In a Grain of Wheat

Splicing ancient Mesopotamian civilization with post-cultural planetary futures through a poetic act of preservation, my latest work, In a Grain of Wheat, is an interdisciplinary artwork that archives the 3,000 year-old Winged Bull of Nineveh inside the DNA of Iraqi wheat seeds. By stewarding visionary developments in molecular-digital data storage through a radical creative lens, the project not only restores into global consciousness the Assyrian imperial monument, which was ravaged by iconoclastic violence from ISIS in 2015, but represents the start of a far-sighted transnational collaboration to safeguard and incubate endangered Iraqi cultural heritage through a comprehensive seed bank of bio- digital surrogates.The project begins by bridging the ruins of Mosul with the museums of Manhattan to take 3D digital scans of a sister lamassu from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and encode these into Fertile Crescent wheat seed DNA. With this, the sphinx-like lamassu – one of the ancient Near East’s most enduring iconographical symbols of blessing and protection – enters the shared evolutionary code of all living things. Drawing together the cardinal powers of art, science, and nature to chronicle global cultural memory for the citizens of tomorrow, In a Grain of Wheat: Cultivating Hybrid Futures in Ancient Seed DNA transcends archival restoration to become a pioneering performance of regenerative cultivation, offering a thrilling call to heritage consciousness for the 21st- century and beyond.

Iraq’s dramatic history of war, invasion, imperialism, colonialism and more recently, terrorism, has given it a portfolio of cultural destruction almost as outstanding as its legacy of civilization. In the midst of ongoing threats to its material heritage, this artwork also serves as a pilot study on the potential value of in vitro DNA data storage techniques to larger efforts in cultural preservation. Synergizing computer science and molecular biotechnology for the purposes of cultural archiving is rich with potential. In the Middle East especially, where petro-political warfare, socioeconomic fragility, and climate change now pose a powerful triple threat to cultural heritage – and indeed where rising temperatures are only predicted to intensify unrest and further constrict livability over the coming century – adopting proactive DNA archiving strategies could prove vital to ensuring against future losses of irreplaceable global human heritage. As bio-digital encryption practices become more efficient and sustainable, In a Grain of Wheat will become a ‘gateway’ project for the development of a collaborative seed bank dedicated to Iraq’s material culture. And with the right shepherding, that venture could in turngrow into a transnational bio-compendium, a universal DNA anthology of the planet’s creative inheritance. This is an ambitious vision, but one that in theory is made feasible by the immense storage capacity of biological material – as well as the fundamentally cooperative nature of humankind, which functions as part of the work, turning it into a social as well as bio-digital sculpture.


Hiba Jameel
I.G @hibajartstudio 

An Iraqi American scientist and a visual artist. Hiba graduated with a BS, in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from the University of California San Diego, then went on to get her MS from Tufts University in Nutrition and Policy. Hiba is involved in program development for the laboratory project set up. She serves as a research analyst to create methodology and structure for the DNA recombination and molecular biology techniques to ensure the success of the laboratory portion of the project. Hiba is an outsider visual artist her figurative works, abstracts, photography, and interaction art project discuss sexuality, spirituality, mental illness, politics, death, and romantic relationships. She is currently living and practicing in the greater Seattle area. 


Shawn Lawson is a computational artist and researcher creating the computational sublime. He performs under the pseudonym Obi-Wan Codenobi where he live-codes real-time computer graphics with his open source software, The Force and The Dark Side. Lawson’s other work explores the computational sublime through a range of technology: stereoscopy, camera vision, touch screens, game controllers, hand-held devices, random number generators; and output formats: print, sculpture, mobile apps, instruction sets, animation, and interactive.

He has performed at NIME, Australia; Radical dB, Spain; ICLI, Portugal and UK; ICLC, UK, Canada, Mexico, Spain; ISEA, Canada; GENERATE!, Germany; Live => Coding, Brazil; CultureHub, NYC, CCRMA, and more. Shawn’s artwork has exhibited or screened in museums, galleries, festivals, and public space in England, Denmark, Russia, Italy, Korea, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, and Canada; locally in ACM SIGGRAPH, IEEE ProCams, ACM MM, The Art Institute of Chicago, Milwaukee Art Museum, Chelsea Art Museum, Eyebeam, Aperture Foundation Gallery, Nicholas Robinson Gallery, MIT, OSU, ASU, and LTU. He has given workshops on programming or live coding in Europe and the USA. Shawn is published in the proceedings of ICLC, ACM CC, ACM SIGGRAPH, ACM SIGCHI, ACM MM and the Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture.

Lawson has received support from from the Electronic Media and Film Program at the New York State Council on the Arts, the Experimental Television Center’s Finishing Funds Program, Kamel Lazaar Foundation, CultureHub’s Micro-Residency, and Signal Culture’s Toolmakers in Residency. Lawson studied fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University and École Nationale Supèrieure des Beaux-Arts. He received his MFA in Art and Technology Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003. He is an Associate Professor and Animation Area Coordinator at Arizona State University and selectively consults for independent artists and commercial R&D.

This work is graciously supported by: