Coming of Age in a Biohacking Era

Gavin Vaughan

2019, Hartlepool, United Kingdom

Future generations will be born into a world awash in altered images, virtual reality, and misinformation like fake news. How will they grasp ‘the real’ of their surroundings and, even more difficult, the more abstract and fluid elements of their identities? Amidst this backdrop, there will also likely be a new frontier of biohacking, of exploring identity by way of changing the body in new ways, such as do-it-yourself genetic or hormonal treatments. And how will all ­these changes and experiments play out on the platforms on which our online personas reside?

Coming-of-age body modifications are (or were) an accepted practice in many cultures, from genital mutilation to superficial teeth-filling and lip stretching. Humans seem capable of dreaming up justifications that can seem bizarre or even hurtful. So where will new biotechnology lead? Gone are the days of getting your best friend to pierce your ear with an ice cube and needle or letting them tattoo you with ink and a pin. In the context of new developments such as CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing tool which is becoming widely available, artist Gavin Vaughan imagines a not-so-distant future where anyone can alter their own DNA. 

Online video:

Gavin Vaughan is a UK-based designer who designs for ­debate and activism through intensive research. His work is focused on pushing and breaking boundaries in societal norms, and questioning what we should be allowed to do with our own bodies, new technology, and science. Vaugh has a passion for underground societies, rule breakers, and bedfellows. His works don’t create an answer but just more questions. 

Het kunstwerk door de ogen van:

Dr. Joyce Lebbink

Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics

This thought-provoking project challenges our thinking about our identity in light of new developments in the biomedical ­sciences. In our own work at Erasmus MC, we use gene-editing tools such as CRISPR-Cas9 on a routine base to create reagents and model systems to study the mechanisms of DNA repair, cancer avoidance, and aging. In this way, gene-editing has already contributed to our fundamental understanding of these critical processes. We are far away (if ever) from safe and responsible biohacking, but this work raises fascinating ethical issues: how far should we be willing to change our (biochemical) identity and what does that imply for our (un)real self?

View the floorplan of Science Gallery Rotterdam’s exhibition (UN)REAL


Adding dimensions to the real

An essay by William Myers

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