Last week i flew to one of my favourite cities, Liverpool, to visit the Sk-interfaces exhibition at the FACT art center. The show, curated by Jens Hauser, explores, materially and metaphorically, the concept of skin as a technological interface.

A controversial new exhibition on display in Liverpool showcases real skin tissue in sculptures wrote the BBC news website. Yet every single person i spoke with during the 2 days i spent in the city didn't seem to find the show controversial. Interesting, surprising, fascinating, challenging, thought-provoking, worth bringing my mum, etc. That's what i heard but no one i talked to seemed overly shocked nor disturbed.

There is material to cause quite a stir in sk-interfaces but Liverpudlians seemed to be more concerned by the issues brought to light by the artists than by the potentially seditious or "freaky" character of the works on show.

I'll start the blog visit of this multi-disciplinary exhibition by walking to the second floor of FACT.

0aadesintegrating.jpg
Critical Art Ensemble, Immolation. Image courtesy of the artists

Immolation is a video installation concerned with the subject of the use of incendiary weapons on civilians after the Geneva Convention and the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons of 1980. The USA have refused to sign the convention and they make regular use of firebombs in the Middle East. Not because these bombs are the most efficient (they are not), but because they act as moral crushers, tapping on people's visceral fear of being burned alive.

This video chronicles the major war crimes of the United States involving these weapons on a ( macro) landscape level, and contrasts it with the damage done to the body on the (micro) cellular level.

To accomplish this task, the Critical Art Ensemble (a collective of tactical media practitioners who explore the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism) grew human tissue at SymbioticA last year, and using high-end microscopy shot the micro footage of skin cells dying by either exploding or imploding. In parallel, CAE shows film footage of present and past wars that have used immolation against civilian targets as a strategic choice for the sole purpose of terrorizing entire populations.

0aacriticalimmol.jpg
Critical Art Ensemble, Immolation

The result is a video where war crime are shown at both the micro and macro level but which skips the human level. Yet you still manage to view your own body in the narrative. The video is made even more unsettling by the absence of sound, it's just silence and destruction.

The goal is to provide a different way of imaging, viewing, and interpreting the human costs of these war crimes, in contrast to the barrage of media imagery to which we have become so desensitised. The video portrays what CAE calls an "ecology of crime."

CAE felt that as long as warfare would be at the center of the Bush agenda, they had to come up with new connections and find venues to show their work (since the arrest of Steve Kurtz some US administrations are feeling the pressure).

0aaneilwehitei.jpg

Right next to Immolation, is Truth Serum, a work that responds to the lawsuit against Steve Kurtz and their persecution of Critical Art Ensemble in the USA, which marks an ever-increasing creep of the security state into the nervous system of culture.

For Truth Serum, The Office of Experiments, initiated by Neal White, follows research on serums used historically by official authorities in interrogation processes as a means to obtain information without using torture. The effects of truth drugs were first examined in the 1920's, and heavily used by the CIA during the Cold War. The present artwork echoes the debate around art's freedom in the fear and increasing security regime that has emerged after 9/11, while drawing on the cultural history of so-called truth drugs and recent discussions about their use in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.

0aascopolaminnnnn.jpg
Scopolamine, an ingredient used in truth serums (image courtesy of Neil White)

The use of truth serums is actually illegal but after 9/11 there have been talks (mostly in the press) of using the method again during interrogations by the FBI and the CIA, even though truth serums are more an art than a science.

The installation at FACT combines a space concealed behind a white door and a series of video works that reflect on the aesthetics of terrorist messages, using a dark clown as an anonymous spokesman who reflects on the possibility of carrying out mass self-experimentation with truth drugs as a form of self-defence.

On 29 March 2008, volunteers will be able to participate to the performative part of the Truth Serum installation in support of freedom from artistic censorship.

In a central (and still secret) Liverpool location, participants will willingly submit themselves to a short psychological experiment based on substantiating Truth lasting around 10 minutes. The aim is to probe an atmosphere of paranoia spreading since 9/11.

More information to participate.

My pictures and FACT pictures.

sk-interfaces is on view until March 30 and launches FACT's Human Futures programme which includes 3 sections - My Body (SK-Interfaces), My Mind and My World, each one hosting a major exhibition, conference and research focus. You can follow its development through Human Futures blog.

Related: They make art not bioterrorism, Jens Hauser's presentation in Aix en Provence (part 1 and 2.)

Sponsored by:





Ecological Strategies in Today's Art (part 1).

Ecomedia - Ecological Strategies in Today's Art, currently running at the Edith Russ Haus in Oldenburg, presents projects founded on progressive ecological models and conceive utopian horizons in the process.

0aaatapawea4.jpgTue Greenfort's contribution to the show is a simple plastic bottle. Just a bottle... until you have a look at the title of the sculpture: Producing 1 Kilogram of PET Plastic Requires 17.5 Kilograms of Water and results in air emissions of 40 grams of hydrocarbons, 25 grams of sulfur oxides, 18 grams of carbon monoxide, 20 grams of nitrogen oxides, and 2.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide. In terms of water use alone, much more is consumed in making the bottles than will ever go into them? (2004). I can't dream of anything more self-explanatory. The object is a 1.5-liters mineral-water bottle which, under the influence of heat, has melted down to the size of a half-litre bottle, and was then filled with tap water. The artist's piece demonstrates that the production of a non-returnable bottle requires more water than it can actually contain.

0aanatonraft.jpg
Natalie Jeremijenko's Environmental Health Clinic Meeting on plastic raft (image)

Talking of which, there was a raft made of plastic bottles on the grass outside of the Edith Russ Haus building. It's Natalie Jeremijenko's office. At the exhibition opening, she invited people to jump on it and share with her their environmental anxieties. Best is to have a look at the video presentation that GOOD magazine made of the Environmental Health Clinic project.

GenTerra, by Critical Art Ensemble with Beatriz da Costa, used a harmless form of gut E. coli to educate the public about genetically modified organisms.

If you scroll down the page you'll be able to see a video of a GenTerra performance which is currently screened at Edith Russ Haus.

0aaecolij.jpg
GenTerra, 2001, performance at St. Norbert Art and Culture Center, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (image)

GenTerra is a fictional biotech company dealing with "transgenics" and driven by profit, but also by a sense of social responsibility. Products created through this process---for example, transgenically modified foods---have often caused controversy. GenTerra claims to produce organisms that help solve ecological or social problems

00abeatrizmachine.jpgGenTerra is essentially a participatory "theater" comprising a lab, computer stations displaying the company's informational CD-Rom, and a bacteria release machine. Scientists and artists are talking the public through the process and implications (whether they are purely profit-driven or feature some utopian qualities) of transgenics. Materials are then provided to allow people to get a hands-on experience by creating their own transgenic organism, using human DNA derived from blood samples. After that they become actively involved in risk assessment by deciding whether or not to release bacteria from one of petri dishes of the release machine. 11 of the dishes have non-transgenic bacteria samples taken locally, and one contains the transgenic bacteria. Should the dish with the transgenic bacteria be selected, a robotic arm will open the lid of the dish, and then replace the lid on the dish after about 5 seconds. The transgenic bacteria is in fact a benign, crippled lab strain that is released in laboratories on a routine basis.

This form of participatory experience attempts to make the whole issue less abstract and distant and by doing so, it provides the public with the critical tools to reflect on how significant the transgenic issue is and how it is going to reflect their everyday life.

The Critical Art Ensemble defense fund page informs that the FBI is still refusing to return most of the tens of thousands of dollars worth of impounded materials. The reason for that is that the art collective was using the harmless bacteria and materials in several of their projects, one of them is GenTerra.

Andrea Polli had two projects in the exhibition, the beautiful The Queensbridge Wind Power Project is a video (which you can watch online) for transforming the Queensborough bridge into a site for gathering clean, renewable energy.

0aaqeuenshoir6.jpg
Andrea Polli: The Queensbridge Windpower Project, 2005

The second project she was showing is a collaboration with Joe Gilmore. N. is an artistic visualization and sonification of near real-time Arctic data.

Franz John's Turing Tables takes live seismological data and turns it into pictures, sound and movement.

Seismological institutes measure the vibrations of the Earth and exchange the data collected among themselves via automated internet-transfers. Turing Tables feeds into this human-machine-communication data stream and translates it into an installation which bathes visitors in audio renderings and projections of live measurements made by seismographs all over the world.

0aaturingtuabe0.jpg
Franz John: Turing Tables. An Untitled Composition for Tectonic Spaces, 2003-2007 (Foto: Franz Wamhof)

The project is not about the catastrophes that cause these movements in inhabited areas, but instead about the archaic feeling and consciousness that the earth is an organism, that it moves and that it can be understood as an organism in constant flux.

0aabeeuys3.jpg
Beuys at Documenta 7, photo by Günter Beer

I liked 01.org's Reenactment of Joseph Beuys' 7000 Oaks, 2007. My first reaction when i saw the project was "oh! No, not flugly Second Life agaaain!" but this "synthetic performance" has the merit of bringing the spotlight on a very inspiring work. In March 1982, Beuys was at Documenta 7 in Kassel with a mission: planting of 7000 trees, each paired with a columnar basalt stone approximately four feet high above ground, throughout the greater city of Kassel. The last tree was planted posthumously in 1987 by is son. Beuys intended the Kassel project to be the first stage in an ongoing scheme of tree planting to be extended throughout the world as part of a global mission to effect environmental and social change; locally, the action was a gesture towards urban renewal. 25 years exactly after the planting of the first tree, Eva and Franco Mattes of 01.org (or rather their avatars) started stacking virtual basalt stones on Mattes' island in SL. SL inhabitants are invited to participate to the performance by placing stones and trees on their land.

0aalesarbr2.jpg
Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG, Reenactment of Joseph Beuys' 7000 Oaks

Infossil had a huge banner hanging above the reception desk of the art space. The white on black text reflects about the dependence of electronic communication, that is of the "infossil", on the energy resources available, the fossil: coal.

Also on show: Sabrina Raaf's Translator II: Grower was painting grass on the wall; EcoScope, a communication tool developed by Transnational Temps, provides a context for discussing environmental affairs; 10 Commandments for the 21st Century, by Tea Mäkipää; Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle's You don't need a weatherman; Christoph Keller's The Whole Earth, a projection on a weather balloon. White clouds over a blue sky form the perfect picture of the peaceful blue planet we live on, there's even piano music for perfect bliss. Every two minutes, a roaring aircraft brings us back to reality. Its passage takes one or two seconds but that's enough to spoil the idyllic vision (image); Yonic, a NGO working in Brazil to diminish pollution in the rain forest and find new solutions to old problems, showed the fanzine they publish on a yearly basis using handmade recycled paper.

0000aaadrtg.jpg
Sabrina Raaf: Grower, 2004/5

Now that was a fantastic and energizing exhibition. If only we can get more people to see it, not just the already converted.

Set of images.

Related entries: Natalie Jeremijenko's talk at Stifo@Sandberg conference, They make art not bioterrorism.

At the Artissima art fair last month in Turin, i discovered a new player on the local art scene: the Parco d'Arte Vivente (Park of Living Art).

It all started when i almost fell on my knees in front of an installation by Michel Blazy. The first time i saw his work was at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The installation Post Patman stank, rot, crumbled and formed mushrooms, attracted insects and birds but i love it.

0aapouelet3.jpg

The work on show at Artissima, Le tombeau du poulet aux quatre cuisses (The grave of the four-legged chicken), is a skeleton laying on a bed of earth and surrounded by mushroom. The skeleton looks indeed like the one of a chicken, a giant chicken and as it is made of dog biscuits (made themselves from animal products) will be slowly desintegrating over time.

0aapoliu7.jpg

The PAV was also exhibiting one of Jun Takita's sculpture Jusqu'aux recoins du monde, the sculpture of a brain recovered with bioluminescent algae. For years, the Paris-based artist has been interested in bioluminescence.

0aadabrain3.jpg 0abrainmose3.jpg
Jusqu'aux recoins du monde

According to traditional classification, photosynthesizing organisms
belong to the plant kingdom. Plants transform light into energy but are not capable of bioluminescence --that is, they cannot emit light. Excepting a few species like the dinoflagellates, which belong to both the plant and animal kingdoms, bioluminescence is found in only a few animal species. Biological evolution has not
given rise to an organism that can both consume light as energy and use that energy to create its own light. However, over the last few years, genetic manipulation has made it possible to create bioluminescent plants. These plants/nonplants artificial organisms transgress the laws of nature.

0aalightonlu.jpg
Light only Light, by Jun Takita. Image Yusuke Komiyama

It is easy to perceive a figure in the landscape within 10° of one's line of sight (the size of the visual field of a fist held out at arm's length). For example, constellations are based on the principle that one reads stars at a distance of up to about 11° from one another as part of a group. Even when we look at the sky, the human hand is the unit of reference for measuring an image. If an object exceeds this 10° visual field, we have to move our eyes in order to perceive it in its entirety. Vision is then constructed by the accretion of several images memorized by the brain. In 1998, the artist started to work on a garden project based on this phenomenon.

0aaatakitaa.jpg
On the left, portrait of Jun Takita

The elevated garden is to be situated on top of a building in Tokyo. As Tokyo is a very polluted city, it is not unusual to see gardens being grown on the top buildings by inhabitants in order to cool down a bit the temperature of the city.

The central element of Takita's own garden is a mineral sculpture composed of three walls forming a cave and a bush pruned into a hemisphere. The inside of the cave is to be covered with a bioluminescent moss produced with genetic engineering technology. The moss will emit light via photosynthesis. The visitor is led to a viewpoint along the axis of the sculpture, where the bush is framed by the cave. The distance from this point to the bush will permit the eye to perceive the whole installation at once.

The visitor is invited to discover a visual experience made possible through genetic engineering. During the day, the light of the sun is much stronger than the one emitted through bioluminescence, therefore the form of the bush will be lit by the sun, and its shape will serve to distinguish it from a dark background. After sunset the opposite happens: the bioluminescent background will be broken up by the silhouette of the bush, forming a negative figure (via Takita's paper and the notes i took during the artist's presentation during the round table, titled Places and creative processes of the living arts, and organized by the Parco d'Arte Vivente at artissima).

One of Jun Takita's works will be part of sk-interfaces which opens at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) in Liverpool on 01 February until 30 March 2008.

Last week i went to the temporary headquarters of the PAV to check out their exhibition Living Materials. It closed yesterday but will be traveling to Austria. I do not have the details about that second show yet. But when i do, i'll let you know because Living Materials is a very charming exhibition.

0aalemon7.jpg

Every work presented involves the public in a timed process cadenced by the cyclic rhythm of biological and ecological phenomena. Life and death are simultaneously present and aesthetically represented in the continuum of procedural works which ask us about the man-nature relationship in the age of biotechnology.

The works on show include Le Poulet and photos of Jun Takita's work but also:

0alemoncelli9.jpgEnnio Bertrand, The creator has a master plan (first created in 2003 under the title Lemon Sky and revamped for Living Materials).

An array of hundreds of lemons are pierced with small metal sheets, they are in fact Volta batteries supplied with citrus energy which powers tiny Leds, one every 4 lemons. Originally the lemons looked like the ones you can see on the image above but when i visited the PAV, the lemons were a yummy green as you can see on the image on the right. I actually liked that a lot, in yellow, they were too perfect, too plastic looking, but covered with decay they were more living than ever.

The artist writes: I imagined that the lemons during their "work" of withering and decomposing would give back the sun stored by the tree in his fruits during its productive phase in form of small flares.

I think it's fascinating that a fruit of nature through an electronic device can palpitate for some days. It seems the proof to me of our dependence on the environment, of our tight and deep bond to nature.

The project proposes a reflection on the energetic resources of our planet and re-explores one of the artist's theme of predilection: time. Six months of ripening, several days of life for the work and very short flashes of light, like snapshots of the passing by of time.

0aaplanteu7.jpg 0aaffrro22.jpg

The last work on show is Food Island, by Andrea Caretto & Raffaella Spagna. The complex water system feeds several interconnected little islands containing various natural elements: stones, plants or animals.

A pump dipped in a water container sends water which reaches each island through transparent tubes. The water produced through various natural mechanism or which is not needed by the island is then collected and sent back to the main water container. the whole installation constitutes a kind of hypertextual narration which explains phenomena of growth and transformation of the material, from inorganic to organic and vice-versa.

All my images.
and the press pictures from three sixty. Video interview of Michel Blazy.

Jens Hauser's presentation in Aix en Provence (part 1)

On Wednesday afternoon, last week, curator Jens Hauser gave us the low-down on the upcoming SK-INTERFACES exhibition which will take place on 1st Feb - 30th March in the framework of Liverpool 2008 European Capital of Culture.
0aaskinnnn3.jpg

A skin jacket by Olivier Goulet whose work will be part of SK-INTERFACES

The event will demonstrates how artists today are artists using skin, materially or metaphorically, as an interface, and going beyond the descriptive surface of the skin, to explore issues of xeno-transplants, trans-species and trans-racial exchanges.

After an era of de-materialization ("everything digital"), contemporary art is showing a tendency of phenomenological re-materialization, a re-integration of corporality. Besides, instead of representing objects, graphic depictions or simulations, the art is gearing towards transformational processes with performance characteristics. Lastly, as the creation of the new Hybrid Art Category at ars electronica this year demonstrated, the existing categories are not sufficient anymore to represent the current state of technology-based art.

SK-INTERFACES is not about interfaces as we know them, nor is it about art on the skin. Instead, the exhibition aims to raise questions such as: What happens when we abolish surfaces? The cosmetic industry represent the skin as something which has only 2 dimensions, it is a surface for inscription. What is the third dimension hidden beneath the smooth surface? What does the interface become, if we leave behind the traditional man-machine mechanisms?

0aabbbbblu6.jpg 0abluuuuu8.jpg

Hauser showed us a fascinating 5 minute video of a performance where dancer Yann Marussich uses his body as an interface. Bleu Provisoire performance takes the audience to a journey through the skin, which the spectators traverse with their eyes. The dancer remains motionless, like a sculpture, during one hour. The dance is made by blue secretions which gradually come out of the artist's body as he sweats. The blue is used here to deviate from the idea of the red blood linked to man.

Science and new technologies have modified the way we perceive the skin. Examples:
The Victimless Leather Jacket,

0aaaapiggy.jpg
Image from Organ Farm

Xenotransplantation
There are a few examples of patients who needed liver transplants and were able to use pig livers as "bridges" to hold them over until human transplants were found (porcine liver perfusion). The liver of the patient was kept outside the body in a plastic bag and hooked up to the main liver arteries. In a case like this one, the skin doesn't fulfill its traditional role of barrier between the inside and the outside.

Stelarc's Suspension performances (which involved having his naked body carried around suspended in the air by inserting fishhooks into his skin) also go beyond the idea of skin as a surface. His performances materialize two fantasies: the masochist phantasm of having one's body skinned and the one of having one's body duplicated. In Suspension, the body is not limited to the skin anymore.

0aakeiraaaa.jpg

Two works by Irish performanace artist Kira O'Reilly emerged after a residency at Symbiotica inthewrongplaceness.
She worked with newly dead pigs used for medical research. After the scientists had put the pig to into a non-recoverable anaesthetic and had taken the animal's lungs, she took a biopsy of the pig’s skin from which to cultivate skin cells in vitro, in preparation to work from a biopsy of her own body’s skin (more in Leonardo Electronic Almanach).

0askingamewar.jpg

Some of the works which will be part of SK-INTERFACES:

- Maurice Benayoun's 1997 installation World Skin. The piece while based on digital technology, searches to grab some materiality. Equipped with cameras visitors are invited to become a tourist in the Land of War. They move through a 3D space made of photographs and news images which presents a universe imbued by mute violence. When they «shoot» a snapshots, visitors can see that the topics are extracted from the universe of the installation. Visitors may take home the prints of their «Safari».

- Wim Delvoye's video Sybille II. The magic of the work lies in the use of extreme close-ups which turns the surface of the skin into a 3D landscape. That video is probably the most disturbing work i've seen in a long time.

0aoperaodh2.jpg 0apeod2.jpg
Culture de Peaux d"artistes/see also Skin Culture

- Art oriente Objet (interview) will also be showing some pieces in Liverpool.

0aahymmmnne.jpg
Polyacrylamide gel prototype of hymen construct with unisex cut-out

- Julia Reodica's hymNext Designer Hymen Project, unisex hymens sculpted with living materials and the artist’s body cells into a variety of designs for the application upon the human body (Adam Zaretsky my favourite "bioart punk" had it installed on one of his nostrils).

- Neal White will show a new piece.

0aaapartialhe.jpg
Photo credit: Tim Wetherell & Stelarc

More skin-related works highlighted during the talk:

Stelarc's Partial Head, a work which plays on the idea of confusing the surface and the interface. The artist's face was scanned then digitally transplanted over a hominid skull, constructing a Third Face, one that becomes post-hominid and pre-human in form, referring to the theory of evolution but going backwards. The data was used to print a scaffold of ABSi thermal plastic, using a 3D printer. The scaffold was seeded with living cells. The life-support system of the partially living portrait was a custom engineered bioreactor/incubator and circulatory system which immersed the head in nutrient kept at 37 C. The Partial Head became contaminated after one week.

0aaaaaarle2.jpg
Image by Lisbeth Klastrup

Since 2003, French artist Orlan is working on The Harlequin Coat, an organic patchwork created with skin cells cultivated in vitro, taken from the artist and from people with various skin colour and origin. When the artist ordered the cells online, she realized that the racial category is still in use in databanks, although the cells are the same as epidermis do not contain the melatonin (the hormone that affects skin pigmentation). This prototype of a biotechnological coat, consisting of in vitro skins in petri dishes, symbolise cultural crossbreeding and hybridization. Harlequin Coat seeks to raise various questions: “Can skins of different colours be cultivated? What kind of information can be obtained from the donors? Can a person still be the owner of his or her cells? Does self-ownership continue to exist at the fragmented level? How are such issues perceived in various countries, and especially in the context of a non-western viewpoint??

Bio-Kino, The Living Screen.

Zane Berzina's Touch Me Wallpaper printed with thermochromic ink, so its colors lighten with heat — via a hand or a radiator.

Zbigniew Oksiuta's futuristic dwellings which act as living and autonomous bioreactors.

Melatonin Room, by Swiss architects Jean-Gilles Decosterd and Philippe Rahm.

The Telepresence Garment, conceived by Eduardo Kac to allow its wearer to be in the skin of someone else.

Some of the books Jens Hauser recommended: François Dagognet, La peau découverte; Christophe Dejours, Le corps entre biologie et psychanalyse; Didier Anzieu, Le Moi-peau.

More notes from the talks i heard at De l'objet de laboratoire au sujet social (From Laboratory Object to Social Subject), a week of lectures, screenings and workshops which took place a few days ago at the Ecole d'Art d'Aix en Provence.

0aalescoooks.jpg
Jens Hauser and France Cadet cooking frogs and lentils for us (Image B-E-Art)

Previously: Eduardo Kac's presentation in Aix en Provence.

In 2003, International curator Jens Hauser curated the first exhibition in Europe of artists who use biotechnology as a medium for expression. More recently, he curated Still, Living in Perth, Australia and is currently working on Sk-Interfaces, a conference (on 08 – 09 February 2008) and exhibition which will open in January 31 at FACT, in Liverpool.

sk-interfaces will explore the idea of skin as a technological interface. The show will feature the work of artists who use biology as a material for art and new commissions from artists including Orlan and Zbigniew Oksiuta. The event will turn FACT’s exhibition spaces into a hybrid lab / art space where visitors will experience an engaging, critical and thought-provoking approach to how current technologies are changing our perceptions of the body and bridging the gap between science and art.

0agrowingsteak.jpg
Growing the semi living steak in a bioreactor for Disembodied Cuisine

Jens' was a two part presentation. In the morning, he discussed the meaning of "bioart" (which is also sometimes called "wet art", "moist art", "biotech art", etc.), how artists are exploring the frontier between man and animal and creating cultural discussions around biotech-related issues, the relationship between presence and representation (referring to Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht'essay The Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey), mimesis and real, dimension of the sense and dimension of the senses.

I'm not going to write down everything he said during his presentations but will just highlight a few key elements (well... at least those that got my attention):

Something in common that bioart has with performance art is that they both leave behind them only video documentation and some material remains. In the case of Disembodied Cuisine, the remains were pictures, videos and more surprisingly the remnants of engineered frog steaks that were so hard to chew that most participants spat the bits out.

Interestingly, the artistic project has concrete retroactive effects. By bringing the concept of tissue-engineered ersatz meat into the public domain, the artists have made it difficult for commercial firms to patent and make a profit out of "tissue engineered meat".

These victimless steaks refer to Winston Churchill's famous quote: Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.

0anoarrrk.jpg

Image 7x7 sf

Hauser introduced us to TC&AP's latest work, NoArk, which is on view until January 6 as part of the Biotechnique exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The research project explores the taxonomical crisis induced by life forms created through biotechnology.

Developments in life sciences have created new ways for beings to come into the world, and new categories of existence that are challenging the order of the world. This requires us- humans to rethink our understandings and our relationships with our own identity/body, other animals, as well as the concept of life itself. The growing number of ‘labmade’ life forms requires special attention. In pharmacological factories, research universities, and other technologically driven institutions there already exists a mass of disassociated living cells and tissues in the thousands of tons. These fragments do not fall under current biological or cultural classifications.

NoArk is a Noah's Ark for the biotech age, an experimental vessel designed to maintain and grow a mass of living cells and tissues that originated from different organisms. This vessel serves as a surrogate body for a collection of living fragments which are presented alongside technologically preserved specimens of organisms. At the top are McCoy cells (what makes the work all the more thought-provoking is that the McCoy cell line originated from a human and is now classified as a mouse cell line), at the bottom are taxidermied animals. As opposed to classical methodologies of collection, categorization and display that are seen in Natural History museums, contemporary biological research is focused upon manipulation and hybridisation, and rarely takes a public form. NoArk uses cellular stock taken from tissue banks, laboratories, museums and other collections. It contains a chimerical ‘blob’ made out of modified living fragments of different organisms, which are living together in a techno-scientific body. Like the cabinets of curiosities that preceded the Natural History museum’s refined taxonomy NoArk’s collection of unclassifiable sub-organisms acts as a symbolic precursor to a new way of approaching a made nature.

0aaaboark.jpg
Image uploaded by Lisbeth Klastrup on flickr

The questions that TC&AP aims to raise with NoArk range from "How do taxonomical systems based on traditional classification accommodate life forms created by humans?" to "What could be the artistic and technological strategies for maintaining and exhibiting living collections of sub-organisms for long periods of time? NoArk presents ecology of parts as an attempt to observe the living world through a post-anthropocentric system. More in Visual Culture and Bioscience.

0aalecoyoooo.jpg
Beuys, I Like America and America Likes Me, 1974

Another book mentioned by Jens Hauser in his talk is Postmodern Animal, by Steve Baker which looks at how animal imagery has been used in modern and contemporary art, and in postmodern philosophy and literature, to suggest ideas about identity and creativity and raise questions about our relationship to animals. Examples of artistic works include Helena - The Goldfish blender, by Marco Evaristti, Carsten Holler and Rosemarie Trockel's Ein Haus fur Schweine und Menschen (A house for pigs and people), Joseph Beuys's three days co-habitation with a coyote, Dennis Oppenheimer, Dali, etc. But these works comment on animals as they already exist, not on animals as they might exist one day. Works coming from artists such as TC&AP, Joe Davis, Art oriente Objet, Eduardo Kac, explore the mechanisms of life itself.

That's the moment when Hauser put things straight about biotech art. Going back to 1993, the year when ars electronica titled its festival Artificial Life - Genetic Art but presented mainly artworks dealing with softwares, synthetic imaging, digital organisms, etc. It was more about creating life on a software and hardware level.

Ten years later, in 2003, Hauser curated L'Art Biotech at the Lieu Unique in Nantes. The exhibition engaged directly with the organic matter in a tangible and critical way.

0aapicccinic.jpg
Patricia Piccinici: Laboratory Procedures, 2001

Confusion on the terminology: bioart works should not be confused with works that deal with the theme of biotechnology: photoshoped images, sculptures of chimera, computer programmes, etc. Yet those works often feed traditional art museums when they need to take a stand on the emerging topic of biotechnology. They are easy to show and keep in a gallery. Besides, they allow museums to keep their hands clean.

Jens Hauser ended his talk with a video of Eduardo Kac's, The Eighth Day, an installation which investigates the new ecology of fluorescent creatures that is evolving worldwide.

The Eighth Day is not meant to point the finger and say "transgenic is bad", it's more complex than that, the work is meant to raise awareness, to highlights the fact that whether we like it or not we are now surrounded by transgenic life. The work communicates to a larger audience the true complexity of the phenomenon, the visual impact of the artwork enables a better apprehension. The GFP becomes a means to communicate the message, it acts as a vector of social commentary.

Another issue is that a misconception of what is nature circulates, the world as we know it is a constant recreation of life, think of the wholphin (a hybrid, born from a mating of dolphin and a whale Pseudorca), the liger (a hybrid cross between a male lion and a female tiger), the zorse or zebrula (the offspring of a zebra stallion and a horse mare), etc. These genetic examples occurred spontaneously.

More books: L'Art Biotech, curated by Jens Hauser and its recently published Italian version.

Related: Oron Catts´talk at ars electronica; Bioart - Taxonomy of an Etymological Monster (original text.)

 1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10 
sponsored by: