Maja Illig

PhD candidate in Biophysical Engineering
 Heidelberg, Germany

A few days later I look back on the time spent at the Locarno Film Festival Basecamp, 10 days of exchanges, of growing together, of immersing myself in the world of audiovisual art with its craziness and intelligence.

Thinking back, I see the leopard print adopted by people who decorated alleys with yellow black underwear instead of pennants - I hear the voices of the collective dreaming experiment from sunset to sunrise during the Night of Future Intelligence - I smell the wet raincoat after movie nights at the Piazza Grande in the rain - I taste the spoonful of sugar soaked with espresso during our Esprethics meetings - I feel the keyboard for a very last report.

Thinking of the Basecamp PopUp, I remember the organizers Stefano Knuchel, his daughter Justine Stella Knuchel and Chiara and the whole team that worked hard to get young people - the future filmmakers - together out of the context of the elitist film world. I remember the space they created between the swiss-organized dates and the following words: "The weird will come. We must study the weird, and the weird defines humanity."

And then there were really these strange moments that make up this whole project: Suddenly, while a team from Storylab was presenting their computer game in a relaxed atmosphere, Erik remembered that he once designed a DNA tile assembly game, and poof, he pulled out his cell phone and we could play! Or the moment when he called up oxDNA on his cell phone in the browser and simply shows a few 3D DNA structures at the bar table while the DJ was playing.

Moments like this could go on forever. The droplet microscope in the shower - I was showering with the projected microscopic world of Lago Maggiore. Music artists jumped on the microscopy bandwagon for visuals and we discussed best artistic ways to scroll through a sample. Storytellers asked for the websites where we buy our DNA. We immediately felt like we were in the middle of science fiction - not the movie, not discussing the movie - but creating a story for the movie. It was one of the most original experiences Basecamp PopUp could have offered us.

And in the end it's the same, although we had our difficulties returning to our reality. Film project management and scientific project management may not be that far apart. You choose a team, produce, manage ups and downs, sell the whole thing and invest a lot in what you burn for, what drives you.

With this, I would like to thank the previous creators of this project for making it possible and for advancing the presence of science in the world of art. This is what I have been looking for and I will not give it up.


Grown up in a village near Magdeburg, put in a circus tent at primary school, I spent my early days creating shows and crafting wood at my parents place. Again very recently I performed a show in Mannheim as part of a circus ensemble.

Always interested in "the right way of communication" for the sake of sociableness I quickly learned that the language
has to be chosen appropriate to the people involved and content transferred. In case of spoken language it’s best learnt from being with the people — which made me move to France, China, South America and across Europe for several (also sustainability focused) projects while doing my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Physics in Dresden, Grenoble and Heidelberg.

Currently trying to learn the language of science communication, I spanned the area from hands-on workshops with pupils to consolidating the awareness of sustainability in the lab on a professional level. But my interest for artful science communication that can reach the public developed when I was asked to design the back cover of a peer reviewed journal. This is why I started to collect artful images of fluorescence microscopy (see below) as soon as I started to work on my master thesis. In the meanwhile working as a PhD candidate in Prof. Kerstin Göpfrich’s lab at ZMBH University of Heidelberg and MPI for medical research, Heidelberg — I contributed images to contests and to the Twitter Christmas calendar showing my work on DNA-based functional entities for synthetic cells.

Here I discovered how creative story-telling is quickly cut down when scientific art is meant to be explained scientifically colliding with the fact that it’s mostly unpublished data. My motivation is to proceed in sharing insights into science in a way for example conventional art does it for the social state of mind. I feel the urge to show the beauty of science, to reach more people and raise discussions by leaving out scientific details following the premise of not becoming too simple-minded while downgrading the complexity of science.

As I experienced in acrobatics and dancing - movements are a perfect way of expressing abstract story-telling visually. Which let me think of recording the screen while imaging and turning the ‚every-day-image-acquisition-meditation-routine‘ into a video- graphic piece. Aiming to combine these images with music and expressing the work on biophysical engineering of DNA and RNA hardware for synthetic cell mimics as stunning as it is.