• Xeno-Optimizations for Arctic Survival

    Speculating on biomedical enhancement and posthuman survival in more-than-human worlds of the Finnish Arctic

Xeno-Optimizations for Arctic Survival

Speculating on biomedical enhancement and posthuman survival in more-than-human worlds of the Finnish Arctic.

The modernist episteme of extraction, taking nature as raw material for human ends, threatens all life forms including humans themselves. This results today as rising health issues, extreme weather conditions and toxic environments. In the arctic areas, the global warming advances even two times faster reinforcing extinction of species, increase of rain and floods and decreasing of snow. Therefore, radical re-imagining of human-nature-technology relations in the arctic are urgently required.

This project takes critical storytelling, mixing science facts with science fiction – as an approach to rethink concepts beyond green utopias or apocalyptic dystopias, reimagining new forms of living and co-existing in technoscientific environments. As forms of survival on the damaged planet, symbiotic modes of biotechnological adaption are explored following Donna Haraway`s question on “how genetic engineering might be used to bind people into new symbiotic partnerships? (1) In this frame the project aims to speculate on human genetic alterations with CRISPR as Xeno-Optimizations for Arctic Survival in the era of climate crisis. Speculative scenarios, drawing from existing realities and stories of the past, are situated in the geographic area of the Finnish Arctic. Non-occidental cosmologies will form a frame for technoscientific speculations as collaborative engagements.

The project is a continuity of Emilia Tikka`s ongoing artistic design research on biomedical use of the genome-editing technology CRISPR, critically engaging with questions of human optimization and health. Editing human germline introduces inheritable changes, which are passed on to the following generations and therefore might radically alter the human evolution. The promise of CRISPR includes biomedical applications to cure diseases, but next to that, market driven interests are arising to advocate enhancement of human species towards optimized mental and physical capabilities and longer lifespans. This project aims to critically counter these transhumanist visions, reinforced by anthropocentric solipsism and human mastery over nature. The project draws from feminist posthumanities, in which human is not seen as separate but rather embodied and embedded in ‘nature’. In the frame of Arts4Medicine residency, the project underlines how issues of human biomedical health are increasingly connected to the questions of environmental crisis. In order to imagine biomedical applications of genome-editing beyond genetic determinism and human exceptionalism, the project refers to the concept of holobiont, indicating the human condition as deeply entangled with more-than-human worlds.

(1 ) Eben Kirksey, The Mutant Project: Inside the Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans, First edition (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020).

© Emilia Tikka

Emilia Tikka is a transdisciplinary designer and researcher, currently a PhD candidate at Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture in Helsinki and a research associate at Tampere University in the Department of New Social Research and STS. Former affiliations include: visiting scholar position at the Hermann von Helmholtz Centre for Cultural Techniques of the Humboldt- Universität zu Berlin, artist in residence at CRISPR laboratories of Max-Delbrück-Centre for Molecular Medicine in Berlin and Art and Science Research Residency in Japan organized by Bioart Society and hosted by BioClub Tokyo.

Her work explores philosophical dimensions and cultural implications of novel genome editing technology CRISPR engaging with questions of human biomedical enhancement. In this frame her current research and writing focuses on investigating human-nature-technology relations in technoscientific discourse. She problematizes the current production of the conditio humana by juxtaposing transhumanism and feminist posthumanism. Her practice combines critical storytelling, lab experiments, and speculative design – aiming to generate alternative modes of knowledge production in technoscientific cultures. Her on-going PhD research project Xeno-Genealogies is funded by the Finnish Kone Foundation.

Her art and design works have been exhibited at Ars Electronica in Austria, New York University Arts Centre in United Arab Emirates, Gregg Museum for Art and Design in USA, Imagine Science Film Festival NYC in USA, STATE Studio in Germany, EMMA Museum of Modern Art in Finland and Tekniska Museet in Sweden to mention a few.


© Bioart Society

Bioart Society is a Helsinki-based association developing, producing and facilitating activities around art and natural sciences with an emphasis on biology, ecology and life sciences. It runs SOLU Space, an artistic laboratory and platform for art, science and society in in Helsinki, and – together with the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station of the University of Helsinki – Ars Bioarctica, a residency and art & science program with focus on the sub-arctic environment. Bioart Society was established in May 2008 and it currently has 130 members from Finland and other countries.

The Bioart Society sees itself as a catalyst and incubator for the development of transdisciplinary art practices. It encourages work on the intersection of art, science and society to leave its comfort zones, to push the boundaries and cross borders to become what we can’t possibly know. Bioart Society seeks the frontiers of art and extends the practices of artists engaging with scientific processes, facilities and technologies in order to participate in, reveal and illuminate the social, political and cultural context that brought them into being.


© Kilpisjärvi Biological Station

Since 2010 the Bioart Society is organizing the Ars Bioarctica Residency Program together with the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station of the University of Helsinki in the sub-Arctic Lapland in the traditional Sami lands. The residency has an emphasis on the Arctic environment and art and science collaboration. It is is open for professional artists, scientists and art&science research teams at all stages of their careers.

The residency will take place in the facilities of the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station. The Station provides the residents with a combined living and working environment, kitchen, bathroom, sauna and internet connection. The residents have access to scientific equipment, a basic fiel laboratory facilities, the library and seminar room as well as the usage of field equipment. A dedicated mentor in Kilpisjärvi familiarize the resident with the local environment and customs upon arrival.


Oula A. Valkeapää is living with reindeers in Sàmi reindeer herding tradition. Leena Valkeapää is an artist and researcher with PhD in Arts. She has exhibited as a visual artist since (1988) and has produced several public environmental artworks. Currently she also works as a mentor at the Ars Bioartica Residency program in Kilpisjärvi, Finland.

Since 2011 Oula A. and Leena Valkeapää work together producing internationally recognized art – and research driven projects. Thematics of their collaborative works include: natural phenomena, local reindeer herding practices and situated environmental questions.