Guest Blogger: Ann Williams, Art Director, SB&F
Image Credit: Eduardo Kac, Natural History of the Enigma, transgenic flower with artist’s own DNA expressed in the red veins, 2003/2008. Collection Weisman Art Museum. Photo: Rik Sferra.
Bio-art is an art practice that uses live tissues, bacteria, living organisms and life processes to create works of art. Adam Zaretsky is an artist, or "bio-artist," working on his PhD in Art and Biology at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute (RPI). His focus is on artistic uses and the social implications of molecular biology, tissue culture, genomics and developmental biology. He once played Engelbert Humperdincks's Greatest Hits to a dish of E.coli bacteria to determine whether vibrations or sounds influenced bacterial growth. While watching the bacteria increase, Zaretsky decided that perhaps even cells were annoyed by constant subjection to "loud, really awful lounge music."
Rensselaer's Department of the Arts is generally considered to be the first integrated electronic arts program within a research university in the United States and Zaretsky's work in the growing field of bio-art, is attracting artists, scientists and debate. They guide a mix of artists, scientists and medical students in the exploration of life sciences through projects that examine the human connection to living systems. A student might “paint” with genetically modified bacteria; in another, a student incorporates his or her self into a work of living art.
This blend of art and science is causing controversy also. Brazilian artist Eduardo Kac, and a leader in bio-arts, once had a microchip implanted in his body to make people contemplate the relationship humans have with technology. Kac and many other bio-artists have faced opposition from conservative groups who question the morality of their work and from animal rights groups accusing them of experimenting on living creatures for selfish reasons.
For other bio-artists, their work has led to legal challenges. Steven Kurtz, a professor at SUNY Buffalo, was once arrested on federal terrorism charges after police discovered certain types of bacteria and other biological materials in his home. Kurtz maintained that the specimens were for his bio-arts pieces and that he had been unfairly targeted for his choice of artistic expression. Subsequently, Kurtz was cleared of all charges of mail and wire fraud. He co-founded the theater group Critical Art Ensemble which explores the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism.
The problem with bio-art is that much of it seems shrouded in secrecy because of the laboratory setting. Rich Pell, director of the Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh said, ” With bio-art, rather than just freaking out about it, you can then go into a lab where things are actually happening and then have an 'educated freak-out.’”
More information on bio art can be found at:
This blog post is the first in a series of posts on science and art written by Ann Williams, the SB&F art director. Ann is an accomplished fine artist and illustrator. She has worked as a graphic designer,
publications manager, book illustrator, and art director., and has received numerous art and
design awards for her work.
27 Mar 2013 3:19 PM