Oscar Santillán will be the next artist-in-residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS-KNAW), where he plans to work on an artistic study of biological computers.

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When computers were in their infancy in the 1960s, researchers experimented with biological computers, i.e. systems made of living organisms that process, learn and adapt information. One attempt involved building a biological information processing machine in a pond using water fleas, pieces of iron and magnetism. Although the experiment failed, it has inspired artist Oscar Santillán to develop a project focusing on technology, ecology, AI and cybernetics, which he plans to start working on at NIAS in February. Santillán is particularly interested in the similarities bet


Oscar Santillán (1980) was born in Ecuador, where he obtained his Bachelor in Design. He received his Master of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in the United States. His work straddles the boundaries of art, science, science fiction, lost knowledge and alternative perspectives. One of his installations, for example, incorporates Neil Armstrong’s DNA, extracted from a piece of chewing gum that the astronaut discarded during a research expedition to the Amazon in the 1970s. An Ecuadorian member of the expedition picked it up and kept it for decades, until Santillán used it to create a work about humans, plants and space travel.     

Santillán’s work has been shown at Museum Voorlinden in  Wassenaar (NL), the Humboldt Forum in Berlin (DE), LACMA in Los Angeles (USA) and at other venues. He has been granted artist-in-residence fellowships by the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (USA), the Jan van Eyck Academy (NL), the Delfina Foundation (UK) and the Leiden Astronomical Observatory (NL). Santillán recently helped to launch 'orbitat', a platform for collaboration between science, art and cosmology in Latin America. He lives and works in The Hague.

Watch the video of Santillán Two tears used as a telescope

NIAS and the Society of Arts

The artist-in-residence grant is provided by NIAS and the Society of Arts to promote interaction between art and science. Jan Rosseel, Arne Hendriks and Ana María Goméz López are among the previous recipients. NIAS and the Society of Arts are part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

More information

For more information please contact Kahliya Ronde +31 (0)20 2246707 and kahliya.ronde@nias.knaw.nl or Kirsten Munk +31 6 2168 7913 and kirsten.munk@knaw.nl