When I enrolled in this class, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I didn’t know exactly what bioart was, and mostly pictured things like colorfully imaged brain scans or crystallized protein. I thought of things like Rosalind Franklin’s first images of DNA structure.
After reviewing the class materials, I realized that bioart is so much more than I thought. It is not just the combination of technologies used by scientists with an aesthetic value, but bioart provides a very important commentary on how we are using different technologies and the politics behind science. I found it particularly interesting how Jens Hauser discussed the importance of social and media context in bioart and the role that paratext plays in this artistic movement. It is interesting to think of the paratext of a work of art becoming so important to the meaning of the art itself.
One work that I found particularly interesting was Audio Microphone by Joe Davis. I’ve never really thought about microorganisms making noise, but because sound is just waves moving through the air, why shouldn’t microorganisms make sound. It reminded me of a piece I saw by Doug Aitken called Sonic Pavilion, where several microphones and amplifiers were lowered several hundred meters into the ground to record the sounds that the earth makes. It is interesting how we can use new technologies to essentially give a “voice” to things that we previously thought of as silent, but actually make much smaller sounds than we are capable of hearing.
While many works of bioart themselves are surrounded by controversy, from the butterfly wings of Nature? by Marta de Menezes to the GFP bunny of Eduardo Kac, bioart is a very important tool for pointing out problems with science, as we enter an age where science and technology is advancing at such a fast rate that politics and ethical boards cannot keep up. Works like Eighth Day by Eduardo Kac, which displays a variety of GFP engineered organisms surviving in a contained ecological system along with a biobot controlled by an amoeba colony that functions as its brain, ask us serious questions about how methods like genetic engineering will be used in the future. With its tongue-in-cheek name referencing the creation of the earth in seven days, it makes us think if scientists are starting to play God by altering the genes of other living organism, and potentially the genes of our own species in the near future.
From just this very brief introduction into the world of bioart, I am excited to explore not just the technologies and the artists that work to create such innovative pieces, but also to look at the political and ethical debates that surround emerging biotechnologies and how those technologies should be used. When you are in the world of science, it can be hard to step back and think about the larger ethical implications of the methods and technologies being used and bioart is very powerful because it can draw our attention to these implications.
Hauser, J. (2008). Observations on an Art of Growing Interest. Tactical Biopolitics, 83-98. doi:10.7551/mitpress/9780262042499.003.0006