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Article categories: ANAT ReportsIssue 67[AS] Art Science
September 4th, 2009

As part of the art research science program encouraging collaboration between artists, scientists and researchers, ANAT will be moderating a discussion list throughout 2008. Covering areas as diverse as bioart, artificial intelligence, robotics and space, each month-long discussion will be led by international experts. Below are snippets from the guests who participated in the March discussion on bioart…

I am fascinated by the use of life as a medium for artistic engagement. As a mirror reflecting back the different levels of human intervention and manipulation of living systems, art highlights the fact that we perceive life differently to any other material or process. This special consideration to life should be recognised and elaborated, perhaps as a form of secular vitalism. The growing tension between this elusive essence of life, either perceived or real, and the mounting approach to engineering life – is the zone in which the most interesting art and biology works lie. I am interested in exploring this further, drawing upon the idea of direct experiential engagement with the manipulation of life as a cultural strategy.

Oron Catts is an artist, researcher and curator. He is the co-Founder and Director of SymbioticA, which won the inaugural Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in Hybrid Art (2007). He founded the Tissue Culture and Art Project (TC&A) in 1996 and has been a research fellow at The Tissue Engineering & Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School. Oron has regularly exhibited and published in major international forums.

Bioart challenges anthropocentrism and calls for a reconsideration of the bio-power of all life. It catalyzes a necessary and invigorating shift in attitudes: from the isolated humanist subject to the post-anthropocentric one, relating through communication, continuity and symbiosis to non-human life. Bioart evokes questions of belonging, identity and sustainability in all environments, including the territorially expanding ‘extreme’ environments of biotech labs. It points out the need to respect the impersonal and beyond-human vitality of all biological life in order to fully recognise augmented, modified and technologically supported life of all kinds.

Monika Bakke is assistant professor of aesthetics at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland. She writes on contemporary art and aesthetics, with a particular interest in posthumanist, cross-cultural and gender perspectives.

I’ve been producing and exhibiting bioart works for more than 20 years. During that time I have always sought to keep the focus on aesthetics rather than politics. Most bioart that is politically motivated – for example, Andrea Zittel’s A Breeding Unit for Reassigning Flight – I find boring. Lately, however, I’ve been asking myself: what is the relevance of bioart to climate change?

George Gessert’s work focuses on the overlap of art and genetics. He has exhibited widely and his writings have appeared in numerous books and publications, including Best American Essays 2007.

I am thinking a lot lately about a couple of different questions: The first has to do with archiving works that use living materials – how will that archiving be done in the future (or now), and how will these works be collected and preserved? I would like to look at some models of this as a practice and make some suggestions for conservators, and the like. Secondly, I am involved with the development of a new animal research facility, and while I am personally working on an enrichment project for animals and researchers, I wonder what methods artists have used to “humanise” engagement with non-human subjects (outside of the typical ones, such as giving them names). I am looking for strategies that do not trivialise or particularly criticise scientists for their research.

Kathy High is Head of Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She produces videos and installations posing inquiries into medicine/bio-science, science fiction, and animal/interspecies collaborations. Kathy also set up the BioArts Initiative, a collaboration between her department and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Jens is a Paris-based curator, writer, cultural journalist and videomaker focussing on the interactions between art and technology, and on transgenre and contextual aesthetics. He organised L’Art Biotech (2003), a show on biotechnological art at the National Arts and Culture Centre Le Lieu Unique Nantes, Still, Living (2007) at the Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth and, most recently, sk-interfaces (2008) at FACT UK, as part of the programme of Liverpool’s year as the European Capital of Culture.

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