Hideo Iwasaki is a biologist and artist, and a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Biosciences at Waseda University in Tokyo. He is interested in the complex relationship between scientific, philosophical, cultural, historical and aesthetic views of life. He works both in the fields of biological science (space-time pattern formation from circadian rhythms, differentiation and colony pattern formation in cyanobacteria) and contemporary art (paper-cut art, bio-art). In 2007 he founded metaPhorest, an interdisciplinary art/science platform in biomedia and bioaesthetics, where artists and biologists share a space for science and art simultaneously.
The star organisms at the heart of the scientific work of Hideo Iwasaki and his laboratory are cyanobacteria. These (also known as blue-green algae) are the origin of the most complex life forms on Earth and are one of the most widespread organisms, especially in polar regions, oceans, lakes, ponds, rivers, soils and deserts. They started oxygenic photosynthesis by obtaining energy from water, thanks to solar energy about 2.5 billion years ago. They are thus at the origin of the Great Oxygenation which made the Earth a planet rich in molecular oxygen. On the basis of cellular symbiosis, they are thought to be the ancestors of the chloroplasts of higher plants, with any carbon source in the bodies of terrestrial organisms being derived from the photosynthetic reactions of cyanobacteria and plants.
As a child, Hideo Iwasaki seriously wondered why as a human he couldn’t perform photosynthesis himself: “If I could do it, I could spend a whole day just basking in the sun!” This idea has largely guided his artistic work for more than a decade, leading him to develop, for example, the Photoautotropica or CyanoBonsai projects. These projects lead him to question his childhood dream of “green humans”. Is he heading towards a utopia or a dystopia? We asked him if he had found an answer to this question and what the “becoming Homo Photosyntheticus” means to him, in this interview series for PALM Magazine
Ewen Chardronnet and Maya Minder.