So far, explaining children how babies were made involved quite often storks, cabbages, bees and other fantasies. Science, however, has added new modes of reproductions to the discourse. From in vitro fertilization in the 1970s to today's research into artificial gametes from stem cells or somatic cells that would allow sperm and eggs to be created from anyone's cells, regardless of age, gender or sexuality. At the time, New Scientist described the research as 'male eggs' and 'female sperm'.
How will the stories about human reproductions evolve as our methods of reproduction become increasingly more diversified?
Designer Zoe Papadopoulou collaborated with Dr Anna Smajdor, an expert in the ethical aspects of science, on a multidisciplinary project that investigates how scientific and technological developments influence historical stories and narratives, explaining 'where we come from'. By exploring new reproductive scenarios, this project aims to create the space for a broader discussion on artificial reproductive technologies (ART) that can engage people in the possibilities these advances present.
The work, called Reproductive Futures, is still very much in progress but the first results of the project are on view right now at the Science Gallery in Dublin as part of an exhibition that considers the future of our species. The final outcomes of the project will be a series of books accompanied by objects featured in the narratives.
Hello Zoe! Sorry to ask you something so basic but is "artificial reproductive technologies" a different way to say "assisted reproductive technology"? Or are they two different things?
The two terms refer to the same thing - often abbreviated to 'ART'. They incorporate currently available treatments such as IVF, and treatments in development, as well as future possibilities such as artificial gametes.
Apart from gametes which ART does Reproductive Futures take into account?
There are also a number of different scientific techniques that are being pursued. One involves the creation of gametes from embryonic stem cells; other scientists are working on making sperm from bone marrow stem cells. Another method is 'haploidisation' where a normal body cell is stimulated to become a gamete by splitting and ejecting half of its chromosomes. Work is also underway on induced pluripotential stem cells, where normal body cells are treated with chemicals that stimulate them to behave as though they were embryonic stem cells. It's not certain which if any of these is likely to succeed first, or which would be safer. One of the interesting ethical questions is about how we establish whether it's safe or not, without actually allowing it to happen in a human being. Even if it works in animals we can't be 100% sure - it will be experimental. This is what happened with the first IVF baby, scientists really had no idea what the long term implications would be, so this was very much an experimental procedure.
I read a couple of articles about the use of artificial gametes in reproduction that the text on your project page refers to. They date back to 2008 and most of their authors had their doubts about the validity and safety of the technology. Is it still the case? How far away are the "female sperm" and "male eggs" from reality?
Some scientists are very optimistic about how soon this will work. Others are more cautious. When I started researching this about 7 years ago, some scientists were claiming artificial gametes would be available in 5 years. Clearly that hasn't happened! But often in science, breakthroughs can be unexpected, so I don't think it's a question of being able to put an exact timescale on it. What is clear is that scientists in many areas are working on getting cells to change their function. Creating cells that will function as gametes is just one part of this, so it's not totally cut off from other aspects of research. The ultimate goal is to be able to understand and control all these processes so that any human cell can be reprogrammed to fulfil whatever function we want it to...
We are currently showing the work in progress at the Human+ exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin, previewing four stories of hypothesized reproductive futures: from genetics ('multiple biological mothers' - where more than two people's DNA is part of fertilization), through to more "practical" near-future scenarios like the possibility of full term gestation in artificial wombs.
We really should mention that 'Reproductive Futures' is still in its development phase. We are delighted to have just been awarded a Wellcome Trust Arts Award grant which means the next couple of months will be focus on exploring all the possible opportunities that will arise from ART.
Some ART would bring part of the reproduction into the hands of scientists. There could even be no sexual intercourse involved and therefore, i suspect less taboo or embarrassment in explaining how a baby was born. So does it mean that they will generate narratives that could be completely free from the cabbage and cork-type of "mythology"? Would parents explaining to their kids where they come from be more open about the scientific process than they would be about one that take place in a bed?
That is very possibly right, but perhaps that's all the more reason why we might need to re-imagine those "mythologies". Deliberately, the tales you refer to that were once told to children bore no resemblance to how or why conception happened. This ambiguity was embedded by the use of fantasy, and they referred to a world very different to that of children, or of their everyday lives. Fantasy in and of itself has a role to play in this project, yet as developments in science makes the descriptions of 'how' and 'where' babies come from more complicated, there must be truth and integrity in what we narrate. This project needs to be neither too factual and scientific, nor based on expedient story-telling. It must instead find a way of making understanding both accessible and enjoyable to children and adults.
Thanks Zoe and Anna!
All images courtesy Zoe Papadopoulou.
Leigh Ledare's photo portray of his relationship with his mother, currently on show at Guido Costa Projects in Turin, is everything a PC family album should not be.
Ledare's mother, Tina Peterson used to be a delicate and precocious ballerina performing with the New York City Ballet. As years went by she became a model. Then a porn actress. She would also describe herself in personal ads as an "exotic dancer and former ballerina seeks wealthy husband, not somone else's". Today she's a sixty something woman, still glamorous, still spectacularly charismatic. In an old letter exhibited in the gallery, Tina complains that the model is at the photographer's "mercy".
The way she performs in front of her son's camera proves how much she has since found a way to be in control of the images. Her son shoots, she fingers herself. Ledare takes picture after picture of his muse as she is giving head, having sex with her young boyfriend, spreading her legs. In Mom After the Accident, she stands on two chairs, wearing nothing but a neck brace. It's far too intimate even for our time of brash reality-shows and online exhibitionism. It's also irresistible. Tina is so alluring, even with heavier thighs and a grim black wig. Most of all, we want to know how far these two are ready to go.
Journalists and art critics have repeated over and over again the words "Oedipus Complex." Meanwhile, Tina's career has been given a new breath and Ledare has found fame. Somehow, i wonder how his other works, in particular Russian Biker Gang and Personal Commissions, will ever manage to emerge from Tina's shadow.
The gallery is also showing two short movies. One of them, The Gift, is an edition of an amateur softcore fetish spanking movie that Tina shot with two friends. The artist explains: The story was so flawed that the tapes sat for 2 years without being able to be made into anything. One day a package arrived with the mail at my door. Inside were two tapes and a small note from my mother telling me they were a gift and now it was my responsibility to make something out of them. I edited out the failed story the initial artists had attempted to film and left my mother playing to the direction of these two men, leaving what can be seen as a real armature for the missing narrative.
The exhibition Le Tit, by Leigh Ledare, is open until September 15, 2010 at the gallery Guido Costa Projects in Turin.
Who would have thought i'd end up blogging about a splatter movie on wmmna? I'm not talking about any horror flick, i'm talking "gay-porn zombie film", a genre which i assume is under-represented in contemporary art. Written and directed by Bruce LaBruce and starring porn actor François Sagat, LA Zombie is on view at the Peres Projects gallery in Berlin, along with a dozen new works on canvas.
It was a bit of a hard core spectacle for someone like me who has no interest nor experience in the genre(s). I'm still wondering how i'll manage to convey the happiness and sense of beauty that the film gave me. There's something respectable about a porn movie that you watch inside a renowned art gallery. You might be shocked but you're never ashamed. Bruce Labruce's other queer cinema horror film Otto; or Up With Dead People debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the artist has contributed to magazines such as Vice, Index, and BlackBook,
I doubt LaBruce bothers much about making you and me and other art lovers comfortable. Just like Murakami delights in selling his art in both prestigious art galleries and shops merchandising fugly brown monogram bags, LaBruce doesn't seem too eager to drawing a line between art and porn. He told Salon: "All of my work has been about that line. You can situate yourself on either side of the line without really altering the work itself. I could take a picture for Honcho magazine, but can take the same image and put it in a frame in an art gallery, and it becomes art. For me that speaks to the arbitrary nature of those labels." A soft-core version of L.A. Zombie will tour film festivals this year. You can expect to find the hard-core DVD gracing the shelves of your favourite sex shop in the spring.
LA Zombie was shot in Los Angeles. Guerrilla-style. With almost no budget. The main protagonist rises from the sea, with as much clout and allure as Ursula Andress herself in that famous Bond scene. He's a zombie or maybe he's just a bit deranged and fancies himself as an undead creature. He sports canine teeth and is dressed like a homeless. Good looking young guys get killed or die in accidents. He finds them, gives them the fuck of life right into their wound, they open their eyes. They have become zombie too and lead the life of tramps around LA. People don't seem to even notice their presence.
Bruce Labruce LA Zombie: The Movie That Would Not Die runs at Peres Projects in Berlin until April 24, 2010.
A very moving exhibition i saw yesterday morning in Amsterdam:
Every quarter of an hour Ton Grootes, the owner of Sex Cinema Venus in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, changes the Super 8 rushes containing porn films from the Seventies. He doesn't like nowadays's porn. Ladies have inflatable breasts and there's little scenario, actors just arrive on screen and almost immediately, as Grootes says, "Bang!"
Sex Cinema Venus is well past its glory era. Only a handful of loyal customers come nowadays. People pass by, almost always look at the pictures outside the cinema but they don't come in. Still, Grootes opens the cinema every day. He hates to stay home doing nothing.
Sex Cinema Venus seems to be stuck in Super8 time. It is the oldest sex cinema in the Red Light District. Sadly, it will soon disappear as a result of Amsterdam's regeneration plans. It is expected that, soon, the city council of Amsterdam will issue a compulsory purchase note to the sex cinema and will stimulate high-end commercial developments in its place.
If you don't dare to enter the sex cinema and meet its owner and reels, Jan-Dirk van der Burg can help. The young photographer interviewed the cinema owner and documented his work in a series of photos and a slideshow with extracts of the glorious 70s porn movies. You can see them (along with a few vintage posters which i photographed but canceled afterward by mistake from the memory card) at Foam, the Museum of Photography in Amsterdam exhibits
Sex Cinema Venus is on view at Foam in Amsterdam until December 16, 2009.
While in Madrid, i discovered that Santiago Sierra had a show at the Helga de Alvear gallery. I dragged my paracetamols, high fever and microbes out of the bed and headed to Calle Doctor Fourquet. I felt so bad that day i thought nothing Sierra could do would affect me. The show is called Los Penetrados / The Penetrated and it is exactly what you imagine. Sierra hardly ever trifles with subtlety.
October 12th is the National Day of Spain. It used to be called Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) as a celebration of the day Columbus arrived in the Americas, the day Europeans encountered Native Americans. Several countries celebrate October 12th. Over time, however, Día de la Raza took the form in many countries of a counter to Columbus Day. It is used to resist the arrival of Europeans to the Americas and celebrate native races.
On October 12th, 2008, Sierra shot The Penetrated, a series of photographies and a 45 min video in 8 Acts.
Couples are geometrically arranged into compositions of up to 110 bodies with two colours. The Acts feature the various possible combinations of penetrator / penetrated: white man-white woman, white man-white man, white man-black woman, white man-black man, black man-black woman, black man-black man, black man-white woman, black man-white man. The persons' faces have been digitally erased to accentuate the modular character of the actors. A mirror set at an angle behind the actors multiplies the couples and the viewpoints.
The current reality of Spain can be applied to the body patterns.
The theoretical structural geometry of the action is echoed in a weave formed by the 10 blankets on which the successive couples are to be placed. The reality of the proposal is expressed when some of the blankets are left empty in those Acts in which the circumstances did not provide the necessary elements/actors to undertake it. For instance, in Act 3 there are only three couples, given that due to police pressure the majority of women did not turn up. On another note, social and cultural conditioning hampered the appearance of passive black men.
The final element of the action is the penetration and the negative connotation that almost inevitably accompanies it. The title of this work "Los penetrados" [The Penetrated] throws the focus onto the passiveness and submission of the penetrated.
Sierra explains his work as a comment on immigration and racial issues: "The traditional paranoia of white people towards black people or of Europeans towards Africans is linked to a strong phobia. We thinks that sooner or later we will have to pay for our past and present greedy misdeeds. But this white paranoia is also related to the size of the dick or to the fear of a sexuality that demeans us. Our female and males might fall in love with it and that frightens us more than the perspective to lose our jobs, only your boss can take work away from us. The political reflections and the actions that derive from them are more primitive than what is ordinarily thought. Behaviours of racial identity are very animal because we are animals."
Previously: Holocaust installation by Santiago Sierra, Guantanamo museum and other tales of extraordinary rendition at Helga de Alvear gallery in Madrid, Image of the day, All-Inclusive. A Tourist World.