Distinguished Speaker 14 - Joe Davis

Astrobiological Horticulture

Public lecture followed by reception
Friday, May 6 2016, 4pm

Human history details our transition from groups of hunter-gatherers to communities centered on organized agriculture and the introduction and nurturing of unprecedented varieties plants and animals. Agriculture allowed early civilizations to foster art, religion and literature replete with myths and legends about special powers of transformation allowing one kind of living material to become another or, of transformations of inanimate into animate materials and vice versa. The history of art reflects the quest for control over qualities of vitality and function that distinguish life and death. The dream of science and art is a universe full of life. Creation of the first flowers for a vast garden planets is a logical continuation of long standing aspirations to bring the whole universe to life. In this talk, Joe Davis will present an overview of multifaceted efforts to create such an unusual “garden” for discovery and growth of astrobiologicals.

UQAM – Pavillon CO
Agora Hydro-Québec & Chaufferie
175 avenue du Président-Kennedy
(Metro Place des Arts)

Film projection + Round table discussion
Saturday, May 7 2016, 2pm

Projection of the feature film Heaven + Earth + Davis (2010).
Film summary : Thirty years ago, a peg-legged motorcycle mechanic walked into the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. They had not returned his calls. The police were summoned. Forty-five minutes later he walked out with an academic appointment. Since then Joe Davis has sent vaginal contractions into space to communicate with aliens, encoded poetry into DNA, and designed a sculpture to save the world. It’s a great life for a man driven by imagination – except when it’s not. No one pays him. He is evicted from apartments and labs. His uncompromising approach to art and life collides with the world’s banal requirements. This is a story of self- discovery, sacrifice and the complexity of human endeavor, of the price of art and the ecstatic joy of discovery.

Round table with Marie-Pier Boucher, Marianne Cloutier and WhiteFeather Hunter.

UQAM – Pavillon CO
Agora Hydro-Québec & Chaufferie
175 avenue du Président-Kennedy
(Metro Place des Arts)


Joe Davis spent most of his early life in the American Deep South. While earning his Creative Arts degree (1973) from Mt Angel College in Oregon, he pioneered sculptural methods in laser carving at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ, University of Cincinnati Medical Center Laser Laboratory and other renowned laboratories. In 1976, Davis signed the first launch services agreement with NASA to fly a payload for the arts on Space Shuttle and in 1980, was the first non-scientist to address Goddard Spaceflight Center’s Engineering Colloquium. He joined MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies in 1981 as a Research Fellow and was appointed Lecturer in Architecture shortly thereafter. In 1986, Davis created the first genetically-engineered work of art and organized the most powerful and lengthily radar signals for extraterrestrial intelligence ever transmitted. In 1989 he created large permanent sculpture, fountain and pedestrian lighting for Kendall Sq. in Cambridge, MA. In the same year Davis joined the laboratory of Alexander Rich at MIT where he is widely regarded to have founded new fields in art and biology. He attached fishing rods and miniscule fish hooks to his microscopes and developed other whimsical instruments that could resolve audio signatures from microorganisms. His “DNA programming languages” for inserting poetic texts and graphics into living organisms are cited in scientific literature. In 2009 Davis transmitted the gene for the most abundant protein on Earth from Arecibo Radar in Puerto Rico to three sun-like stars. In 2010, he joined the laboratory of George Church at Harvard where he is designated “Artist Scientist” In 2011 Davis worked with collaborators to genetically modify silkworms to produce transgenic silks biomineralized with metallic gold. In 2012 he organized an international consortium to sequence the genome of the ancestor of all domestic apples and later, to contain a version of Wikipedia in that same genome.


Audio & photo documentation

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Hexagram est soutenu par le Programme de regroupements stratégiques du Fonds de recherche du Québec — Société et culture (FRQSC).

Hexagram is supported by the Strategic Clusters program of the Fonds de recherche du Québec — Société et culture (FRQSC).


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