I wanted to share some ideas I have in mind about the project. Saponification is the chemical reaction that causes the protocell behaviour that we observed with Martin experiments and when is produce in large scale it produces soap. Very briefly, to produce soap we could use: ashes from different types of wood, animal fats or plant oils, rainwater or distilled water. Knowing this I believe there a series of concepts we could explore.

I have been informally exploring the notion of saponification and Ash. It seems to me that we can take several angles here. One is the mythological—the notion of Ash denotes a passage between death and life which is present throughout different cultures. It relates us with the concept of dead, divinity and ethereality. But it also allows us to connect it with ideas of matter, animation and consciousness. There are seemingly arbitrary lines which are drawn in defining what is alive and what is not. And, especially in western philosophy, the definition of what is ‘animated’ precedes what is considered to posses agency—that is, what can be acted upon and what can act upon others. There is a very interesting notion here about a ‘partition of the sensible’, with two very well delineated territories of the living and the inert matter. But also, this connects to the possibility of perception and consciousness—basically, the fact that only that which is alive is considered to be capable of perception and, in its most complex forms, of consciousness. Which goes nicely back to the ideas that Martin has explored in terms of origins of life—both notionally and actually.This is where saponification gains a really interesting role as a statement. The current development in synthetic biology is predicated, to some extent, on this partition of matter into living and inert. The fact that protocells and ashes encapsulated within sit in a blurry line between the two makes for a very powerful way of questioning this.

How does this translate into a project? I have but a very rough idea. To my mind comes the possibility of a time-lapse of images showing how a plant or an animal comes from being alive to dead going through all the transformation processes passing from ashes/fats until becoming a protocell that moves around. This symbolising the reincarnation, the passage from inanimation to animation and back again. This doesn’t have to be a graphic-based representation necessarily (although it can be). It can be also, for instance, an installation which presents this transition from life to death through a combination of live-experiments, performances, graphics and video loops.

To create more of a shock, we could also explore how our choice of ash and animal fats might have different bearings in our narrative. Connected to what I mentioned in terms of consciousness, perception and animation. For instance, using fat from animals which across different cultures are sacred: that is, they hold an especial status. For instance, there is duck which is routinely used in Asian cuisine, but here in Britain there are people who feel uncomfortable at eating them because they had one at some point as pets. By doing this, we can create a more visceral approach.

In general, such a narrative allows us to do a statement about the status of life and matter, and of control and design in the context of synthetic biology. I believe the most powerful argument underlying this project is the fact that we are presenting a gradient of animation—rather than clear cut states of living and inert. Of course, the implications of re-considering the world around us in terms of this gradients of animation—what Jane Bennet would call of vibrant matter—are mind-boggling.