Classifying BioTech Art brings about questions about the performative aspects of the manipulated living systems. At what point is BioTech Art separate from the natural processes of everyday living organisms? What is important to keep in mind is the context and intention behind each BioTech Art piece and the political ideologies they address. Artists which work in wet labs address issues of ethics in science but manipulating living organisms at the cellular level.
While focusing on the biological aspect of BioTech Artists, Pierre Hughye immediately came to mind. I experienced his multimodal art at LACMA. The large body of work exhibited could be interpreted as its own ecosystem in which living organisms such as ants, bees, a dog and the human audience interact with the pieces. This interactive corpus seemed to be a meta-analysis of life within a controlled environment. An aquarium contained a crustacean with a human mask, emphasizing the fascination humans have with a controlled and living environment. The aquarium piece was titled, "Recollection" and featured a live marine ecosystem. Hughye addresses a key aspect of BioTech art which is the "capacity to tie together vision, knowledge and the world of everyday life" (Hauser 2008).
Hughye's retrospective exhibition also featured a reclining female nude sculpture with a beehive on the head, again manipulating living organisms to interact with a classical medium of art with its historically temporal connotations. By juxtapozing these two modes of art, Hughye engages the audience in a commentary of the evolving nature of art and the blurred boundaries of what we frame as everyday living encounters and art.
After experiencing Hughye's work, I looked into his previous endeavors and found that he had also collaborated with a "Rockefeller University scientist to engineer living examples of the fictional butterflies" (Kennedy 2014). This attempt to alter "biological materials at discrete levels" (Hauser 2008) exemplifies the process based nature of BioTech Art, especially in Hughye's documentation through conceptual drawing:
A concept that was difficult for me to understand was the subject of architectural forms of biotech art. One artist mentioned in the Hauser article was Zbigniew Oksiuta. I found that his art has a specific intention addressing "Hamam expansion,"(Sybiotica, Still, Living) in which he bridges the concepts of the molecular manipulation in order to adapt to cosmic space. His architectural pieces create spaces in which humans may inhabit using "gelatin architectures and isopycnic systems" in order to calculate form instead of imposing simulated geometries.
What bioTech artists seems to possess is a profound scientific literacy which allows for the manipulation of the physical world. What will be interesting to see is how future art activists will use these means of expression to address the global crisis of climate change. A question I am still left with especially with the quickly evolving world of robotics, is NASA's Curiosity rover purely a scientific piece? Or is it similar to Eduardo Kac’s trans- genic art installation The Eighth Day, in which we are the bio-input just as the amoeba cells in Kac's piece?
Our creativity has driven us to develop tools that have advanced language and culture, giving us a sense of identity, which we have transcribed onto the living world around us. The question is will those notions of identity and cognition only be documented in the patterns we have manipulated or embodied by the living organisms developing phylogenetic linneages as an advantageous or detrimental? The field of biotech art inspires scientific literacy, creativity and self-critical qualities that are essential factors of success within the context of crisis.
Hauser, Jens. "Observations on an Art of Growing Interest." Tactical Biopolitics Art, Activism, and Technoscience (2008).
Kennedy, Randy. "Conceptual Anarchy. Pierre Hughye's Unpredictable Retrospective" The New York Times. (2014). http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/arts/design/fall-arts-preview-pierre-huyghes-unpredictable-retrospective.html
Oksuita, Zbigniew. Symbiotica presents... Still, Living. Web. <http://www.stillliving.symbiotica.uwa.edu.au/pages/artists/zbigniew.htm>
Greicius, Tony. "Curiosity Self-Portrait at 'Mojave' Site on Mount Sharp."NASA. NASA, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nasa.gov%2Fjpl%2Fmsl%2Fpia19142>.