Exhibition and Conference “The Rise of Bio-Society”, presenting and examining recent developments in the areas of Bio-tech Art & Culture.
Friday April 7, 6pm. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Runs from Saturday April 8 – Sunday May 7. Closed Good Friday.
Saturday April 8, Dress Circle, Main Corner Complex. 11am – 4pm. Free to attend. RSVP to email@example.com for catering purposes.
+ DIY BioArt 101 Workshop by Niki Sperou, April 9, 10, 11. $50 for 3 days. Riddoch Workshop.
+ STEAM Locker Project – Gary Cass. Sunday April 9. 10am – 4pm. Free. City Hall.
Download the teaser poster here (4mg pdf)
Exhibition and Conference “The Rise of Bio-Society”, presenting and examining recent developments in the areas of Bio-tech Art & Culture.
Current and past events in the development of Biotechnology point to the great changes we are going through as society and individuals, making it very clear that society and technology co-constitute each other. The ability to code life into symbols, and being able to interpret these symbols has changed the very notion of what we understand as life. And indeed, Biotechnology and in particular the work with DNA allows us to alter hereditary characteristics. This is advanced even further with Bio-informatics and Nano-technology rebuilding on sub-atomic levels, and thus shaping biological life forms. We have also unravelled the codes of life by mapping thousands of genes comprising the human genome, and have become able to genetically engineer embryos and alter the human species in general. Some hope that at the end of this process we will be able to thoroughly re-engineer life and dispose of death. This extended role of Biopolitics today results with the crucial question of how Biotechnology shapes life, and therefore attains the central role in society. In fact Biotechnology adds a complexity of layers thus radically reconstructing the relations between politics and nature, allowing for a reassessment of how we look at life today. The dualities of power and right, sovereignty and law, do not leave the contemporary Biopolitical discourses for a minute. As a result, the foundations of Biopolitics are altered, for life appears not to be what we have originally assumed that it was, and therefore the regulation of life cannot continue under the premises of what was previously taken for granted.
As far as imagination goes artists are known to have it, alongside a dose of critical discourse. Artists have explored such things as extensions to the body, semi-living organisms; relationship of the living and non-living; man-machine interactions, bio-couture (living ‘textiles’, the future of evolution and future of cyborgian systems, abiogenesis; and the inorganic becoming the organic. Equally important become ‘embodiment issues’, ‘the enhancement of the human species’, ‘hybridity’, but also the classical issues which artists have always confronted – colours, forms, fragrances, accidents, and textures.
Participating artists: Eduardo Kac, Niki Sperou, Critical Art Ensemble, Helen Pynor & Peta Clancy, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Jennifer Willet, Paul Thomas, Trish Adams, Guy Ben Ari & Boryana Rossa & Oleg Mavromati, Gary Cass, Svenja Kratz, Michalis Pichler, David Khang, Elaine Whittaker, Adam Zaretsky, Tagny Duff, George Gessert.
Gary Cass & Donna Franklin’s project Micro’be’ Fermented Fashion is a project that starts with a bottle of wine. The artists refer to the ethics of textile production, in which we disassociate ourselves from the natural world, and suggest a way out. The living cloth/skin in ‘Micro’be’ Fermented Fashion’ is produced by living microbes that ferment wine into vinegar, to produce a microbiological cellulose by-product, chemically similar to cotton. Practical and cultural biosynthesis of clothing is being explored, as well as possible forms and cultural implications of futuristic dress-making and textile technologies. The project has developed further by the creation of “Beer Dresses”, “Chanpaigne Dresses”, etc.
Eduardo Kac’s transgenic artwork provides a new quality to the art-science-technology link. Kac defines transgenic art as “a new art form based on the use of genetic engineering techniques to transfer synthetic genes to an organism or to transfer natural genetic material from one species into another to create living organisms”. Eduardo is best known for his ‘bio&net’ installation Genesis, where he blends genetic and cultural codes. The contents of the petri dish are engineered from the Book of Genesis [which was selected as it implies for the supremacy of man over nature]. They comprise the central part of the installation, being projected onto a central wall of the gallery space. The audience in the gallery as well as over the internet is invited to take part in the genetic modification of the ‘artistic gene’ placed in the petri dish. This is in fact a synthetic gene created by translating Genesis3 into morse code, and converting the morse code into genetic code – Adenine, Cytosine, Thymine, and Guanine [ACTG]]. In his subsequent project ALBA, Kac transfers natural genetic material from one species into another with the goal of creating a unique living being, a genetically engineered rabbit named Alba. Finally, in The Eighth Day he presents a self-contained artificial ecological system by creating transgenic creatures [such as plants, amoebae, fish and mice].
For the exhibition at the Riddoch Art Gallery, Kac presents his bioengineering art project “Natural History of the Enigma”, the “Edunia,” a newly created “plantimal” hybrid of the Eduardo the artist, himself, and a petunia. Throughout the flower’s pale pink petals runs a system of delicate red veins, which are the sole locus for the expression of Kac’s own DNA.
Adam Zaretsky in his recent reflections titled “Oocyte Aesthetics, Human Design and Mission Creep” asks the essential question: How do we decide what is worth engineering for? The wider question he is concerned with is: does oocyte (egg) modification in assisted reproduction for the prevention of transmission of mitochondrial disease or treatment of infertility take into account the effect of any accompanying ‘aesthetic decisions’ on the long-term ecological effects of human design? Zaretsky believes in exploring the entire range of the programmed body and would like to see inherited genetic modification intervention move on from health promotion, to designing a wide variety of ‘aesthetic’ gene expressions in a collage of multiple genomic palettes.
David Khang is an artist (as well as being a dentist) who experiments with biomaterials. In “Beautox Me” he works with actors whose faces are used as a canvas for cosmetic / artistic intervention through botox facial injections. Facial modifications occur as they pose for ‘before’ and ‘after’ video shoots while reciting highly affective scripts. The two channels are synchronized, to highlight the differentiated visual cues caused by the botox-induced muscle paralysis.
Trish Adams has collaborated with scientists in order to ‘change the fates’ of adult stem cells from her blood to beating cardiac cells ‘in vitro’. Contemporary developments in adult stem cell research are opening the door for bodily augmentation through modified organs and limbs which have been grown in the laboratory using cells extracted from our own bodies; introducing a new phase in the structure of our physical selves where corporeality may be scientifically augmented by discoveries from the laboratory. The artwork: ‘Universal Toolbox of the Flesh’ quizzically reflects on the implications of modifying the human body through cutting-edge biotechnology and irreverently juxtaposes the high-end laboratory processes with analogue methods used to modify flesh – in this instance, mincing meat with a hand mincer that belonged to Adams’ grandmother! http://www.trishadams.tv
“Snowflake” is a symbolic art object created by Boryana Rossa, Guy Ben-Ary and Oleg Mavromatti that conceptually and materially examines a scenario regarding biotechnologies’ manipulation of brain plasticity in order to create false memories, and the ethical and aesthetical implications of this potential on the border that separates the physical and the psyche. Snowflake explores and critiques the idea of eternal life made possible by cryonics. Cryonics, a field of research focused on the preservation of a body in liquid nitrogen, presents certain hopes for those wishing to be cryogenically preserved in order to be “awoken” in the future. In 2006 Rossa and Ben-Ary worked in the Steve Potter Lab in Georgia Tech (a laboratory for neuro-engineering) where they grew neural networks from mouse neurons, creating a series of living ‘brains’ that could produce and receive data and stimulation through 60 electrodes. By repeatedly stimulating the neural networks with the image of a snowflake, Rossa and Ben-Ary molded the network’s plasticity or bio-engineered the image of a snowflake into the networks’ “memory”. They then cryogenically preserved the snowflake “engraved” neural networks at -80°C.
Critical Art Ensemble created “Immolation” by using tissue culture to create a partial ‘catalogue’ of the effects, from the cellular to the social level, of the illegal weapons and torture techniques (according to international law) now being used in the Middle East. The outcome included both a film and an installation for display in museums, galleries and other public spaces.
In addition to microscopic imagery, the Critical Art Ensemble used film footage of the present and past wars that have used immolation against civilian targets as a strategic choice for the purpose of terrorizing entire populations. The goal was to provide a different way of imaging and viewing the human costs of these war crimes, other than the barrage of media imagery to which we have become so desensitized.
Fiona Davies’ “Blood on Silk” draws on research conducted by scientists who planned to create silk microchips used to measure blood cells still within the body, Davies responds with her own personal quest to understand the material, cultural, and personal processes related to surveillance, science, human rights, and death.
Tagny Duff’s Living Viral Tattoos is a series of sculptures made of human and pig skin and biological synthetic virus. The sculptures were made in vitro in a science laboratory. The synthetic virus called Lentivirus, a derivative of HIV strain 1, was placed on donated human skin (waste tissue from surgery) so that transfection and contagion would occur at the cellular level. They were living sculptures for the duration of approximately five hours, before they were fixed (killed). Once the cells were no longer alive, a staining process was conducted to visualize antibody reactions to antigens created by cellular bonds. The areas on the skin that were transfected by the viral host cells then appeared bluish/brown. This scientific process was intentionally appropriated to visualize viral tattoos in the form of bruises. Once the visualization of colour was completed, the sculptures were placed in jars of paraformaldehyde for a year and then moved into PBS. The virus, cells and tissue are inert now and the biomaterial reveals areas of bluish brownish stains.
George Gessert, one of the pioneers of Bio-Art (‘The Family of Mark Tobey’ etc.) created “Dust and Light”, by taking a blank sheet of paper, then copying it, then copy the copy, copy the copy of the copy for 53 generations. The record of dust on the platen produced, over many generations, truly wonderful patterns. For Gessert plant breeding has always been very much about working with chance and trusting the world enough to not to try to control it even though he almost always prefers one thing to another.
Svenja J. Kratz’s “The Contamination of Alice” refers to a series of works originally inspired by the fungal contamination of Saos-2 cells – an immortal cell line originally derived from the bone cancer lesion of an 11 year old girl (Alice) – during routine cell culture at QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) in 2009. The resulting works reference the literal infection of Alice’s Saos-2 cells, as well as the notion of creative contamination and the way in which different environments and unexpected encounters enable new possibilities for growth and transformation. The latest instance within the series forms part of this ongoing dialogue and consists of two Agar heads created from a vacuum formed imprint of an 11-year old girl’s face, referencing the original donor Alice. The Agar includes DNA isolated from the artist and Saos-2 cell line, as well as various nutrients to encourage different fungal and bacterial growth on the Agar form. The central component consists of a 3D print created from a digital scan of the artist’s face. This form was developed during a collaborative project exploring biofabrication and potentials for immortality through new and emerging technologies with media artist Bill Hart and the Centre of Regenerative Medicine at IHBI. Through the incorporation of various elements connecting the work to previous and current explorations, the work comments on the idea of continual biological and creative becoming and the folding of past and present into uncertain futures.
Artist Paul Thomas and scientist Kevin Raxworthy have collaborated on the “Nanoessence” installation which is based on a comparative investigation of atomic structures and vibrations taking place between living and dead skin cells when touched by the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) cantilever. Living skin cells are scanned by the AFM in various modes, where the cantilever raster scans the surface of the skin cell by tapping or touching the surface. This mode records the topographies by gathering deflection data that is translated to produce a visual representation. The force spectroscopy mode determines atomic vibration taking place as the tip touches and rests on the surface of the cell. In Nanoessence a HaCat skin cell, the AFM and breath demonstrate a fundamental symbiotic relationship in the instigation of life at a nano level. The skin cell, vapour and breath are fundamental concepts and materials utilized in the investigation of the creation of life in the Nanoessence installation. The Nanoessence project uses the data from the AFM to look at biological phenomena of difference revealed at a nano level in topographical visualizations and sonic structures between life and death. The breath and moisture interface allows for the user to breathe on the model of the HaCat cell and then enter visually the projection of an envelope between life and death. As the user maintains their breath cellular automatons start to grow and spin. This growth last as long as the user continues to breathe on the work.
Thomas and Raxworthy have also collaborated on Quantum Consciousness
A visual/sonic installation that immerses the viewer in quantum phenomenon. Quantum Consciousness is an audio-visualisation of atomic data which indexes the quantum “movement” of an electron. This project delivers an aesthetic and immersive experience that places the viewer inside the virtual superposition of a sub-atomic particle (i.e. its field of probability). This audiovisual experience establishes a metaphor and indexical map of human thought. The interactive quantum spin of the electron is mapped, serving as the conduit for the form of the sensory stimuli of the work. The broader significance of Quantum Consciousness concerns the possibility of non-human, computational intelligence commingling with human consciousness. This link stems from the fact that the “material” of the electron and its quantum behaviour is the basis of the possibility of quantum computation.
Quantum Consciousness is in the visualization of the co-emergence of thought-data (viewer) and quantum-data (electron). The scientific research informing the work was conducted in collaboration with Assoc. Professor Andrea Morello. Dr.Morello’s current research looks at controlling the spin of electrons and nuclei for the development of the processor in quantum computer. The experiment makes visible and audible the spin of the superposition of a phosphorous electron that has been bombarded by microwave signals. The paradox of the quantum superposition (best articulated in the Schrodinger’s Cat – thought experiment) exists as an actual and empirical condition in which an electron occupies multiple positions in space simultaneously, but none specifically. The scientific data for this project is generated from a microwave signal which transforms a reading of Richard Feynman’s (1982) paper on the birth of the quantum computer. The link between the quantum computer, consciousness and artistic expression is presented via the installation through the co-emergence of thought and quantum conditions. Quantum Consciousness is thus an experiment in the imaging and materialising of impossible states of quantum matter and the co-emergence of human consciousness.
Michalis Pichler is exhibiting a collage series with-in the realm of imaginary solutions with a title untitled (resurrection) looking into possibilities to steal a steak from the butcher and regrow a cow from it, ideally the one that was slaughtered!
Helen Pynor and Peta Clancy created ‘The Body is a Big Place’ exploring organ transplantation and the ambiguous thresholds between life and death. ‘The Body is a Big Place’ re-enacted certain defining aspects of the human heart transplant process. During a series of live performances, the heart perfusion device was used to reanimate to a beating state a pair of fresh pig hearts, revealing the process of death as an extended durational moment, rather than an event that occurs in a single moment in time. Rather than sensationalising these performative events, Pynor and Clancy sought to encourage empathic responses from viewers, appealing to their somatic senses and fostering their identification with the hearts they were watching. This opened up the possibility of a deeper awareness and connection with viewers’ own interiors.
Niki Sperou is presenting ‘The Colonised Body’. It refers to the negative consequence of deforestation visible in the colonies such as land cleared for medical reasons as trees and forest spaces were suspected- up until the early eighteenth century- of harbouring humidity born diseases; Intensive tree planting projects were proposed to counteract these problems, a solution further bolstered by the emerging idea that plants could actually render the atmosphere more suitable to plants and animals.
Past generations have attempted to remedy anthropocentric crises. Much as humans cleared the land and caused environmental damage, contemporary living perturbs our human ecology creating a state of crisis. The medical profession is increasingly aware of the unwitting destruction of the human microbiome and it’s consequences. The “Westernised microbiome” is the result of civilisation and is no longer a pristine wilderness. A diverse and antibiotic naive microbiome may play a protective role against chronic disease. Naturalists believe in a great chain of being, where interactions between diverse agents are fluid. An inclusive ecosystem, in which diverse and dynamic exchange takes place, supports vigour and vitality. It is possible to stitch together the notion that health is supported through a “rewilding” toward bio diverse ecologies in both geographical and corporeal terrains.
The installation uses a Winogradsky column; a simple device for culturing a large diversity of microorganisms.