To what extent has the perception of bioart changed within the last decade? Links between the perception of bioart and the language used in its curation and communication

Table of contents:

Introduction.

  • Thesis introduction:  p.3-9

Chapter 1.

  • 1.1 Introduction to multidisciplinary approaches:  p.10-11

  • 1.2 Examining the differences between bioart and biodesign:  p.11-15

  • 1.3 Case Study: Eduardo Kac’s Alba:  p.16-18

  • 1.4 Perception of biotechnology in relation to perception of Alba:  p.18-22

Chapter 2.

  • 2.1  Exhibitions which have been crucial in shifting the perception of bioart:  p.23-28

  • 2.2 Distinguishing the differences between science and art based subjects and art organisation’s role in science based art’s communication:  p.28-31

Chapter 3.

  • 3.1 Establishing additional reasons behind the increased interest towards bioart: p. 32-35

  • 3.2  Case study: Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015:  p. 35-37

  • 3.3 Case study: Victimless Leather:  p.38-41

  • 3.4 Case study: Biotechn for Artists Workshop: p. 41-42

  • 3.4 Elaborating on the increased awareness of language and communication. Comparisons between past and present bioart projects: p.42- 43

Chapter 4.

  • 4.1 Case Study: Spit Crystal: p.44-46

  • 4.2 MEART project, SymboticA: p.46-49

  • 4.3 The BioArt Initiative: p.49-51

Chapter 5.

  • 5.1 Language differences in bioart projects: p.52-61

Conclusion.

  • Concluding statement: p. 61-64

References

  • p. 65-71

Appendix

  • Interviews: p.72-76

List of figures

  • p.77-88

Introduction

This thesis aims to outline the change in public perceptions of bioart within the last decade. First, the difference between bioart and biodesign will be established, as although closely related, both disciplines vary in aims, objectives, and methodologies (Catts & Zurr, 2003). Subsequently, the change in public perceptions of bioart will be discussed. Here I will focus on leading organisations and prominent projects and exhibitions within the field. After establishing the changes in public perception of bioart, the growth of the discipline, and its relationship with biotechnology, the difficulties of its curation and communication will be considered. Consequently, by establishing the limitations of curating bioart exhibitions, the importance of language in curating and communicating bioart will be identified. Here I will specifically focus on the sensitivity towards the public’s perception of bioart projects and exhibitions and identify communication issues that need to be addressed within the discipline.

One objective of this thesis is to provide an awareness of the change in perceptions surrounding bioart, focusing upon links between biotechnology, bioart, and biodesign. The second objective is to become progressively conscious of the limitations surrounding the current curation and communication of bioart exhibitions. Consequently, having evaluated the change in public perceptions of bioart, the final objective is to provide an awareness of the differences in language between bioart projects and exhibitions and the impact upon public perception.

Throughout history, art has been influenced by advances in science, from anatomy to horticulture (Pingjie, 2007). However, within the last 20 years, artists have been progressively engaged and involved in the use of not only animal and plant tissues but also bacteria and living organisms (Solon, 2011). Specifically, within the last decade, advances in biological research has inspired the creation of alternative art and design projects in various forms, for example, genetically altered ‘fluorescent green rabbits’ and ‘living sculptures’ constructed from skin cells (Solon, 2011). These projects are commonly classified under a general term, ‘bioart’ and have frequently drawn the attention of artists, scientists, and the media, resulting in increased popularity and interest (Catts & Zurr, 2003). For example, the projects illustrated in Figure 2 and Figure 4. However, although artistic and biological disciplines continue to be publicly perceived as being far afield from each other, research has illustrated that as both subjects continue to collaborate, this has resulted in a beneficial academic and artistic discourse. As a consequence, this has facilitated the creation of a critical platform in which to critique and engage with scientific research (Catts & Zurr, 2003). Thus, currently, bioart can be defined as a contemporary artistic practice which adapts and draws on scientific methodologies e.g. biotechnology, molecular biology and research into genetics; experimenting with living systems and using them as artistic mediums (Yetisen, Davis, Coskun, Church & Hyun, 2015).   

Thus, as artists respond to advances in biotechnology and foster a critical commentary concerning scientific research, bioart projects have developed into beneficial tools by nurturing an openness; allowing for experimental collaborations and the formation of new relationships between various disciplines (Catts & Zurr, 2003). As a result, currently bioart critically engages with emerging life technologies, stimulating creative and scientific thinking and contributing to new technologies and research questions (Yetisen et al, 2015). Thus, in effect, bioart projects develop the basis for future multidisciplinary partnerships while creating an essential dialogue in which various communities and individuals can engage with (Yetisen et al, 2015). This can be used as an effective tool to give the public an understanding of current research that, to them, as a non-scientific community, might potentially not be aware of (Yetisen et al, 2015). Consequently, this is critical as the biotechnological research that bioart critiques could be impactful upon their sociological, cultural and environmental well being (Catts & Zurr, 2003).

Inevitably as a consequence of the progressive biotechnological developments and methodologies utilized for both scientific and nonscientific purposes e.g. design, art, and biohacking, this has resulted in a range of ethical issues being brought to the surface that were not previously an issue (Vaage, 2016). This is not only related to biotechnological findings and their implications on lifestyle, but also in the process of constructing art and design projects from raw material and living components (Solon, 2011). Specifically, by manipulating life and placing it into public contexts, audiences are engaging with living artwork, and thus institutions have a responsibility not only making research easily understood, but in the consequences involved in exhibiting biological phenomena and supporting the creation and manipulation of living matter (Catts & Zurr, 2003).

The wide ranging ethical issues that bioart projects critique is summarised by Catts and Zurr (2004):

“Whatever else it does, Bioart raises a profound array of ethical considerations in regard to the extent of the manipulation of living systems that range from interventions at the molecular level to the ecosystem and anything (living) in between.” (Catts & Zurr, 2003, p.2).

Although art and design have had a long history dealing with ethical issues, current research into bioart primarily differs in that these disciplines both construct and manipulate life and insert it into new contexts (Catts & Zurr, 2004). However, not only are biological phenomena assembled into ‘unnatural’ objects such as sculptures and art pieces, additionally, they are presented in ‘unnatural’ environments e.g. galleries and exhibitions (Catts & Zurr, 2003). Therefore, displaying biological phenomena in either a private or public space for either a private or public audience, not only raises concerns surrounding the safety of exhibiting living objects but also results in operational and ethical issues regarding the process, communication and methodology of their curation (Catts & Zurr, 2003). Thus, when curating an exhibit displaying biological phenomena, there are prominent ethical questions to be raised, focusing on the management and communication of living matter (Catts & Zurr, 2003). This is because the methodologies employed in the creation of bioart are often a hybrid of artistic and biological practice, where creative practice involves advanced scientific methodologies which are placed at a microscopic level (Radomska, 2016). For example, living organisms have divergent needs to nonliving, contemporary design objects when displayed within a public context (Radomska, 2016).

Thus, not only are there prominent ethical issues that alter the curatorial methodology, curators have different responsibilities compared to when establishing other contemporary design exhibitions (Dijk, 2016) in order to deliver an informative, critical, and environmentally ‘safe’ exhibition (Myers, 2015). Additionally, as bioart is a subject that floats between disciplines, there are limitations in curating bioart exhibitions (and projects) as there are subtle differences and outlooks in how the various disciplines involved in a project's construction evaluates, views, and categorises biological phenomena and artistic and scientific processes (Catts & Zurr, 2003). This is demonstrated in the varying classification of projects and the diverse language and terminology that various disciplines use in communicating bioart projects (Catts & Zurr, 2003). For example, as will be outlined within this paper, there is an inconsistent use of language in communicating bioart projects between disciplines (Catts & Zurr, 2003). This is illustrated in how artists and designers are cooperating with scientists and utilizing their methodologies e.g. gene theory, genetics and cytology, to produce artworks that do not have a universal language in which to communicate and understand the exhibits as both scientific and artistic (Pingjie, 2007). As a result, there is a growing need for research in bioart to establish not only a common language between disciplines and projects but also an efficient curatorial approach and culture which encompasses artistic and biotechnological definitions and curatorial understandings (Catts a & Zurr, 2003).

In addition, when critiquing the curation of bioart exhibitions, research has shown that the perceptions of collaborations between art and design have changed (Kac, 2017). One theory of explanation is that this could be due to the changing attitudes of what society finds morally acceptable (Mitchell, 2010). Additionally, it could be due to the growth of the discipline, and it’s progressive methods of communication (Mitchell, 2010). For example, from initial science-inspired design, biodesign and bioart have evolved to form a dynamic relationship between the biological sciences and visual arts (Catts & Zurr, 2003). However, although there have been a large number of both publically and privately funded research studies examining the public opinion of biotechnology and biodesign, there is still not a comprehensive, universal idea of how these views have changed over time (Hallman & Aquino, 2003) and specifically, public perceptions towards bioart.

As previously specified, this paper will aim to outline the changes in perceptions of bioart within the last decade, focusing on leading organisations and projects within the field. It will illustrate the complexity of this debate and highlight an awareness of the importance of language in successfully curating and communicating biological based art and design exhibitions.

Chapter 1.

  • 1.1 Introduction to multidisciplinary approaches

Within the last 20 years, art and design have changed dramatically and have developed into a cross-disciplinary art form (Myers, 2014). This is illustrated in a quote by Paola Antonelli, the current Curator of Design at The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA.

“Design is not what it used to be. In schools and in studios, in corporations and in political institutions, designers are using their skills to tackle issues that were previously out of their bounds, from scientific visualization to interfaces, from sociological theories to possible applications and consequences of nanotechnology.” (Antonelli, 2012, as cited in Myers, 2012 p.6).

In relation to Antonelli’s (2012) viewpoint, due to advances in biotechnology developed from the 20th century e.g. the birth of the cloned sheep (Dolly) and the Human Genome Project, these developments have arguably lead to the growth of biological and artistic experimentation (Pingjie, 2007). However new science-based design differs to early approaches in biology-inspired design as they incorporate living organisms as essential design components (Myers, 2014).  Specifically, both bioart and biodesign do not mimic biological matter but synthesize new objects (Myers, 2014). As a result, biodesign and bioart blur the once strict boundaries of design, art, and biology (Myers, 2014). Thus, as previously specified, by applying and utilizing scientific findings in biotechnology, this has resulted in artists and designers increasingly producing works which critically comments on biological research findings e.g. findings in genetic engineering, chemical engineering and synthetic biology studies for example (Catts & Zurr, 2003).

  • 1.2 Examining the differences between bioart and biodesign.

Firstly, bioart and biodesign are terms that are often used interchangeably between practitioners and projects which presents various issues regarding the communication and perception of each discipline and consequently their projects (Michell, 2014). This issue will be outlined and discussed throughout this paper. Therefore, it is vital to initially acknowledge and expand upon the differences between bioart and biodesign. Generally, biodesign utilizes living materials and organisms to create new products (Designboom, 2017). For example, Biomason Bricks (Figure 3) use bacteria to create sustainable cement which can ‘regrow’ when cracked (Designboom, 2017).

The definition of biodesign is illustrated in a quote by William Myers (2014):

“Biodesign goes further than other biology-inspired approaches to design and fabrication. Unlike biomimicry, cradle to cradle and the popular but frustratingly vague, ‘green design,’ biodesign refers specifically to the incorporation of living organisms essential components, enhancing the function of the work. It goes beyond mimicry to integration, dissolving boundaries and synthesizing new hybrid typologies. The label is also used to highlight experiments that replace industrial or mechanical systems with biological processes.” (Myers, 2014, p.8).

In comparison, unlike biodesign, bioart is not a critical solution to a design problem but creates an artistic dialogue in which to effectively critique the ethical implications of biotechnology and biodesign (Catts & Zurr, 2003). One similarity between the disciplines, is that both subjects focus on providing creative narratives which emphasise and critique societal, philosophical and environmental issues (Myers, 2014). Furthermore, not only do both disciplines respond to concerns about the damage of industrialization (e.g. issues relating to disposal and consumption), they also focus on critiquing new technologies that have the power to alter and change our culture and environment (Myers, 2014). Additionally, although both subjects have divergent processes and goals, both focus on cross-disciplinary approaches in contemporary design and involve similar biological processes and materials within their design process (Myers, 2014). Although biodesign projects will be acknowledged within this thesis, this paper will predominantly evaluate bioart. This is because art in contrast to design does not aim to result in solutions, but rather, to generate questions and increasingly allow for diverging methods of thinking (Catts & Zurr, 2003). Thus, predominantly focusing on bioart is beneficial in evaluating the change in perceptions surrounding biological based art exhibitions and the difficulties in curating and thus communicating biological content. However, as will be illustrated throughout this paper, it is inevitable to not discuss the disciplines in relation to one and another.   

As previously identified within the introduction, bioart can be categorised as a discipline that utilizes scientific methodologies to explore living systems as creative subjects (Yetisen et al, 2015).  This is illustrated in a quote by Radomska (2016):

“Bio Artworks explore the issues of the boundaries between the living and nonliving, organic and inorganic; the relation between the human and nonhuman; as well as various thresholds of the living.” (Radomska, 2016, p.13).

As previously suggested in the introduction, within the last decade, bioart has developed into a critical, playful and creative response to the increasingly prominent biological technologies and their implications in today’s culture (Radomska, 2016). Although bioart focuses on the moralistic implication of scientific research, arguably stemming from Ancient Greek culture, the ethical and moralistic importance of art has always been debated (Vaage, 2016). For example, Plato viewed the arts as a danger to an individual’s emotions as it tempted them away from the truth, whilst other theorists such as Aristotle emphasized the power of artistic tragedy in the rendering of spiritual enlightenment (Vaage, 2016). These examples highlight the historical relationship that ethics and aesthetics have together and their importance in the search for beauty and truth (Vaage, 2016). However, in comparison to traditional art, in contemporary art and design, one objective is not always to give the eye pleasure through experiencing a beautiful aesthetic, but rather, to provoke, critique and reflect upon human existence (Vaage, 2016). Additionally, in relation to art and design’s traditional and moralistic purpose, bioartists differ in their methodology and approach, and consequently, their artworks create diverse and divergent moral and ethical issues due to the diverse range of methodologies employed from both the sciences and the arts (Vaage, 2016). Thus, due to the discipline's ongoing development, advancement and popularity, this has inevitably caused the perception of bioart to alter in time (Mitchell, 2010).

Simplified, many initial public reactions were morally and ethically against bioart and the use of living matter in art projects (Mitchell, 2010). However, as will be illustrated in this thesis, within the last decade, this perception has altered to become increasingly receptive to technological developments which has allowed bioart to be accepted as a creative discipline (Kac, 2017). As will be outlined, this is possibly due to increasing public engagement and involvement, and additionally, the subject’s evolution into a useful and critical tool in which to critique biological research (Mitchell, 2010). Additionally, it should be acknowledged that the projects highlighted within this paper must be regarded and treated locally as each project should be considered separate for its moral and ethical relevance (Vaage, 2016). Thus, the methodology, geographical and historical, societal and political concepts will all be taken into account whilst analysing each of the case studies listed.

  • 1.3 Case study: Eduardo Kac’s Alba.

Based on advances in artistic methods and biotechnology, within the last 20 years, there has been works produced by prominent artists in the field such as Adam Zaretsky, Ionat Zurr, Oron Catts and Eduardo Kac, and organisations such as SymboticA, MoMA and Critical Art Ensemble (Mitchell, 2010). In particular, one of the first prominent bioart projects was Eduardo Kac’s groundbreaking project-Alba- a green-fluorescent rabbit constructed by genetic engineering (Figure 4). Specifically, Alba was assembled by incorporating the green fluorescent protein (GFP), into a rabbit’s genetic makeup (Kac, 2011). In the daylight the rabbit’s aesthetic appeared like a usual white rabbit, however, at night, Alba would appear fluorescent green (Kac, 2011).   

Although an experimental and unorthodox project, Alba was one of the first projects which illustrated that utilizing biotechnology was a useful artistic tool (Michell, 2010). Additionally, Alba showcased that the development of bioart as a discipline offered a new insight into using biotechnological research for the experimentation of living materials and their aesthetics (Myers, 2014). Furthermore, the project aided the development of new narratives in which to critique research in art, design and emerging biotechnologies (Myers, 2014). Specifically, Kac viewed Alba as a symbol for the dangers of experimentation in biotechnology, however many of his critics perceived Alba as acting on a ‘Frankenstein interest,' and imposing his position and will on a living creature for his professional and personal benefit (Kac, 2011). As a result, the media took a highly reactive interest in the project, and news of Alba surfaced around the world (Kac, 2011). For example, this initial perception of Kac’s work is illustrated in examples from the press:

“Making these manipulations of other living beings and organisms to prove a point really has no kind of medical or scientific purpose to it, and even if there is a medical or scientific

purpose, we have to be careful what we do because there’s potential cruelty to it. In some ways it’s a lack of respect for living forms – it’s almost an act of violence in a way.” (Zawistowski, 2000, p.1).

As highlighted by this statement, the initial perceptions, and reactions towards Kac’s experimental project were negative and the overall public consensus of experimenting with such technologies were that of fear and danger of the unknown result of utilizing a technology such as genetic engineering for a creative means (Kac, 2011).

  • 1.4 Perception of biotechnology in relation to the perception of Alba.

Although an artistic project, the negative reactions towards biotechnology and its societal implications are historically prevalent and similar. For example, when researching the development of biotechnology since the 1970s, particularly in Europe and the USA, it can be shown that opinions of technological advances were similar to the reactions to Alba nearly 20 years later. For example, stemming from technological developments within the 1970s, the fear of ‘biohazards’ and of manipulation living forms became apparent, developing into a ‘Frankenstein fear’ over the notion of gene splicing, and its effect on the culture and well-being of humankind (Splicing Life Report, 1982). Specifically, the fear of scientists exploiting this technology developed a growing anxiety in the general public and science community over the uncontrollable damage to the environment and the spread of viruses (Splicing Life Report, 1982). Consequently, while supporters of the new technologies argued that it has potential benefits to society (Isserman, 2001), non-supporters argued that biotechnology is an unnecessary technology which interferes with nature and has potentially dangerous and unknown influences on the natural ecosystem and human and animal genetics (Nelson, 2001). Additionally others disagree with biotechnology due to ethical grounds and regard the technology as playing God (Hossain, Onyango, Schilling & Hallman, 2003). As a result, this created fear regarding the consequences of scientific work and the role of technology within social and human values (Splicing Life Report, 1982). Additionally, since 1980, there has been an ongoing perception developed that society is uncomfortable with the idea that concepts such as animal species which are naturally ‘fixed’ can be modified as this is unnerving to the human psyche (Splicing Life Report, 1982). However this ‘bioparanoia’ and fear of biological advancement arguably has a prevalent historical influence over the general public (Dijk, 2016). For example, it was prevalent in the 19th century where diseases such as cholera were a danger in urban environments (Dijk, 2016). However, although this research implies that society has had an ongoing cautiousness regarding biological phenomena, arguably this perception is different to the cautiousness perceived within the development of technology and its implications in modern life. This could be due to the ability that current scientific methodologies have in having control over living organisms via biotechnology and synthetic biology (Dijk, 2016). Subsequently, it also might be due to anxiety regarding the lack of control of practitioners or organisations which utilizes such technologies (Dijk, 2016). Thus, concerning Kac’s Alba project, this implies that for more than 20 years before the development of bioart, there has been an ongoing anxiety regarding the development of new biological and chemical inventions e.g. genetic engineering and technology’s implications into lifestyle, culture and human development (Splicing Life Report, 1982). Additionally, however, despite this concern, biotechnology and subsequent methodologies such as synthetic biology are continuously viewed as the frontier for the next cultural revolution, which, as already specified, is perceived by the public and scientific communities to have huge economic and social results (Hossain et al, 2003). However, although society has got increasingly used to the prevalence of the societal  implications of biotechnological research, this negative perception is arguably still apparent. For example, this is continously illustrated in the press, as described by an article entitled: ‘People aren’t ready for the imminent rise of genetic engineering’ by Bob Adams, published in 2015. As Adams (2015) quotes:

“We fear genetic engineering. We are uncomfortable with the thought that we can be "engineered”. Why? Because it sounds as if we are machines. We are not pleased to think that someone can change our DNA and, in the process, change who we are, what we do, what we think, and more.” (Adams, 2015, p.1).

Thus, this suggests that there is still a prevalent fear of the implications of biotechnology research. Additionally, currently there is an ongoing fear-induced bias of biotechnology, due to an apocalyptic fear of what might occur if there was a biological attack, which arguably causes more hysteria than is balanced with the level of threat (Dijk, 2016).

Nevertheless, although the perceptions of biotechnology are useful to acknowledge (as bioart employs biotechnological processes), both disciplines differ in their aims and objectives and thus how the public and artistic and scientific communities perceive them. However, in light of the perception of biotechnology, when observing the initial perceptions of initial bioart projects, Kac’s Alba project supports research which suggests that when initially presenting individuals with a biological manipulation, there is often a sense of repugnance, due to the lack of articulation, or language from which to express it (Mitchell, 2010). Specifically, research suggests that as a result, this often encourages society to discard new concepts (Mitchell, 2010). Thus, although this does not completely explain the initial negative reactions towards Alba, it  suggests that one issue surrounding the negative reactions of unknown projects and practices, and interdisciplinary subjects is the lack of language in which to express, describe and critique an unfamiliar creation (Mitchell, 2010).

Additionally, another initial public viewpoint of Alba held the belief that artists such as Kac face an anomaly on whether these projects live up to their goal of being an art piece, or whether they only illustrate the results of recent outcomes in technology, science, and design (Michell, 2010). This gives implications into whether or not the public and the scientific communities at this time counted Alba as an art and design project and their feelings regarding using biotechnology for the utilization and creation of a creative project (Mitchell, 2010). Additionally, an opposing opinion argued that Alba was only speculative, and based on aesthetics, rather than critically engaging with biotechnological ethics and implications (Michell, 2010). Furthermore, animal rights activists questioned Kac’s use of an animal, not only due to the manipulation of its DNA but also for its use within an artistic project (Mitchell, 2010). Thus, these initial public perceptions of Alba suggest that bioart’s success as an artistic subject has been limited due to the various negative reactions towards its worth, objectives and place as a discipline which is highlighted by the lack of language in which to communicate it.  However, within a personal email discussion with Kac, it was established that he believes that within the last decade, society’s perception of bioart and its importance as an art form has changed. This is outlined by a quote by him:

“In the beginning the reaction against bio art was very strong. After 20 years, the world has changed dramatically. The art world and the general public have come to understand that it is art.” (Kac, 2017).

Thus, according to Kac (2017), society has progressively begun to engage with bioart projects and their perception has altered to accept Alba as an art project with little fear of its implications (Kac, 2017). Kac gives several reasons for this belief. He suggests that the increasing presence of biotechnology, not only within the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries but in popular culture has altered the public’s perception of bioart (Kac, 2011). Additionally, he asserts that this experience is similar to the change in the perception of the computer: from initially being perceived as a dangerous industrial weapon to a successful method of communication and entertainment (Kac, 2011). Furthermore, Kac suggests that within the last decade, the art world has progressively begun to recognise bioart as an art form (Kac, 2017). Thus, one reason behind Kac’s viewpoint could be that the art world’s influence might have resulted in the change in attitude towards the subject, and specifically, how bioart is curated and communicated.

Chapter 2

  • 2.1  Exhibitions which have been crucial in shifting the perception of bioart.

The change in how bioart is communicated can be illustrated by the increase in educational and exhibition related activities relating to bioart in the U.S and Europe (Kac, 2011). For example, a groundbreaking exhibition shown in 2008 was Design, and The Elastic Mind showcased at MoMA and curated by Paola Antonelli. Design and The Elastic Mind illustrated to a large public audience the dramatic changes in human life regarding technology and materiality (Antonelli, 2008). Although experimental, the exhibition and the consequential publication were successful as they focused on the ability of designers to grasp advances in science and convert them into useful designs e.g. artistic objects and systems (Antonelli, 2008). For example, a research project by James King (Figure 5) ‘Dressing the Meat of Tomorrow’ critiqued what the steak of tomorrow would and should look like when steak is grown in laboratory (Antonelli, 2008).

Figure 5.  Dressing the Meat of Tomorrow by James king.

Additionally, Thomas Gabzdil Libertiny’s ‘Honeycomb Vase’ (Figure 5.5) is another example of a project showcased in the exhibition. Here, Libertiny made beehive scaffolds constructed in the shape of a vase, which, when placed in a natural environment, the bees worked around the scaffold eventually constructing a vase-shaped hive (Antonelli, 2008).


Figure 5.5 Beehive Vase, Thomas Gabzdil Libertiny.

Arguably, Design and the Elastic Mind was a stark contrast from MoMA’s Machine Art exhibition held in 1934, which championed the impersonal aesthetic of industrial objects (Terzich, 2008). The exhibition was one of the first to illustrate to its public audience how lifestyle can be enhanced through the collaboration of biotechnology, art and design (Terzich, 2008). It illustrated that when artists and designers do not use common materials such as glass, wood, ceramics, and plastics, but instead, utilize living tissues, the implications of an exhibition and project reach beyond that usually (Antonelli, 2011). Overall, the show was effective in demonstrating to a large public audience that within the last decade, design has gone beyond its traditional boundaries and aims into the heart of the moral sphere; questioning society's beliefs of what it can be used to construct (Antonelli, 2011). Unlike initial projects such as Alba, the projects showcased 8 years later in Design and the Elastic Mind illustrated how bioart and biodesign can be utilized by a range of practitioners, utilizing a range of expertise. Specifically, it illustrated that advances within biotechnology allow society to observe and tackle difficult ethical dilemmas which are critical in allowing the public to acquire responsible outlooks towards biotechnology before profitable companies take hold of the process (Antonelli, 2011). The exhibition’s success supports research and opinions that the interest surrounding bioart and biodesign has become increasingly prevalent. However, when observing the initial perceptions of this exhibition, there were varying public viewpoints regarding the ‘new’ collaboration between scientists and artists. This is highlighted by an article by John  Schwartz published in The New York Times in 2008:

“At the beginning it was this sort of apology-fest,” Ms. Antonelli said. She recalled the way scientists would open their talks by saying, “I don’t know what art is,” and the artists would say they did not know any formulas. Through the salons — with speakers like Benoît Mandelbrot, a mathematician who pioneered the creation of gorgeous images from mathematical functions, and leading designers — the outlines of an exhibition took form.” (Schwartz, 2008, p.1).

“Dr. Mandelbrot said the separation of science and aesthetics had always puzzled and frustrated him, though now “the separation is decreasing, or vanishing,” as more people find ways to bridge the gap. Mr. Bly, of Seed magazine, agreed. Bringing diverse disciplines together corrects a mistake in intellectual history and “harks back to the Renaissance,” he said, adding: “We created disciplines. Nature didn’t create disciplines.” (Schwartz, 2008, p.1).

These viewpoints are some of the first in showcasing the difficulties in establishing a large bioart and biodesign exhibition and consequently, an effective communication strategy between artists, scientists and the public. However, arguably since this exhibition in 2008, the public has become increasingly used to and aware of interdisciplinary projects in art and design and thus, the perceived risk level of interdisciplinary approaches has decreased (Fitzgerald & Callard, 2015). However, although Antonelli (2008) and Kac (2017) suggests that society has begun to perceive bioart and biodesign as an art form, the change in perception within the last decade is complex and subtle. This is illustrated in an interview with leading bioartist, Anna Dumitriu (2017):

“I think probably there has been increase in interest in the field of bioart but it's really hard to say. It's a relatively new area so it's normal that more people hear of it over time and as books etc are published. In countries like the Netherlands it is more popular. There are some prizes for it now for example. In some countries it's almost unknown. It's hard for me to say specifically because my perception is linked to my work and as would be hoped that has become better known over time.” (Dumitriu, 2017).

Thus, although Dumitiru maintains that it is difficult to decipher the change in public perception of bioart in the last decade, she does hold the opinion that western society have progressively begun to accept bioart as a design discipline, and have an increasing interest towards it, however that there is a prevalent lack of understanding of its objectives due to the disciplines still establishing itself in between art and design (Dumitriu, 2017). Additionally,  she also suggests that bioart is still unheard of in some countries which illustrates it as a discipline that is still in development (Dumitriu, 2017). This was also highlighted in Design and The Elastic Mind 8 years ago. For example, it was observed that wherever there was feedback of lack of public understanding, this gave the scientific community an increased awareness of how experimental collaborations are perceived risky to a public audience as their outcomes are not always visible from the outside (Antonelli, 2008) and the outcomes only emerge once the collaborative process is undertaken (Fitzgerald & Callard, 2015).

  • 2.2 Differences between science and art based subjects

Within the last decade, although the arts are being increasingly used to communicate science-based projects via community learning, raising awareness and creating an openness between the public and researchers, there is a progressive understanding of the need to establish a superior method of communication for science based art projects, as there is an ongoing difficulty communicating them (Lesen, Rogan & Blum, 2016). This difficulty in communicating science based art projects is addressed in an email interview with Dr Katy Barrett (2017) Curator of Art Collections at The Science Museum, London. Here, Barrett (2017) suggests that although the question on whether the public’s perception of bioart has altered in the last decade is difficult to establish, the historical perception of science and visual art as two separate disciplines is still prevalent in today’s society.

“Difficult to say. We are certainly still dogged by the ‘two cultures’ idea, but I think visitors can be as equally intimidated by art and science. Art can be seen as elite, science as too difficult. The government’s STEM education agenda over the last few years has definitely led to a push on science subjects as more economically valuable for students. Yet, science is often seen as a school subject, not something integral to everyone’s daily lives. I think museums have been important in expanding the idea of science as not just technical but cultural.” (Barrett, 2017).

Thus, similarly to Dumitriu’s (2017) opinion, Barrett (2017) suggests that there is a difficulty in accessing the change of public perception in science related art over the last decade. According to Barrett (2017) there is still a prevalent perception of art and science as two separate disciplines, each subject governed by social prejudices and rigid perceptions which arguably developed from the 19th century. Thus, this could be a reason behind the public’s lack of understanding of bioart’s objectives and role.

Additionally, when evaluating the long history between art and science, historically both subjects were once a combined discipline, where the understanding of materials and properties and the development of art forms e.g. metal-working seen as scientific, particularly during the Renaissance period (Ashley-Smith, 2000). However, the current difference between the disciplines can be shown as far back as the 19th century, due to variations between the methodologies and languages used between the sciences and the arts (Wright & Linney, 2006). Additionally this is illustrated in a quote by Wright & Linney (2006):

“The modern roots of this perceived opposition may be found within the curricula of many educational institutions, where the expectation - or even the possibility - of a dialogue between artists and scientists is denied at an early and influential stage of a student’s development.”  (Wright & Linney, 2006, p.4).

Consequently, in agreement with Barrett (2017), Wright and Linney (2006) support the assumption that within the last ten years, there have been ongoing cultural differences between the sciences and the arts which are still in existence. For example, this is illustrated in a cultural divide between scientific and artistic practitioners who either believe interdisciplinary work is beneficial and natural, and additionally, others who only believe in their own expertise, who believe experimentation is unimportant (Wright & Linney, 2006). Thus, these ongoing divides between disciplines are a curatorial issue when establishing interdisciplinary subjects such as bioart, due to an ongoing difference and separation in the language and communicative strategy used in their communication (Wright & Linney, 2006). This can be stemmed from continuous scientific advancement and a lack of words that denounce science and art as one entity (Ashley-Smith, 2000). For example, this is illustrated in traditional perceptions of the disciplines- art is seen as a concept that involves artistic freedom, whereas science deals with organisation and rule (Ashley-Smith, 2000).

However, although these differences are still apparent between the subjects, museums and their exhibitions are increasingly aware of, and are critical in illustrating interdisciplinary partnerships and projects to a public audience (Barrett, 2017). This gives implications into the increasing awareness that current curators, practitioners and organisations have in effectively communicating outcomes and processes of science and art based projects (e.g. bioart), particularly when the partnerships are still largely new to a public audience and not initially visible (Fitzgerald & Callard, 2015).

Chapter 3

  • 3.1 Establishing reasons behind the increased interest towards bioart. Distinguishing if there is a difference in perception of various organisms in bioart projects.

Arguably, although there is an increased awareness of bioart communication, and a progressive interest in bioart, and its role as a creative subject, bioart projects and exhibitions are often still perceived as ‘shocking’ and ‘unorthodox’, which is similar to how the public initially perceived Alba over a decade ago. However, one reason behind the developed interest could not only be due to increased public access to bioart projects but also the unorthodox nature of bioart exhibitions which have increasingly gained the public’s attention (Dijk, 2016). This can be illustrated in an exhibition called Visceral, that was held within The Science Gallery, Dublin, in 2011. Exhibited was Kathy High’s Blood Wars (Figure 6) where white blood cells from various individuals ‘battled’ within a petri dish (Science Gallery Dublin, 2011).


Figure 6. Kathy High’s Blood Wars.

Additionally another project exhibited in Visceral was called ‘Cryobook Archives’ designed by Tagny Duff (Figure 6.5). Here, books were constructed from both pig and human skin cells and tissues using tissue culture engineering (Science Gallery Dublin, 2011).

Figure 6.5 Cryobook Archives, Tagny Duff.

Visceral aimed to arouse emotions and excite the public’s moral sensibilities to question cutting-edge research into the materials and processes of life (Science Gallery Dublin, 2011). However although the exhibition aimed to excite, it was also challenging to behold for its public audience as it raised ethical questions of exhibiting living material (High, 2007). This is similar to the viewpoint held by Adams (2015). As a journalist from the Telegraph, Crichton-Miller (2011) quotes:

“The results, as the title of the exhibition suggests, can be disturbing. Many people will be put off by the idea of live experiments in which segments of DNA, tissue cultures, cell lines, breast milk, viruses, neurons and so on are set to work for artistic purposes.” (Crichton-Miller, 2011, p.1).

Thus, in light of this, it could be that although western society's perception of bioart has altered to view it as a critical artistic subject, and although organisations are progressively aware of language differences between the disciplines involved (Catts & Zurr, 2003) there is an continuous uneasiness regarding bioart’s objectives, methodologies and implications. Additionally, the public is still uncomfortable with research interfering with biologically 'fixed' living organisms (Crichton-Miller, 2011).

  • 3.2 Case study: Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015.

Additional research has suggested that there is a difference between how the public currently perceives various organisms in exhibitions (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Specifically, that individuals perceive lower level organisms such as bacteria and microorganism differently to higher level organisms such as animals and humans (Kerbe & Smit, 2015). For example, this is illustrated in a study by Kerbe and Schmidt (2015). Specifically, the study addressed how a public audience witnessing a bioart exhibition perceived this form of art. It analyzed the audience goers opinions in regards to the ethical questions that the show resulted in (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015).  The exhibition involved ten contemporary artists who employed biotechnological methods into their artistic practice to create and modify living organisms (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Specifically, 119 visitors to the Synth-ethic exhibition in Vienna were given semi-structured interviews (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). The outcomes of the interviews suggested that there is a hierarchy of living organisms concerning their use and exhibition as a ‘designed object’ (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Specifically, the results of the interviews suggested that for the majority of visitors, the utilization of lower organisms, e.g. bacteria, does not pose as an ethical issue when displayed in an exhibition (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). This, however, is in comparison to the integration of ‘higher organisms’ such as animals and humans, where the artwork was not seen as ethically acceptable (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015).  Additionally, there were ‘conscious’ living organisms displayed, and in the majority of cases, this resulted in a critical and negative reaction towards the exhibition (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Furthermore, although all the visitors tolerated the use of living organisms within the exhibition, it was noted, however, that the use of higher organisms, makes the artwork stand out more and as it induces a complexity and increased interest (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). This supports research which suggests that when a bioart exhibition is increasingly ‘controversial’  it gains more public interest. Thus, when discussing the change of perceptions of bioart within the last decade, although society progressively views bioart as a creative discipline, there is still a profound interest in its ‘unorthodox nature’ and its ethical implications. Additionally, that there is a large difference in public opinion of bioart projects depending on the organism (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015).

However, the results of the study conducted by Kerbe and Schmidt (2015) suggested that the hybrid and interdisciplinary nature of the exhibition may trigger a delusional state of understanding which causes an uneasiness (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Specifically, it was implied that the crossover activity between the individual's understanding of science and art is merged and confused, including the objectives of each discipline (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). This supports the previous research outlined within this paper, which suggests that although individuals have an increased interest in bioart, there is still difficulty in establishing its aims and objectives. Additionally, the visitors within Kerbe and Schmidt (2015) study had mixed reactions to the exhibition, on whether it was to be classified as art and design or not, as the researchers noted that visitors often believed that it was a science exhibition rather than an art and design exhibition,and in some cases, referred to the exhibition as too abstract and confusing (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Although this is the opposite of Kac’s (2017) current opinion that the public understands and accepts bioart. However the results of this study support the opinions of Dumitriu (2017) and Barrett (2017) as established in their interviews, that there is a difficulty analyzing the change in public perception of bioart, and additionally, that there are still difficulties in science-based art communication. Additionally, as previous research suggests, this could be due to the fact that there are tensions between advances in bioethics and technology, and that of cultural developments e.g. language between disciplines (Myers, 2015).

However, despite this concern, this research gives valuable insight into the reason why the public might have developed a greater interest in bioart as not only are bioart exhibitions increasingly prevalent, they are often ‘unorthodox’ as illustrated by exhibitions such as Visceral. This is additionally supported by Dijk (2016) who suggests that in order to critique biotechnology efficiently, bioart needs to reach a broad range of people to make a substantial difference, which is only done when a project ‘spectacle.’

  • 3.3 Case study: Victimless Leather.

An additional bioart  project exhibited within the last decade that has resulted in a large amount of public attention is Victimless Leather (Figure 7) which was displayed in Design and the Elastic Mind in 2008. Exhibited by bioart organisation SymbioticA, Victimless Leather critiqued and observed how living objects can be shaped in the near future, and the responsibilities designers have in making them (Cogdell, 2011).


Figure 7. Victimless Leather, Catts and Zurr.

Victimless Leather was a small coat, constructed from mice stem cells (Cogdell, 2011). Designed by Catts and Zurr (2003) the tiny ‘semi-living’ coat was two inches tall, grown in vitro via tissue-engineering (Cogdell, 2011). The coat was grown for five weeks and it was kept alive at MoMA via a bio-nutrient fluid and a peristaltic pump (Cogdell, 2011). The material was constructed via a biodegradable polymer scaffold, which was designed in the shape of a modern jacket, whereby incorporated into the structure was connective stem cell tissue from a mouse. By constantly ‘feeding’ the cells nutrients, the cells replicated, and grew over the scaffold, resulting in  a small jacket that was essentially ‘living’ (Cogdell, 2015). Eventually, however, the technology which circulated the fluid and the nutrients to keep the coat ‘alive’ was turned off by MoMA’s curators, as the cells were growing too much, and consequently the nutrients to the cells were turned off (Cogdell, 2015). The project gave rise to serious ethical implications being explored, which arguably resulted in the public taking an increasing interest. Specifically, many researchers criticized this project as a fetishization of living organisms (Cogdell, 2015). One, in particular, the common usage of Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS). Harvested from bovine fetuses, taken from pregnant cows going for slaughter, FBS is a component of animal cell culture media (Jochems, Van der Valk, Stafleu & Baumans, 2003). Specifically, there are ethical issues in the method employed in fetal bovine blood harvesting, as it is taken via cardiac puncture without anesthetic (Jochems et al, 2003). Thus, as a result, the creation of living systems for artistic ends such as Victimless Leather generated public resentment, highlighting the control of humanity (Vaage, 2016). Arguably, the negative reaction of using living material for an artistic means is similar to the perception of Alba in 2000. Thus, although society may have progressively begun to view bioart as an artistic subject, there are still issues in public understanding of the usefulness of bioart projects and the ethical implications in its curation.

Additionally, in relation to bioart’s increasing recognition within the last decade, the Victimless Leather project might have drawn increased public attention due to its originality and the perceived unethical nature. Furthermore, Victimless Leather raised awareness of the advancement of bioart as a critical tool to question the concept of life, and the position of the Homosapien in regards to the environment and other living specimens (Catts & Zurr, 2003).

Consequently, having exhibited Victimless Leather, researchers Catts and Zurr (2003) illustrated the need for a diverging curatorial methodology in which to communicate living organisms.  Here, the researchers observed that a new approach was needed to ensure the maintenance and communication of live projects within the gallery space (Dean, 2016). Specifically, as exhibiting bioart entails the question of predictability of life and containing it within the prescribed frames (Catts & Zurr, 2003). This is highlighted in a quote by Catts (2012):

“My role as an artist (and to some extent a critical designer) is to culturally scrutinize that which we still do not have a (cultural) language to engage with. He knowledge about life generated in the last 200 years provides a fertile ground for cultural scrutiny.” (Catts, 2012, as cited in Myers, 2012 p. 271).

Thus, similarly to the research previously highlighted within this paper, Catts (2012) suggests that there is still a lack of language in which to engage and debate bioart projects, which could result in the public’s lack of understanding or a project’s confused message. For example, in Victimless Leather, one ethical and environmental issue that arose in its curation was the transformation of it as being regarded as ‘living material’ to a ‘waste material’ (Radomska, 2016). Specifically, Catts and Zurr (2003) highlighted the inconsistency of phenomena classified as ‘living’, and its transformation into being classified as ‘waste’ and consequently, the communication of this process (Radomska, 2016). Although this research does not give insight into the changing perception of the discipline, it may give implications into the ongoing lack of understanding of the objectives of bioart exhibitions due to the lack of communication.

  • 3.4 Case study: Biotechn for Artists Workshop

Thus, as suggested by Catts and Zurr (2003) in their Victimless Leather project, one issue in the negative perception of bioart could be its diverse classification of materials, and thus the inconsistent language used in curating and communicating bioart exhibitions and projects. Therefore, as briefly identified, the issue of classification is a prevalent issue in the curation of biological art (Catts, 2012). This limitation can also be demonstrated in a case study into Biotechn for Artists Workshop organised by the Biophilia Laboratory and SymbioticA, lead by Oron Catts and Marika Hellman (Radomska, 2016). The workshop examined the procedures of mammalian tissue engineering and explored how to critique the procedure for eliminating living organisms and the ethical implications and the methodology involved (Radomska, 2016). It was observed that as the project was being undertaken, the cells were classified as ‘living’ however when the workshop was over, the same living cells were categorised as a ‘waste’ material (Radomska, 2016).  The workshop illustrated that there are cultural imaginaries that the curator should be progressively aware of (Radomska, 2016). For example, society’s stance on contagion and of diffusion of responsibility between artists and scientists and categorizing and labeling an object as waste or living at a micro-level (Radomska, 2016). Therefore, in understanding life processes and creating living organisms, the workshop implied that curators need to increasingly address the issue of disposable material and to illustrate this process to their audience- specifically regarding the change in classification of materials from living to a waste material (Radomska, 2016). Thus in light of this research, and as supported by additional projects discussed, there is an ongoing need for curators to fully enable their audiences to understand the scientific processes that are involved in the delivery of a bioart projects and their ethical and environmental implications (e.g. the disposal of ‘waste’ material). Therefore in the development of the public’s perception of bioart, there is an ongoing need for an effective communication strategy of the scientific and creative processes involved in the creation of bioart projects and a united code of object classification (Radomska, 2016).

  • 3.5 Elaborating on the increased awareness of communication. Comparisons between past and present bioart projects.

However, due to increased awareness of the benefits of increased communication, one reason for the change in perception to view bioart as a creative discipline and ‘art’ could be that although the public still often views the discipline as ‘unusual’  and often ‘unorthodox’, it is progressively being communicated more effectively. This can be illustrated when comparing past bioart projects to current ones. For example, this is shown in the initial miscommunication of Alba. Specifically, Alba illustrated how much information should be expected from an artwork (Levy, 2011). For example, although Kac presented Alba as glowing green to his public audience, there was a counter-story from the scientist who collaborated with Kac, who suggested that although the lab did produce a rabbit which had the GFP protein incorporated into its DNA, it did not glow a complete uniform green (Levy, 2006). Thus, this implies that Kac presented Alba in a different light to the scientist he collaborated with. This is an ethical and communicative issue within Kac’s Alba project and gives implications into whether artists should be allowed to encourage others to perform genetic engineering that they, themselves, have not undertaken and commissioned (Levy, 2011). Furthermore, this gives implications in Kac misrepresenting scientific information to his public audience and the importance of language and correct dialogue used in discussing a project (Catts & Zurr, 2003).

Chapter 4.

  • 4.1 Case study: Spit Crystal, The Science Gallery, London

As shown in Victimless Leather and Biotechn for Artists Workshop, practitioners today are increasingly aware of the importance in the classification of materials and objects, and the language used in discussing  bioart projects (Catts, 2012). Specifically, due to advancement of the interdisciplinary nature of science-based art projects, other bioart and biodesign related exhibitions since Design and The Elastic Mind have increasingly become aware of this issue, and have since communicated more effectively. For example, in 2016, The Science Gallery in London exhibited work from Ines Camara Leret, a designer who constructed a bio artwork of a crystal formed by the crystallization of her saliva (Leret, 2016).  In an interview conducted for The Creators Project, VICE, Leret discussed the cultural attitudes towards her bioart project and bioart’s relevance in contemporary culture. Specifically, Leret highlighted the effectiveness of direct communication with her audience, to allow the public to have an active experience in understanding the process of her work (Leret, 2016).

“There are many different cultural attitudes towards saliva. In Spit Crystal, I’m taking something as unimportant as spit and turning it into a more visible construct.  Currently, I’m collaborating with Science Gallery London who has allowed me to work alongside salivary researchers from King's College, to investigate the crystallization process, and whether or not the geometries in the crystal could give insight about the donor’s health. I reflect upon the relationship we establish with our environment through these cyclical and ephemeral materials. By using unconventional materials my projects are highly experimental but simultaneously participatory; allowing for a more direct engagement with the audience and hopefully shifting the passive experience of art to an active and a pivotal one.” (Leret, 2016, as cited in Marks, A, 2016 ).

Figure 8. Spit Crystal, Ines Leret (2016)

As suggested by Leret, in order to communicate bioart projects increasingly effectively, there should be increasing interaction with a public audience and involve direct engagement to shift the ‘passive’ experience of bioart into an ‘active’ one in order to aid the general public’s understanding of bioart, its importance and the scientific methods of its construction (Leret, 2016).

  • 4.2 Case study: MEART project, SymboticA

 

As previously addressed, a change in bioart in the last decade is an increased awareness of the subject’s initial communication limitations. As a result, many bioart project currently aim to encourage a public forum and dialogue to address the public’s fear of biotechnology and increase their understanding of bioart (SymbioticA, 2017). For example, a prominent research facility within the bioart field is SymbioticA, which aims to examine artistic inquiry within the life sciences (SymbioticA, 2017). Currently, SymbioticA’s research is dedicated to establishing new materials via artistic manipulation, developing technology to be used as a creative tool kit, and researching implications and strategies for presenting ‘living’ designs in various contexts (SymbioticA, 2017). For example, a project entitled MEART (Figure 9) by SymbioticA Research Group, utilized rats’ neurons to move a robotic arm to produce drawings on paper with the aim to critique using neurons for technological devices (Catts & Zurr, 2003).


Figure 9. MEART by SymbioticA Research.

One of the aims of MEART was to encourage a public forum and dialogue to address the public’s fear of the ‘unknown’ biotechnological industry and to examine the advances and communication of biotechnology (Bakkum et al, 2007). Specifically in MEART, it was shown that the negative public perception of bioart could be due to the public’s belief that biological research is believed to improve artificial intelligence (Potter, 2007). Furthermore, adverse reactions to the project stemmed from the ethic of utilizing living material (Bakkum et al, 2007). This is similar to the public reactions of Alba and Victimless Leather. Specifically as using living animals’ neurons raises ethical questions regarding consciousness and the ability to feel stress and pain (Bakkum et al, 2007). Additionally, research has shown that general public perception arguably sways when the use of animals is not for ‘art’ is seen as a useful scientific tool, e.g. to understanding how neural networks process information (Bakkum et al, 2007). Overall, although SymboticA aimed to increasingly communicate bioart, MEART illustrated the ongoing public concerns regarding the developing partnership of biology and technology and the role that humans play in constructing life (Catts & Zurr, 2003). Additionally, the project gives implications into the ethics of semi-living constructions and their human qualities, e.g. memory and creativity (Bakkum et al, 2007). Thus, this supports the belief that, since Alba, organisations such as SymboticA have progressively been effective in communicating biotechnological research to their public audiences. However, when examining the perceptions of MEART, negative public reactions were centered around describing the MEART as ‘an artist.' Specifically, that MEART had an array of characteristics of a human artist (Bakkum et al, 2007). For example, the construction exists and lives, and eventually dies, and leaves behind a range of works for people to view and critique (Bakkum et al, 2007). In addition, a subsequent argument is that MEART can not be labeled as a designer because it is a human-made construction (Bakkum et al, 2007). This also results in ethical implications involving the intellectual property right ethics of exhibiting MEART’s artwork within a gallery space. (Bakkum et al, 2007). Additionally, this research channels into the argument of whether or not MEART was an ‘art’ project or not (Bakkum et al, 2017). This is similar to Kac’s Alba project, as MEART is arguably subjected to public opinions on whether this project only illustrated the outcomes of scientific research, and is ethically immoral to be utilized and perceived as ‘art’ (Michell, 2010). Thus, MEART builds on the assumption that organisations are increasingly aware of their need to communicate scientific research to inform the public, but additionally highlights the ongoing difficulty in communicating interdisciplinary science and art based projects due to their ethical implications and historical classification.This is supported by Barrett (2017) who, as previously identified, suggests that there is an ongoing outlook of science and art being two separate cultures, which is often stemmed from primary and secondary education.

  • 4.3 Case study: The BioArt Initiative

Additionally, the need for increased science and art related communication has also been championed by the multitude of various bioart organisations in collaboration with universities. For example, Starting in 2007, The BioArt Initiative was a project examining and critiquing ethics of biotechnology and engineering life (High, 2007). The organisation saw the potential for the need to develop a critically engaged culture between science and art; bringing together the latest biological and biotechnology to a world-class creative community (High, 2007). Initiated by a group of designers interested and concerned with the issues surrounding the ethics of curating bioart, the goal of the research was to bridge the gap between the discourse of the discipline and the public's understanding of the cultural and social implications of bioart and biodesign (High, 2007). One project exhibited was called ‘Waste to Work’ (Figure 10) by Daniela Kostova and Olivia Robinson constructed a sweat-powered battery using human sweat collected from various activities involving physical labor (High, 2007).  

 Figure 10. ‘Waste to Work’

Projects such as Waste to Work were successful in raising ethical questions and illustrating the need to reflect on communication between artistic and scientific collaborations (High, 2007).  Additionally, another aim of the organisation was to establish a collaborative and working space for artists, designers, and scientists (High, 2007). For example, within ‘In the presence of the body’ an exhibition curated by Kathy High, The BioArt Initiative was successful in introducing the local community to the collaboration between science and art, critiquing where their relationship stands as a mediator between society and current research in science (High, 2007). Additionally, the exhibition provided a fruitful working space for artists and scientists, fostering communication with each other (High, 2007). The feedback from the show highlighted that not only are artistic responses beneficial in understanding and critiquing biotechnological research but local exhibitions such as ‘In The Presence of The Body’ foster an openness between the local, artistic and scientific community (Yetisen, et al 2015). Thus, this gives further implications that the increased prominence of bioart exhibitions in the last 12 years has resulted in a progressive awareness due to the development of a openness and dialogue between the general public and the scientific community. Additionally, by universities fostering communication between researchers of different disciplines, this resulted in The BioArt Initiative becoming increasingly aware of communicating their artistic and scientific processes (High, 2007). This is similar to The Science Gallery’s Spit Crystal Project, as it highlights that communicating the artistic and scientific processes in the construction of a bioart project is useful in successfully communicating the work to a public audience. Additionally, when applied to curatorial theory, this is advantageous as instead of focusing on the object; research implies that by focusing on the process of an object’s creation, the act of joint conversation and reflection is an advantage (Ratto, 2011).

Chapter 5

  • 5.1 Language differences between projects

As suggested throughout this paper, language is important in the communication of bioart, as it is a powerful methodology of interpretation as it not only conveys information, but also influences and constructs knowledge about objects and themes (Gazi, 2014). Specifically, designers and curator’s language choices influences the public’s mindset of an exhibition and the information the exhibition portrays (Moser, 2010). This is useful to acknowledge, as every exhibited object and how it is explained and interpreted has a specific impact on how visitors react to the information (Gazi, 2014). Additionally, this is supported by research that has suggested that even though some language and terminology choices in the creation of an exhibition are mundane, this also contributes to the public’s attitude of an exhibition (Ravelli, 2006). This is because the language used in art and design projects, like any subject, create a particular image of the discipline, which constructs a representational framework (Gazi, 2014). Thus, the importance of language choice in communicating an interdisciplinary subject is paramount. Additionally, the importance of marketing and communicating science based art is highlighted in an interview with Dr Barrett (2017):

“The challenges should largely be similar: communicating a clear argument, creating a distinct and evocative design, showcasing important collections, working with artistic/scientific stakeholders. Sometimes scientific objects can be practically more challenging than fine art ones – more large 3d objects with potentially hazardous elements, and possibly less visually stimulating. Some science subjects may be more off-putting for visitors, so need more careful explanation and marketing.” (Barrett, 2017).

Thus Barrett’s (2017) opinion supports research highlighted within this paper that science based art exhibitions need to be communicated and marketing increasingly more effectively in order to aid the public’s lack of understanding of the objectives and concepts of multidisciplinary approaches, such as bioart.  

In addition, the importance of language choice in bioart and the surrounding fields (e.g. biotechnology and biodesign) can be illustrated in biotechnological research which suggests that public attitude can be changed by the variations among information provided about the project e.g. language choice (Qin & Brown, 2007). For example, a study into the perceived risks of GE foods suggested that providing benefit only information reduced the level of perceived risks compared to providing beneficial information (Kolodinsky et al., 2004). Additionally research has suggested that wording choice affects people’s attitudes (Qin & Brown, 2007). For example, in a study by Hallman and Aquino (2003) the term ‘biotechnology’ was increasingly thought of as a positive word over that of ‘genetic engineering’ and ‘genetic modification.' However, although this research gives further implications into the importance of language choice in communicating biological concepts, this  research is related to biotechnology within the food industry. Thus, we cannot rely on it to give a full overview on the effect of language upon bio-artworks and exhibitions and how they affect attitudes and behaviours of visitors experiencing a bioart exhibition or project.

Thus, the language and communication issues in bioart projects supports the need to establish an effective dialogue and further communicative exchange between both the scientific and artistic fields in the creation of bioart (High, 2007). For example, in many of the bioart projects illustrated, the mediums and methodologies are classified differently by various researchers of different disciplines which results in a lack of understanding and confused meaning between the disciplines (High, 2007). For example, Alba is classified as a bioart project and is accepted and viewed as such, however, in comparison ANDi, a green fluorescent monkey inserted with the same jellyfish protein is thought of and classified as a biotechnical project (Annas, 2006). Thus, although both projects are similar in their design process and involve the same method in utilizing GFP, they are classified in divergent ways, which arguably results in the public perceiving each project differently (Annas, 2006). This further supports research that suggests that the current language used in art, science, technology and design is inconsistent (Catts & Zurr, 2003). Additionally, as previously suggested, this might be due to the fact that each discipline still has divergent goals (Ashley-Smith, 2000). This issue within the bioart field is illustrated by a quote by Catts (2012):

“The main issue with almost all types of cross-disciplinary collaboration is that of language. The same words and expressions is that of language. The same words and expressions can mean totally different things for different disciplines, let alone the specialized jargon that each discipline maintains. There are also the differing methodologies and the meanings in experimentation in science and art and design.” (Catts, 2012 as cited in Myers, 2012, p272).

Additionally, this issue is also exhibited in the diverse words that are used to describe the same project, which creates communication problems between disciplines (Catts & Zurr, 2003). For example, although Alba has been characterised as ‘bioart,' Kac maintains that this project is a form of ‘transgenic art’ which is can be defined as a creative tool based on genetic engineering which transfers synthetic or natural genetics into new organisms (Kac, 2011). A further example is that there are overlaps and parallel terms for projects that would be classified as ‘bioart’ (Koivunen, 2005). For example, biomimicry, bio sculpture, bioporn, sciart, geneart (Koivunen, 2005). Bioart has also been named ‘art in the biotech era’ (Pandilovski, 2008), and ‘cultural research dealing with biotechnology’ (Thacker, 2006). Additionally, projects by the same artist have been described by different terms (Labrecque, 2014). This is also illustrated in the fact that Sean Morris named his publication ‘Is this bioart?’ which evaluated what counts as ‘bioart’ (Morris, 2011).This is issue is additionally highlighted in a quote by Annas (2006):

“Whether using a similar technique as an art exhibit would constitute bioart, biotechnology, or biohazard (or even bioterrorism) may be in the eye of the beholder even more than in the eye of the artist or scientist.” (Annas, 2006, p.2718).

Additionally, the issues in the current language used in discussing and describing bioart is further illustrated in the results of the Kerbe and Schmidt (2015) study, which suggested that there was a lack of symbols, objects and protocols for both artists, designers, and scientists to use to engage with each other and the public (Myers, 2015). However an observed advantage of this was that  visitors began to explore and revisit their understanding of bioart, its importance and implications of the study and additionally what constitutes as a ‘living form’ with ‘life’ (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Furthermore, Kerbe & Schmidt (2015) noted that if an audience member was confused by the exhibition, they remarked that the exhibition was lacking a clear statement on the rights and wrongs of the ethical boundaries of exhibitions.  Thus, this study further suggests that curators of bioart exhibitions need to establish increased scientific communication and increasingly guide visitors regarding the ethical implications of the exhibition (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Additionally, it was noted that although many visitors acknowledged the hybrid art-science nature of the exhibition, audience member still wanted to classify the projects and exhibits as either science or art  (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Furthermore, Kerbe & Schmidt ( 2015) also noted that the individuals who saw the exhibition as an ‘art exhibition’ had much less difficulty with scientific information. This suggests that when curating a bioart exhibition for a public audience, synthetic biology is still difficult to comprehend, as audience members have a lack of understanding of what it constitutes ‘genetic engineering’ or ‘synthetic biology’ (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015).  Additionally, the study demonstrated the need for boundaries within the progression of technology and its ethical implications, to understand and control the ‘unfamiliar’ (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Thus, that there was a difficulty creating, defining and communicating boundaries between nonliving and the living (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). This is similar to the issue of classification of ‘waste’ material as demonstrated in Victimless Leather. Specifically, it was suggested that the language used in how the exhibition was curated, and the lack of boundaries results in a lack of understanding and uneasiness in the perception of visitors (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Thus, when applied to curatorial practice, this suggests that without a large scientific effort from the curator, the hybrid collaboration of art and science is often confusing for a public audience (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Thus with this knowledge, increased explanation on not only the projects, but the reasons behind why they have been constructed would aid the understanding of the discipline and consequently, the public would perceive bioart differently.

It is useful to note, however, that within Kerbe and Schmidt (2015) study the audience members were highly educated, which raises the implications and validity of applying the results to a wider context of bioart and biodesign exhibitions.  Furthermore, it suggests that the implications of the two subjects is restricted to the elite- a highly engaged and educated audience. Additionally, the study did not include scholars within the field (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015). Thus, this further implies the need of curators to establish an increasingly effective dialogue to aid communication to a public audience. Similarly to current bioart projects exhibited, within the last five years, it gives implications into the current perception of bioart: that there is still an ongoing confusion in where the discipline stands, although the public is increasingly receptive towards it (Kerbe & Schmidt, 2015).

Thus, these studies and exhibitions highlight the inconsistency in how society perceives exploitation of living systems, and the inconsistency of current curatorial practice and the language used in communicating the projects. However, they do suggest that within the last decade, bioart projects and exhibitions have grown to become critical in informing the public about new technologies and advances in science (Radomska, 2016). Thus, when evaluating the change in public perception of bioart within the last decade, arguably there has been an increased awareness of communication and language issues. This is shown within the ongoing and current need for an international language in which to communicate bioart projects (Catts, 2012).

Additionally, following the issues in language choice, research has also implied  area in which an exhibition is curated and the methodology by which it is constructed is important in the development of an informative exhibition (Orbist, 2014). For example, can a white-cube space, or a generic and basic exhibition space be integrated aesthetically to form an environment where bioart and biodesign is curated into an informative experience? Dean (2016) suggests that there is a danger that as bioart phenomena are not within their ‘natural environment’, e.g. a laboratory, and that there is a distance between the audience and the exhibition and thus the curatorial vision. Thus, this implies that the narrative of an exhibition is not best expressed in such an environment, and arguably makes it increasingly difficult for an audience to fully understand in comparison to another contemporary art and design exhibition (Dean, 2016). Arguably within any contemporary design exhibition, there is a difference between the curated art gallery space, and the environment from which the designs was constructed but it also gives implications into divergent issues within curating a bioart exhibition. For example, due to the larger distance between the visitor and curatorial vision, arguably, bioart and biodesign exhibits are placed in a location that is much further away from a conformable and informative environment in which to view and understand the projects (Dean, 2015). This is supported by Dean (2015) who suggests that the environments and institutions by which bioart and biodesign exhibitions are placed in are different to the methodologies of enquiry and outcomes of natural contexts. This therefore implies that the another communication issue that curators need to be progressively aware of is the environment in which the narrative is placed. This is additionally illustrated in a study by Dean (2015). Here, different designer’s bioart exhibits were either placed in a laboratory, clinic or museum. The aim of the study was to critique whether via curating the exhibits in divergent spaces, the artists could communicate their exhibits better and audiences could better understand the exhibition (Dean, 2015). Additionally, the study critiqued what the opinium environment would be for an audience member to be brought into a collaborative relationships that inform and influence bioart and biodesign practice (Dean, 2015). The research proposal is illustrated in a quote by Dean (2015):

“Would an exhibition that integrated the social, political, scientific and historical situations that informed the making of the work enhance viewer experience and comprehension of the concepts and ideas in biomedical art?” (Dean, 2015, p.2).

The exhibition included three parts: New Enquiry, Engagement and Documents, offering an experimental space for the immersion in new artistic work in case studies. The study focused on the historical precedents in science and art, and provided an experimental context for scientific experimentation, curatorial discourse via research and case studies (Dean, 2016). The results of the study suggested that  experiencing bioart exhibitions first hand in their ‘natural’ laboratory spaces enables an increased understanding and analysis of the institutional and creative collaborations between the sciences and artists (Dean, 2016). Specifically, this provided a natural environment for visitors to successfully understand the exhibits due to interactive communication (Dean, 2016). Additionally, it gives the public insight into how the projects are constructed and maintained and their relevance (Dean, 2016). Thus, this research gives further implications into curating an exhibition space that would move away from the ‘traditional’ white cube exhibition context and provide an environment which fosters a natural space in which to effectively communicate bioart projects.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it has been highlighted that many of the initial public reactions towards bioart were morally and ethically against bioart and the utilization of living matter in art projects (Mitchell, 2010). As suggested, this is similar to the ‘Frankenstein fear’ prevalent historically in society regarding the consequence of scientific work and the role of technology in altering way of life and culture (Splicing Life Report, 1982). However despite negative reactions, it has been shown that initial bioart projects such as Alba were the first in illustrating that utilizing biotechnology was an effective artistic tool, in the creation of a new narrative and space in which to critique the developments in art, design and emerging biotechnologies (Myers, 2014). However, this paper has illustrated that this perception is complex and still in development as illustrated by Victimless Leather, MEART, the research by Kerbe & Schmidt (2015) and the opinion of bioartist, Dumitriu (2017). Additionally, this has been illustrated in an interview with Barratt (2017) who suggested that although museums are progressively aware of effectively communicating science and art based projects, there is still a difference in how the public perceive both subjects. Nevertheless, this thesis has suggested that within the last decade, although there are still variations in how the public perceives science and art, they have become increasingly receptive to biological developments and the acceptance of bioart as a creative discipline (Kac, 2017). As outlined, this is arguably due to the progressive public engagement with the discipline, due to the increase of publically displayed exhibitions e.g. Design and the Elastic Mind at MoMA. Furthermore, this could also be due to not only the change in art and design, as both subjects have become increasingly experimental, but also the increasing presence of biotechnology prevalent within our culture (Kac, 2017).

When accessing the change of perception of bioart, this paper supports the opinion that curators need to increasingly and effectively communicate the scientific processes of bioart projects, particularly when outcomes are not initially obvious for a public audience to understand (Fitzgerald & Callard, 2015). However, as highlighted, bioart exhibitions within the last decade have become progressively aware of this limitation and aim to increase public interaction and engagement in order to aid communication. For example, this is shown in The Science Gallery’s Spit Crystal project where the increased interaction with the public shifted the passive experience of art into an active one, which subsequently diffused the public’s lack of understanding of the bioart’s objectives (Leret, 2016). This understanding and awareness that researchers have recently developed is further shown in the fact that there is a multitude of various bioart organisations in collaboration with universities. For example, The BioArt Initiative, which is increasingly aware of establishing better communication between science and art.


Additionally, it has been illustrated that when accessing the perceptions of bioart projects, the negative reactions support research which suggests that when initially presenting individuals with a biological manipulation, there is often a sense of repugnance, due to the lack of articulation, or language from which to express it (Mitchell, 2010). Thus, as highlighted in many of the projects discussed within this paper, although within the last decade the public is more receptive of bioart, there are still continuous issues surrounding the negative reactions of unknown projects and practices. As highlighted, this could be due to the lack of a universal language in which to express, describe and critique unfamiliar creations (Mitchell, 2010). Thus, this thesis has suggested an awareness of the lack of a universal language in which to discuss and describe bioart projects which, although researchers are increasingly aware of, is still a prevalent limitation today. For example, this has been demonstrated in MEART,which aimed to encourage a public forum and dialogue in order to address the public’s fear of the ‘unknown’ implications of biotechnology (Bakkum et al, 2007). Additionally, in many of the bioart projects described, the mediums and methodologies are classified differently by various researchers of different disciplines which results in a lack of understanding and confused meaning between the disciplines (High, 2007). For example this is shown when accessing the difference in classification between Alba and ANDi (Annas, 2006). Additionally, this issue is also exhibited in the diverse words that are used to describe the same project, which creates communication problems between disciplines (Catts & Zurr, 2003).

Thus, the outcomes of research addressed within this paper are important when assessing the future implications of curating bioart exhibitions. This is additionally shown in how public attitude is changed by the variations among information provided about the project e.g. language choice (Qin & Brown, 2007). Therefore, this paper gives implications into the future curation of bioart exhibitions and the need to  progressively establish increased scientific communication and be increasingly critical of language choices when exhibiting bioart projects to a public audience. Additionally it has shed light on an awareness of the differences in terminology choices between disciplines and how this affects public perception. Thus, this paper gives implications that the increase of communication within various disciplines, public interaction and explanation of projects would aid the understanding of bioart and consequently, the public would continue to perceive the discipline differently.

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