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.
This work is graciously supported by Creative Capital.