Visitors to a recent Tel Aviv art exhibit found themselves in an interactive “lab” in which three containers held the “raw materials of life” in three primary colors: red, green and blue. The hand pumps on the containers led, through hoses, to a covered, steaming pot, in which the primitive “soup of life” simmered.
That lofty, but oh-so-human, ambition – to create life out of inanimate matter – is at the heart of this installation, recently exhibited in the Midrasha Gallery in Tel Aviv. The Soup of Life – the result of collaboration between former Weizmann Institute research student Dr. Omer Markovitch and artist/poet Eran Hadas – was included in the group exhibition HeLa – Forms of Human Existence, curated by Daniel Landau and Udi Edelman.
The process bubbling away inside the pot was projected onto a wall above. When one worked the different pump handles, colored “molecules” entered the frame, chasing one another and swirling around the space, until they began to coalesce, forming complex, multicolored spheres. At some point, the spheres split apart into daughter spheres – the “first generation” – and these grew and split in turn, leading to an entire lineage of spheres. This process – a sort of evolution of the spheres – could be controlled by regulating the flow of the three colors into the soup pot.
Though Earth’s first living cells were not likely to have been so colorful, the process portrayed in the installation is largely based on a theory of the origin of life that has been developed over the course of many years in the group of Prof. Doron Lancet of the Weizmann Institute’s Molecular Genetics Department, according to which life arose through the evolution of fat-like molecules. Markovitch, who is currently conducting postdoctoral research at Newcastle University in the UK, intends to continue working on avenues of research that arise from this theory.
The idea of an installation based on this theory had resonated with Hadas, whose work primarily deals with the borderlines between technology and poetry. The installation theme resonated, in turn, with the lofty aim of the exhibit: to probe the fact of human existence and the concept of “humanity” – a concept that is changing with new technologies that are redefining the interface between human and machine. Within this context, the low-tech design of TheSoup of Life installation was meant to create a user-friendly setup that would distance itself from the sterile, alienating image of stereotypical futuristic, science-based works. This choice is a subtle wink to the viewer – a hint that the possibility of creating life from inanimate matter is really an intellectual exercise, one that is not truly dependent on technological progress.