New East Digital Archive

From ‘cyborgroaches’ to plant communications: meet Russia’s bio-art pioneers

22 November 2021

Our understanding of the environment is evolving every day. But unless you’re a specialist, even breakthrough discoveries can seem impenetrable or cloaked in jargon, often passing by the general public altogether.

Thankfully, an emerging generation of artists are taking it upon themselves to explore, analyse, and share the greatest new developments that contemporary science has to offer. By working with a deep sense of wonder for our natural world, they are also able to ask the hard ethical and political questions of our era: examining humanity’s coexistence with other species and the environment we share with them. As part of Russia Z’s special project Curated, we’ve selected five artists who are bringing together art and natural sciences — and celebrating them both.


After meeting while studying Art & Science at St Petersburg’s ITMO University, Svetlana Sidorova, Viktoria Romanova, Marta Mikhailova, and Alyona Koroleva decided to pursue their artistic and scientific passions beyond the curriculum. They founded BIOROBOTY 019: an art group that tackles serious issues such as gender and posthumanism with both humour and expertise. In their project Physarum-Fortune Teller, visitors are invited to have their future told by an extremely intelligent slime mold that interacts with them through a computer interface. While ironically alluding to the recent revival of interest in practices like tarot reading and crystal healing, the artists challenge our preconceptions about intelligent life as well as of how other species could and should be used by humans, if at all.

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Julia Vergazova

Julia Vergazova creates large-scale, thoroughly-researched art projects which are breathtaking when seen from a distance, and full of intricate details when viewed up close. Collaborating with data scientist and musician Nikolay Ulyanov, Vergazova is interested in the overlapping space between natural and synthetic intelligence, examining how humanity is connected to other life forms. Her project flora.onion 2.0 explored the idea of a darknet for plants — comprised of a physical installation, a working website, and a series of video interviews with experts. In imagining how a plant-driven Internet might work, Vergazova looked at both the myriad ways that plants already have of communicating with each other, and how IT and software is already integrated into much of the world’s agriculture.

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Laura Elidedt Rodríguez

Laura Elidedt Rodríguez is an artist and curator. She also calls herself “a specific configuration of cells and proteins that provide her with the human experience.” Rodríguez creates poetic and visually-stunning works that rely on her deep knowledge of biotechnic engineering and molecular biology. In her series Ghost Plants, she worked with collaborator Evgeny Khlopotov to strip flowers of their cells, leaving just a transparent structure. The end result can be perceived as the skeleton of a plant — or as its soul.

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Ippolit Markelov

With a PhD in Biology from Moscow State University, Ippolit Markelov is both Chief Researcher at the Moscow-based Posthuman Studies Lab, and a founding member of science art group 18 apples — an international collective which explores the problem of communication between different species. His science-heavy projects often speak to deep human emotions. In Mindcontrolled Cyborgroach, the artist explored our conscious and subconscious fears by implanting electrodes into a cockroach’s body and connecting them to a brain-computer interface. Through this system, he was able to transmit commands from his mind to the insect and control its movements. This project addressed both broad concerns about the possibility of technological mind control, and mundane issues such as humanity’s irrational fear of insects.

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Natalya Balabanova

Inspired by everyday experiences and objects, Natalya Balabanova works with a wide range of subjects and media — but it is her interest in plants that has produced some of her best work. In Petunias Are a Girl’s Best Friend, she played with Millennials’ houseplants obsession by planting 500 petunias in her room. Balabanova then documented her coexistence with the flowers: creating a cohabitation contract, and gathering data from the plants that she could convert into video and audio for her installation.

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