BioArt: Between Science and Art #2

This is the continuation of our first article on BioArt, where we discussed the intersections between art and science, and dissected the special links between biology and art, and the birth of the BioArt Manifesto. In this second article, we will review the growing trend of biotech and the developing ecosystem around BioArt. In addition, we will discuss ethical concerns around BioArt, and we will end with books recommendation and resources for artists in this field.

Biology & BioTech, in trend

For years, biology and research institutes were in focus of both governments, investors and (tech) companies, and the pandemic brought biotech companies even more in focus. In Q4 2020, a report developed by PwC and CB Insights, showed that the vertical where most investments went was… biotech startups.
PWC REPORT
So, shortly there are several reasons why we can call the momentum of “biology” and BioArt is a good candidate to grow together, alongside or critically debating all that is happening in the field.

  • Biology as a science and the impact on society is becoming more and more visible. The evolutions in DNA research, molecular sequencing, debates about gene therapy, research around new bio-materials, or new ways for innovating in the food industry, etc. These are all elements that will have a tremendous effect on society, and of course, art (and everyone) has to reflect on these trends
  • Technologies discovered might offer new tools for artists, and in every century the discovery of a new tool led to the creation of new art forms and expressions.
  • BioTech companies and startups are growing, a development supported by many investors and companies
  • As a result, we can talk about a growing ecosystem around BioTech (formed of companies, labs, research institutes, investors, etc) that if it is not yet eager, will soon consider working closely with artists, as a means to make popular their tools and/or results. The BioTech market size showed a constant growth in the last years, and all future trends predict future growth, expecting to reach over USD 8oo billion by 2027
    (Global News Wire )
    As such, it is expected that also laboratories, research institutes, and companies to invest more and more in artworks.

BioArt Ecosystem

For an ecosystem to be formed, not only artists have to be interested, but a system has to be put in place: exhibition, awards, residencies, research programs, etc. And if, once upon a time, BioArt was a marginal field, now we can say it is trending. Important museums allocate space and time to exhibitions dedicated to BioArt. Beside the classical appearances in festivals such Ars Electronica, that for years focuses on intersections between art, tech and science, other important museums opened their doors. London-based BioDesign Festival, brings to the public projects that will shape our future and are at the intersection between biology, design, and technology.
More info on Opencell Page

The Design Museum in Gent organised an exhibition analyzing the relationship between animals and humans.
Nemo Museum in Amsterdam through the exhibition Future Food organized by Next Nature Network (Next Nature Network is the international network for anyone interested to join the debate on our future – in which nature and technology are fusing) looked at the way food and nutrition will change due to technology.
Future Food exhibition

Ethical questions

In the age of Big Science, and in particular Big Biology, Bio Art is rising to prominence, as art can offer a space for raising important questions. And ethically, artists need to reflect both on their practices and the impact that these important progress have on society and how they will be used.
When it comes to BioArt, there are several questions.
Obviously, with the proliferation of the ecosystem around BioArt and the growing market of biotech, ethicists, critiques or philosophers ask the uncomfortable question: Who is financing it and why?
Another version of the question can be: how can companies influence the artworks, its interpretations, using it at its own advantages? Or: what is the corporate agenda of those who are financing it?
The question is important, especially in the context of the financialization of the art market in the last 10 years, but also due to the financialization of biology. Artists need to be aware of it.

But, the financing part is not the only question, when it comes to ethics. In the case of bioart, the bio-canvas is formed by tissue, blood, genes, bacteria or viruses. These are not just visual elements, but also material, as Joanna Zylinska underlines it “they concern the very nature of existence in time, and of what we understand by seemingly self-evident concepts such as duration, emergence, reproduction and being alive. In works such as the Tissue Culture & Art Project by Catts and Zurr, and others by Stelarc and Eduardo Kac, life is being re-created, pushed to the limit, remoulded, remediated, cut and spliced back again”.
As such, a Bio-artist must be aware of the technologies they are using and the traps that come with them.
Laboratory technologies and material used are not neutral. Artists need a certain level of technology understanding and skills to work in the lab, as they should be aware of material and its history, uses, etc. There two main trap for artists, as stated by Robert Zwijnenberg: 1. “Dazzled by Science ” – artists are not able to keep up with the developments within science, and therefore cannot critically apply the technologies.
2. “Complicity Trap” – artists become instrumental in appeasing the public to unquestionably embrace new developments.

While Elisabeth Abergel, examines the relations between BioArt and the financialization of life itself through the bioeconomic apparatus of biosurveillance. She drew attention to the potential of contestational bioart to address the ways in which the life sciences are shaping market agendas through neoliberal politics and financialization.
Major scientific and technological innovations (RFID tags, VeriChips, animated tattoos, DNA chips, human barcodes, etc.) that enable the policing of “biological threats” have become integrated into the bioeconomic cultural apparatus and have inspired several bioartists. (More info on ResearchGate )

Few artists’ works are particularly critical.

Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg calls attention to the topic of genetic determinism, raising questions about how DNA information can be used or misused, in “Stranger Visions” projects

Artists Claire Pentecost and Beatriz Da Costa (Critical Art Ensemble), made Molecular Invasions. They rendered genetically modified (GM) RoundUp Ready crops (the most popular ones produced by Monsato) through a process of reverse engineering using chemical disruptors.
The idea was to repopulate with “anti-GM” plants the rural landscapes that GM crops have invaded.

Book Recommendation

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Glossary of BioArt term

DIY bio (Do-It-Yourself Biology) refers to new social movements within biotechnology where individuals or small groups (that received trainings) that claim to use the same methods as research institutions to study biology and life sciences.
Biohacking– scientific experiments with biological material, especially genes, done by people who are not official experts or scientists, either as a hobby or in order to make some benefits .The manipulation of DNA or other aspects of genetics either for fun, or maliciously.
Biological design– Bio-design (actual or conceptual) embodies an emerging design movement which incorporates the use of living materials, or ‘moist media,’ such as fungi, algae, yeast, bacteria, and cultured tissue. This can be as part of standard crafting methods or the more complex fields of biomimicry and synthetic biology.
-Synthetic biologySynthetic biology (SynBio) is a multidisciplinary area of research that seeks to create new biological parts, devices, and systems, or to redesign systems that are already found in nature. This includes genetic circuit design, computational methods, genetic systems and circuit design, viral engineering, cell design and construction, assembly platforms, DNA synthesis, synthetic metagenomics, pathway construction, gene optimization, protein engineering, metabolic engineering, programmed evolution, cellular manufacturing, mathematical modelling and engineering processes.
Tissue culture– a biological method of research in which fragments of tissue from an animal or plant are transferred to an artificial environment in which they can continue to survive and function. The cultured tissue may consist of a single cell, a population of cells, or a whole or part of an organ. Cells in culture may multiply; change size, form, or function; exhibit specialized activity (muscle cells, for example, may contract); or interact with other cells.

Grants and Residencies

  1. Ecsite
    https://bit.ly/2Z11eQv

2. Creative Industries Fund NL
https://stimuleringsfonds.nl/en/

3. Philadelphia Foundation Grant
https://bit.ly/3q6QxYC

4. Biofaction Artist in Residence programmes
https://bit.ly/3p6wzvQ

5. Stochastic Labs Residency
http://stochasticlabs.org/residencies/

6. Finnish Society of Bioart
https://bioartsociety.fi/projects/ars-bioarctica/pages/residency

7. Coalesce Center for Biological Art
https://www.buffalo.edu/gem/coalesce

8. ANAT
http://www.anat.org.au/program/anat-residencies/

9. Art+Bio Cultivo Field
http://www.artbiocultivo.org/

10. EUROPEAN MEDIA ART PLATFORM
https://call.emare.eu/

11. BAD Award
https://www.badaward.nl/about