Between Science and Science Fiction

A research on the life cycle of the jellyfish Aurelia - which regenerates itself and never dies - serves the author as a pretext to address the aspiration of immortality shared by man, art, science and religion.

© Javier Viver, spread from the book Aurelia Immortal

In 2015, marine biologist Jinru published the result of his research on the life cycle of the Aurelia Aurita, one of the most common types of jellyfish. His discovery affected collective consciousness as powerfully as did Dolly the cloned sheep twenty years ago, waking up humankind’s old dream of immortality. It appears, in fact, that after reaching a certain stage, the jellyfish’s cells may transform and move from the specialised state reached in maturity to the generic nature of their mother cells and start their life cycle again, owing the animal the name of "immortal jellyfish".

Such scientific facts feed megalomaniac projects such as that of Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov, who founded the 2045 Initiative with the aim to achieve cybernetic immortality by the year 2045 – the same year announced by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil as the Year of Singularity, which marks the point when machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined.

© Javier Viver, spread from the book Aurelia Immortal

For artist Javier Viver, this vision for the future of humanity became the beginning of a research-based project featuring two distinct chapters – on one side, the illustration of Jinru’s discovery; and on the other, a tentative depiction of 2046. The book, Aurelia Immortal, co-published by Trama Editorial and the Navarra University, Spain, is also divided in two parts and oscillates between scientific documentation and fiction.

In one of the two booklets concealed in the golden case of Aurelia Immortal, photographs made with an electronic microscope trace the different phases in the reversible cycle of the Aurelia Aurita. Pages unfold like an accordion whose two ends can be joined to ultimately incarnate its infinite life cycle. Each photograph is associated to a caption, resembling a scientific plate from an old fauna encyclopedia. "I felt it was necessary to evoke this kind of encyclopedic, colonialist way to classify and measure nature" he says.

© Javier Viver, spread from the book Aurelia Immortal

Here comes the connection with the second volume, that takes the shape of a diary written in 2046, with annotated photographs gathered in the end. Besides pointing at all the information about people and companies involved with genetic and AI research, the entries reflect on what society they have created – that’s when fiction intervenes, as the advances of biotechnology will have allowed a transhuman species to develop, whose life will be prolonged indefinitely. “When people speak about this possible future, they base their assumptions on a biological possibility, but humankind is a much more complex reality. If you treat it only from the prism of science, this is reductionism”, Viver comments. Just as colonialism did. In the end, future is uncertain, but our recurring obsessions and achievement as a species tend to be as cyclical as the Aurelia Immortal’s life.

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Aurelia Immortal by Javier Viver

Co-published by Trama Editorial and the Navarra University

Two volumes in one box // both 12.5 x 17.8 cm // English and Spanish

BUY HERE

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Javier Viver is a Spanish sculptor, photographer and photobook maker. His work explores documentary and fiction as way to reveal the invisible. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

PHM 2018 Women Photographers Grant
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