Turkish artist, designer, and researcher Orkan Telhan’s official title is Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. However, his name on the street is likely to become “Profesor Simit.” Using a machine he built and calls the Microbial Design Studio, Telhan will produce 30 simits, each with a different kind of genetically augemented bacteria or yeast.
In addition to making for interesting eating, Telhan believes these experiments represent an extension of what humans have been doing for millennia. “Biodesign goes far beyond Frankenstein,” Telhan told The Guide Istanbul. “Humanity’s struggle to control nature purely to achieve its own goals reaches long into the past. Breeding animals to produce a desired character, choosing certain seeds according to their taste and not planting the rest – this is biodesign. These are all genetic interventions, and they have more lasting effects than the effect that Frankenstein has had on our imaginations.”
But humans did not stop at designing their environment. As Telhan says, “the first thing that humans designed is themselves,” referring to our evolutionary, social, and ideological preferences for certain foods, which in turn affect our bodies. The mixtures of microbes in Telhan’s simits will each reflect a different lifestyle or ideology, for example veganism, weight loss diets, or religious restrictions on particular foods.
“Rather than creating prejudices with secondhand or unscientific information, the Microbial Design Studio looks to find a route to a solution to problems [related to genetics] through conscious and critical design,” says Telhan, who believes that the popular reaction against genetically modified plants is not rational or democratic. “In certain African countries people are on the edge of starvation and their children are becoming blind because of vitamin A deficiency. When the idea of planting ‘golden rice’ that produces vitamin A is discussed, the ideas of Westerners [worried about cross contamination] who are completely distant from this problem end up having more weight than those experiencing the problem.” However, as his bacteria are cooked in the simits, Telhan also mentions there is no threat of his genes mutating other baked goods in the area.
The Istanbul Design Biennial runs Oct 22-Nov 20 at 5 locations. Find Telhan and his simits at Studio X Gallery. For details visit arewehuman.iksv.org