BIOART, BETWEEN ETHICS AND AESTHETICS
By means of technology these days’ sciences produce aesthetics images so it is not surprising the artistic field produces works which look like genetic engineering surgical procedures or laboratory experiments.
Faced with some operations our aesthetic but also ethics sense is often put in a critical position. We are forced to redefine the border between animate and inanimate world and our definitions of subject and object. Bio art art manipulating life mechanisms doesn’t have a precise thematic manifesto and it involves a lot of very different projects whose contents and methodologies are relative to biotechnology. The promoter of various bio art exhibitions and author of the Biotech Art book Jens Hauser gave a lecture at Ars Electronica 2005 entitled Bio Art Taxonomy of an etymological monster on the difficulty of finding bio art works parameters or limits.
Almost ten years ago to appeal the audience bio art works were based on conventional art forms iconography. They were genetic images and virtual creatures’ sculptures. Genetic art has been a synonym of bio art for a long time. Think of D N A11 work where the basis of life is codified and then reproduced as a visual icon. It’s enough to give a DNA sample using an appropriate kit and DNA11 creates a unique and unrepeatable graphic image.
But scientific knowledge is gone beyond: for example some discoveries were made in the field of tissue and cell culture, in neurophysiology, in bio robotics, in the synthesis of artificial DNA sequences and in xenotransplants.
There are two different approaches to create artificial life: you can make use of an immaterial code or there’s a more innovative approach: comparing bio technology to a practical, physic application. The concept of life as code is losing its appeal and today we tend to concretely use organic material. However it’s still difficult to call bio art the computer simulations of biologic processes. Today’s transgenic art artists tend to use organic materials and among them there’s Eduardo Kac that gave birth through his project GFP Bunny gave birth to Alba , a transgenic rabbit who becomes fluorescent under peculiar light conditions.
According to Hauser one of the essential effects of this recent bio art “metamorphosis” is that bio art is moving towards a re-materialization of products. This doesn’t mean there’s a regression process and we’re coming back to an art focused on the object: instead of graphic or figurative representations we now tend to perform, to find connections between bio technologies and economic, politic and social conditions. Bio art is now between real life and the symbolic reign of art. .
Another aspect of re-materialized bio art is in the use of the body as a game arena like it is in body art. So aesthetics becomes invasive as the project of the French duo Art Orienté Object shows: they’re programming a transfusion of filtered panda’s blood.
Body art artists too are coming close to tissue culture; Stelarc wants to build an extra ear and Orlan wants to create a culture of hybrid skins. They both collaborated with the Australian research group TC&A (Tissue Culture and Art Project). Bio art and body art have also in common the fact their works live on as photographs or video documentaries.
Finally Hauser says it’s impossible to give a unique definition of bio art or to connect it with specific procedures or materials. Bio art is above all a live art transformation that manipulates “genetic materials”. The Disembodied cuisine by TC&A performing installation is an example illustrating this complexity. During the Art Biotech exhibition an experiment was made to produce meat without killing. Artists cultivated some synthetic tissues starting from frogs muscle cells and they have been daily fed these cell cultures in a lab inside the exposition space for eight weeks. After this period they cooked the small pseudo-meat beefsteaks as a nouvelle cuisine plate they served up some volunteers. There were some escaped to death frogs staring at them from some aquariums.
Although Hauser’s argumentations are unambiguous I think the role of the artist is not yet well defined. It’s not clear if the artist should give his contribute to knowledge production or he should warn people about possible wrong genetic uses. Bio artists seem to be interested in the relationship between these research areas and the social landscape but there’s no answer yet even because the artists can constantly reinvent their role.