Angelo Vermeulen (born 1971) is a Belgian visual artist. His multidisciplinary oeuvre crosses over the boundaries of biology, technology and community. Vermeulen won the Witteveen+Bos Art+Technology Award in 2012. He is crew commander of HI-SEAS, a Mars simulation study on improving the nutritional value of space food, funded by NASA. As a TED Senior Fellow he travels the world to share information about his art and scientific projects.
Angelo Vermeulen is a space systems researcher, biologist, artist and community organizer. In his work, he ties technological, ecological and social systems together through group engagement and collaboration.
Biomodd is one of his most well-known art projects and consists of a worldwide series of interactive art installations in which computers and ecosystems coexist. In 2009 he launched SEAD (Space Ecologies Art and Design), a platform for research on architecture and ethics of space colonization. Seeker is one of the resulting projects involving co-created starship sculptures that evolve over time. From 2011 to 2012 he was a member of the European Space Agency Tropical Team Arts & Science (ETTAS) and in 2013 he was a crew a commander for the NASA-funded HI-SEAS Mars mission simulation in Hawai'i.
His space-related work led him to start a new PhD at Delft University of Technology, developing paradigm-shifting concepts for evolvable starships. He co-authored the book 'Baudelaire in Cyberspace: Dialogues on Art, Science and Digital Culture' with philosopher Antoon Van den Braembussche, and gives talks about his work around the world. IN 2012 he was a Michael Kalil Endowment for Smart Design Fellow at Parsons in New York.
Currently, Vermeulen is a TED Senior Fellow and holds positions at LUCA School of Visual Arts in Ghent (Belgium) and Die Angewandte in Vienna (Austria).Vermeulen is also a member of the Arts & Science Topical Team of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Vermeulen grew up in the Belgian city Sint-Niklaas. In 1998 Vermeulen completed his PhD on the deformation of the teeth of non-biting midges at the biology department of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. He also graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Leuven, where he studied photography. Vermeulen left Belgium to work in London as a photographer together with Nick Waplington. After his return to Belgium in 2001, he attended a two-year post-academic course at the Higher Institute for Fine Arts (HISK) in Belgium. This became the starting point of an exploration trying to find out how biology and ecological processes could interact in art and materialize them as art installations.
2011-2015: PhD in space habitat design and participatory systems engineering, Delft University of Technology
2009-2011: Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Information and Communication Studies, University of the Philippines, Open University, Los Banos, Philippines
2005-2007: Film and Video Art studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts DKO, Antwerp, Belgium
2004-2011: Lecturer, Sint-Lucas Visual Arts, Ghent, Belgium
2001-2003: Postgraduate studies at the Higher Institute for Fine Arts, Leuven, Belgium
1994-1998: Photography studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, Leuven, Belgium
1993-1998: PhD in Biology, University of Leuven, Belgium
Selected Art Projects
Seeker (2012 - Ongoing)
Seeker is a DIY spaceship model which experiments with the integration of the technological, ecological and social systems that enable long-term survival in a spaceship. Vermeulen started the first edition of Seeker (DV1) in response to the Witteveen+Bos Art+Technology award he won in 2012. The designing and making of Seeker was a collaboration between Witteveen+Bos engineers, local artists, independent volunteers and the artist as inspirer/connector. The spaceship was exhibited in autumn 2012 in the Bergkerk church in Deventer, the Netherlands.
By the end of the exhibition, Seeker became partly demolished and re-used for a second edition during the Space Odyssey 2.0-exhibition in Z33 in Hasselt (Belgium). Several months before the opening of the exhibition, Vermeulen launched an open call for ideas and participation on Seeker (HS2). The outward construction was unaltered, but the interior changed depending on the needs and priorities of the new crew. Although Vermeulen and Matilda Krzykowski share their leadership over the crew, there is no hierarchy in the process of realizing the work.
Seeker is primarily a community project in which a tiny, isolating room is created to provide the best possible conditions for a particular group of inhabitants. Seeker developed itself as a traveling project with always new groups of participants.
Started in Athens Ohio during a four-month residency at the ‘Aesthetic Technologies Lab’ in 2007.
Biomodd is a socially engaged art installation that finds meaningful relationships between biology, computers and people. On its most basic level, Biomodd creates symbiotic relationships between plants and computers, and ignites conversations among the community around it. For example, algae are used to cool computer processors so they can run faster, while the heat that is generated by the computer electronics is used to create ideal growing conditions for a plant-based ecosystem. This dynamic is the catalyst for a collaboration between the team members - which include artists, biologists, computer scientists, game designers, gardeners, community organizers - and members of the local community in which the project takes place.
This open source project was conceived by Belgian biologist turned artist Angelo Vermeulen. Fellow collaborators and himself have brought Biomodd to different countries throughout the world. The first version started in Athens (Ohio, USA) in 2007 and has since traveled to the Philippines, Slovenia, New Zealand, Belgium, New York (USA), Chile, the Netherlands and London (Great Britain). Biomodds all over the world are still ongoing and every single project has new groups of participants. This leading to very different results for every culture.
Biomodd [ATH1] became a self-generating eco-system that gets stimulated by playing a computer game. By playing the computer game, the computer’s components heat up and nurse the plants that surround them. Microscopic algae are used to simultaneously cool some of the hot components. Filmmaker Morgan Riles directed a documentary on the Biomodd [ATH1] which has been screened at the 27th International Festival of Films on Art, and the Houston Cinema Arts Festival in 2009.
Biomodd [LBA2] was conceived in Los Baños in the Philippines. The installation contained local recycled materials, however, certain parts of previous versions were integrated into the new structure as well. Vermeulen and Diego Maranan co-lead a team of 22 members with different backgrounds. The travelling, social and evolving nature of the project is essential to it even though all versions are conceptually and physically connected.
Biomodd [NYC4] was developed as part of the art exhibition “ReGeneration” at the New York Hall of Science in New York. ReGeneration included seventeen artists. In collaboration with the Immigrant Movement International, the Biomodd [NYC4] was part of Springmavera. In April 2012 Katherine Moriwaki and Vermeulen worked with the students of Parsons The New School for Design on the building of your own Bioreactor.
Works: an overview
Vermeulen’s artistic engagement consists of actively bringing art’s radical freedom and focus on sensory, aesthetic and emotional directness to other domains, such as science, cultural communities, game culture and science fiction.
- Observatorium [LVN1] (2003): In 2003 a collaboration took place between Vermeulen, Boudewijn Goddeeris and Louis de Cordier which was presented at the exhibition space STUK in Leuven.
- Biomodd (2007 – ongoing): Biomodd 
- Seeker (2012 – ongoing): Seeker is a DIY spaceship model which experiments with the integration of the technological, ecological and social systems that enable long-term survival in a spaceship. Vermeulen started the first edition of the Seeker [DV1] in response to the Witteveen+Bos Art+Technology award he won in 2012. The designing and making of Seeker was a collaboration between Witteveen+Bos engineers, local artists, independent volunteers and the artists as inspirer/connector. The spaceship was exhibited in autumn 2012 in de Bergkerk church of Deventer (NL). By the end of the exhibition, Seeker became partly demolished and re-used for a second edition during the Space Odyssey 2.0-exhibition in Z33 in Hasselt (BE). Several months before the opening of the exhibition, Vermeulen launched an open call for ideas and participation on Seeker [HS2]. The outward construction was unaltered, but the interior changed depending on the needs and priorities of the new crew. Although Vermeulen and Matylda Krzykowski share their leadership over the crew, there is no hierarchy in the process of realizing the work. Seeker is primarily a community project in which a tiny, isolating room get created which is adapted to provide the best possible conditions for a particular group of inhabitants. Seeker developed itself as a travelling project with always new groups of participants.
- Blue Shift [LOG. 1] (2001): ‘Blue Shift’ is an interactive art installation, made for Art Center STUK in Leuven (Belgium). This Darwinian installation piece was realized together with evolutionary biologist Prof. Luc De Meester from the University of Leuven (Belgium) and engineers from electronics company Philips (Turnhout, Belgium). The project was originally conceived for the exhibition 'Hot Re-Strike' (curated by Stef Van Bellingen) at De Warande arts centre in Turnhout (Belgium) in 2005. Blue Shift (LOG.1) is an interactive art installation with a living model ecosystem at its core. Using single-cell algae, water fleas, fish and water snails, a compact aquatic community is set up in the exhibition space. The whole system is designed in such a way that visitors drastically induce a gradual microevolution of the - genetically determined - light-responsive behavior of the water fleas. When the system is in standby, yellow lights illuminate the aquaria from the top. The water fleas are strongly attracted to this light and swim near the surface of the water. Whenever a visitor approaches the installation and passes a wall-mounted sensor, blue spotlights on top of the aquaria are activated. The water fleas are repelled by this color of light, flee downwards and pass through holes in a false bottom of the aquaria. However, fish are residing in the lower sections of the aquaria and most of the water fleas are immediately wiped out. What can be considered to be a survival strategy in natural circumstances - blue light indicates clear open water and hence potential detection by fish - has quite a different meaning in this set up: it are exactly those water fleas which do not swim away from the blue light, that survive and reproduce. In this way, their genes will become dominant in the water flea populations and a 'contra-natural' selection will occur. When the work is on display, the artists-scientists continuously adjust the set-up and carry out new experiments. The installation aims to question the status of the utilitarian in art and science, and push interactive installation art into Darwinian realms.
- Corrupted C#N#M# - is an exploration into the material quality of media and its potential to be altered by biological processes. The work challenges the often-made assumption that media's existence and production are largely immaterial. by growing bacteria and mould on data-containing media like VHS tape and hard drives, the goal was to subsequently revoke visual information with glitches that could be said to be authored by these biological processes. The title of the work includes a corruption of 'cinema' with its vowels replaced by hash tags. In the most recent stage of Corrupted C#N#M# - the so-called Entomoghraph ñ Madagascar hissing cockroaches were transformed into ëcyberinsectsi capable of disrupting video data. The project is a collaboration with silversmith Walter Bresseleers. An experimental film using this system is currently in pre-production and is created in collaboration with filmmaker Jashari Shelbatra.
Selected Scientific Projects
Angelo Vermeulen became a TED Fellow in 2010 for a TED talk on Biomodd in Long Beach. In 2013, Vermeulen became a TED Senior Fellow.
HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) is an analog habitat for human spaceflight to Mars. HI-SEAS is located in an isolated position on the slopes of the Mauna Loavolcano on the island of Hawaii. The area has Mars-like features and an elevation of approximately 8,200 feet above sea level. HI-SEAS is funded by the NASA Human Research Program for four research missions. The missions are of extended duration from four months to a year.
The purpose of the detailed research studies is to determine what is required to keep a space flight crew happy and healthy during an extended mission to Mars and while living on Mars.Research into food, crew dynamics, behaviors, roles and performance, and other aspects of space flight and a mission on Mars itself is the primary focus. The HI-SEAS researchers also carry out studies on a variety of other topics as part of their daily activities.
Vermeulen was crew commander of a four-month Mars simulation mission. HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analogand Simulation) takes place on the flanks of the Mauna Loa Volcano which is the closest approximation of the actual surface of Mars. The mission intends to study improving the taste and nutritional quality of the meals consumed during a spaceflight. Previous spaceflight simulations such as MARS-500 proved the importance of the quality of the food during long periods of isolation of this nature. During the mission, Vermeulen is in charge of a six-man crew consisting of researchers from different backgrounds. Among the other researchers OlegAbramov, Simon Engler, Kate Greene, Sian Proctor, and Yajaira Sierra Sastre, Vermeulen is the only European member of the crew. Due to his experience in community building in complex conditions, such as Biomodd and other projects, he is commissioned as the leader of the crew. Aside from the food study, Vermeulen investigates the possibilities of remote-operated robotic agriculture in order to create semi-autonomous farms for Mars settlement. The mission is initiated by NASA in collaboration with Cornell University of New York and the University of Manoa in Hawaii.
In September - October 2015, Vermeulen exhibited a selection of art photos he made when he was commander on a HI-SEAS mission at the Dome of Visions in Stockholm (Sweden).
The Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative (MELiSSA) is a European Space Agency initiative (ESA) with the aim to develop the technology for a future regenerative life support systemfor long term human space missions. Initiated in 1989, the design is inspired by a terrestrial ecosystem. Today MELiSSA is a consortium made up of 30 organisations across Europe.
Vermeulen founded Space Ecologies Art and Design (SEAD), an artistic research platform on the architectures and biopolitics of space colonization in 2009. Two years after the platform was launched, Vermeulen started a doctoral research in Space habitat design and participatory systems engineering at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Vermeulen is a member of the Arts & Science Topical Team of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Awards and process
- 2003: Provincial Price for Visual Arts East Flanders
- 2012: Witteveen + Bos Art+Technology Award
- TED Fellow 2013
- TED senior Fellow 2014
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