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Mar 22, 2018
by Carly Sikina
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Amy Karle - "It's Really Important That We Choose and Focus on the Future We Want to Achieve"

Transmedia artist and designer discusses the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration and exploring what it means to be human Karle speaking during at the Salzburg Global session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future (Photo by Herman Seidl/Salzburg Global Seminar)

From a very young age, Amy Karle was taught to envision a future full of hope, and as a transdisciplinary artist, she applies this optimism to her work.

Karle is an international award-winning bioartist and designer who examines how technology can be used to support and enhance humanity. Her artwork and designs combine digital, physical and biological systems to explore what it means to be human and how technology can be used to empower humanity. 

Karle attended the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, which took place at Schloss Leopoldskron. Karle shared her work and insights during the session’s opening panel discussion.

Karle understands the importance of transdisciplinary exchange, as many of her projects cannot be created using art and design alone. While producing Regenerative Reliquary - a bioprinted scaffold in the shape of a human hand 3-D printed in a biodegradable PEGDA-hydrogel that disintegrates over time – cross-disciplinary collaboration was crucial. “I definitely had to collaborate with scientists and doctors and technologists to be able to learn how to build these scaffolds, to learn how stem cells will be triggered to turn into different kinds of bone cells… in a way that will biodegrade.”

Not only did she have to create partnerships across disciplines, but she also had to collaborate with other life forms. “It was really important that I collaborated with the actual stem cells and collaborated with this intelligence that creates life ...I see a lot of disciplines trying to harness nature and trying to harness the natural and control it. I’m more interested in witnessing it and letting it teach me how it grows, how it creates.”

Throughout her career, Karle has used art and design to explore what it means to be human. It’s a “very interesting” time in history, according to Karle, a point in time many still consider technology to be outside of ourselves. “However,” Karle says, “just in communicating with these devices and working with these devices, we have actually now reshaped out brains to think in different ways.” Although many people see these changes as negative, Karle recognizes the benefits of developing new technologies. By consciously thinking about how we integrate technology into our lives, Karle believes we can explore how it can help empower us.

Despite her optimism, Karle understands this issue is not always black-and-white. “Human induced evolution can occur much quicker than natural evolution and we can’t undo things like this [genetic editing] so this is where it takes the most conscious awareness.”

Images of the future can often appear dark or grim. There appears to be an underlying assumption parts of society will be unable to keep up with advancements in technology and will pay the price. Karle strikes a different note. She says, “When we look at combining artificial intelligence and genetic editing, we can easily see the potential doomsday scenarios, but we can also see enlightened futures as well.”

Karle identifies recognition and emotions as ways to explore what it means to be human. The vision behind Regenerative Reliquary was to create something “that was uniquely and immediately recognizable as human.” She chose a human hand design because of all of human bones, hands are one of the most identifiable.

She continues, “I feel my contribution to humanity as an artist is that I have a platform to first share these common emotions - common feelings - of what it means to be human. Beyond our skin tone or economic status, what country we are from, or what language we speak, there are common truths about being human that we all share, that we all experience, like death and suffering, and most of us also have an opportunity - even if it’s just for one small moment - to experience this joy and the awe and mystery of life as well.”

Karle’s inspiration derives from personal experiences. “What inspires me is human needs - some of them are my own needs and internal motivations that I can’t always identify.” She states, “They are what made me who I am from the moment that I was born – the way I tap into the world, the ways that I experience the world and I’m trying to share my exploration and reflections with others.”

When asked about her time at Salzburg Global, Karle speaks passionately about the ideas she’s heard, including the notion that the artist is not a PR machine for science. She says, “This is really hard for me because in a lot of ways, I am a scientific and a medical illustrator, and that speaks to me. But being a PR machine reduces the importance of the artistic and scientific stories. But it’s a tension because we need the PR in order to keep producing the work, to get the funding for the work research, whether that be an art or science.”

Karle has maintained an optimistic view of the future throughout her life. “From my very beginnings, I was painted a future of hope. I was born with a life-threatening birth defect, and most of the other cases before me had passed away from this, but my parents instilled and carried this vision of a future full of hope for me.

“I can see all these different kinds of futures that are available to us, and it’s really important that we choose and focus on the future that we want to achieve. We cannot always achieve that, but if we are working towards that, we can get a lot closer than if we are blindly going into the future without thinking about it – without being conscious about it. It does require some work.”


Karle took part in Salzburg Global session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, part of the multi-year series Culture, Arts and Society. The session is supported by the Edwards T. Cone Foundation. More information on the program can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter using #SGSculture.