
Tackling one of the near future’s most controversial technologies, ‘Breeding the Super Generation’ was Kurdi’s graduation project, which she completed over a year of research and preparation. She was guided by professor Ghalia Elsrakbi, director of the design program and instructor of the Information Design course, which required students to come up with a creative project based on their research with a focus on designing for future experiences.
“Kurdi’s project is a way of unfolding all the stories and findings around CRISPR technology, and questioning the role of society in shaping its future,” Elskrabi says of the project.
The subject is referred to as speculative design, design fiction, or critical design, essentially designing with not only the future in mind, but also while questioning the cultural, social and ethical implications of emerging technologies. So by employing some fiction to illustrate facts, Kurdi’s project envisions a futuristic gene editing lab to demonstrate the possible future paths of gene manipulation.
“The gene lab is divided into six fictional machines, each one highlights one aspect of a research,” Kurdi explains. It takes our imagination to a future where we could be Super Looking, have Super Skin, be Super Bright, or Super Fit, and ultimately Super Human.
The way she presented the condensed version of her extensive research was by projection mapping; a combination of printed material placed on the wall, and strategically designed animated projected content that brings each machine diagram to life. She arrived at this topic after starting out her research on a slightly different direction.
“Initially I was researching genetics and the future of wars; how genes affect wars and vice versa,” Kurdi shares.
This eventually led her to the scientific premise that some genes are better than others – a controversial ethical issue considering how historical ethnic cleanses and genocides were also based on the same premise.
In her work she explores thorny questions including who would have access to this technology? To what extent should we have power to breed generations to come? What kind of societies would we have if this technology was developed? The answers are not straightforward, nor black or white, but rather fall on a spectrum. For most of us all of this sounds far-removed from our daily lives.
“There is a huge gap between scientific advancements and the global public,” says Kurdi, adding that her challenge was to present the information in a public-friendly, engaging way to democratize awareness of these existential dilemmas humanity might face in the near future, creating a place for conversations about the theme, and ultimately empowering the public with knowledge.
The designer is subtly present in the project through the choices she made about what information to include and what to leave out. Her fictional ‘gene machines’ add an element of storytelling in a way, making it lightly subjective. Otherwise the project’s informational content takes no sides, and objectively presents all the aspect to encourage conversation and critical thought on the future.
“I think the installation made people curious to stop. People who were not familiar with it were a bit shocked that this is not science-fiction, its already happening today,”Kurdi says of the audience response to her installation. “People were quite receptive to the topic, many would ask me what my own stance was, others would start to express their opinions.”
‘Breeding the Super Generation’ made it to the Global Grad Show, organized annual within the Dubai Design Week last March, featuring 40 projects, 4 of which were Egyptian. For the Global Grad Show Kurdi had to present it as a video, due to limited space for exhibiting. While it presenting her work and the ideas it packs, she feels the installation had more impact because it showcases all the information, giving people a more wholesome view of the topic.
As her instructor Elsrakbi saw the bigger picture, “It’s good that she got to experiment with different formats on how to spread the content and share the information. Each medium has its own advantage. While the video is more easy to share, the installation in itself can give us ideas for display in scientific museums, and how to help people interact with difficult, complex topics.”
She also saw the potential of the project being made more accessible. “The content is currently all in English, but could be translated to Arabic or other languages, or be designed in a way for younger generations for example,” she suggests.
Kurdi’s project will be displayed within the upcoming Cairotronica festival’s exhibition, where we can experience it as a full installation.