Meet the Labbers: Ani Liu

In our ongoing audio series, Meet the Labbers, we hear people from all roles across the Media Lab talk about what they do and why they do it.

Today, meet Ani Liu.

"Hello, my name is Ani Liu and I’m a recent graduate of the Design Fiction group at MIT Media Lab. When I first came to the Lab, I was really interested in human-computer symbiosis and I thought I would do all my research in augmented reality or virtual reality. Then Nicholas Negroponte [Media Lab co-founder] had that seminal speech where he was like, 'bio is the new digital,' saying this is our future. And, I was like, 'Oh, I wonder what kind of art I could make about that. What would it mean to be human in this kind of genetic, augmented landscape?' It really opened up a whole new door for work that I made here.

For me, as an artist, it all came back to emotional events. My grandmother passed away a while ago but every time I open her closet I still get transported to the time when she was around and raised me. Smell is so related to memory, so ephemeral. And, I was like, 'What would it be like to make emotionally driven engineering, and could I could I create a plant that was a time capsule for a specific memory? Could I design a flower that smelled like my husband, or a flower that smelled like my grandmother, which I could plant at her grave?' Then I’d have this sensorial time capsule of her.

It was really difficult to genetically engineer plants in the brief two years that I was here. But I figured out a way to chemically create these smell time capsules. So, I created a set of perfumes of persons that are emotionally significant to me and I had the idea to tell a story, like a kind of photo album of someone throughout time.

It’s along the way that you find all these weird moments when something else gets born.

I actually really love that everyone is constantly prototyping. I think it contributes to this hyper creative atmosphere. Failure is almost embodied as part of the process at the Media Lab. That’s where some of the most interesting ideas come from—like, at midnight when we’re playing foosball, and someone goes 'I wonder if…' (laughs) That’s the best—when someone starts with 'I wonder if we could do that.' And then you try it out and it probably doesn’t work for, like, twenty more times. But it’s along the way when you find all these weird moments that something else gets born.

I feel actually really grateful to be at the Media Lab. As an artist, I feel like I would have never made the kind of work that I ended up making here anywhere else." 

Music: “Dust in Sunlight” CC BY Chad Crouch/Podington Bear

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