Monday, April 22, 2013

Bio-Art/Newsflash: The Repercussions of Bio-Art.

So, this column has been deprived of a Newsflash owing to events last week. We also need a bio-art thing for this week. Hey, let's kill two birds with one stone!

Conveniently, SymbioticA, who has done a lot of entries on this very column, has said a few things regarding the consequences of bio-art and what it represents. That includes its symbolism now and what it means for the future of art, science, and artsy science.  I will be annotating things throughout this article, sticking blurbs in and bolding certain points.

Let's reblog!

"The panelists focused heavily on the way we categorise forms of life that would not exist without human intervention. Phil Ross, a bio-artist in the San Francisco area, emphasised the importance of incorporating these new organisms into the taxonomy of the natural world. He touted the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Center for PostNatural History, which is dedicated to organisms intentionally altered by humans, as an institution attempting to tackle the profound difficulties associated with such classifications.

Catts took the point a step further, noting that our catalogue systems have transitioned from the taxidermy animals that fill natural history museums to DNA libraries, which supposedly capture the essence of the animal. But removed from context, he argued, the DNA means next to nothing. “It’s not just new life forms we can’t classify,” he said, “but a new approach to life we can’t come to terms with.”

(In English: With human-engineered species constantly breaking the laws established by natural species, they don't fit into the already-established boxes that science loves to use.) 

Engineered cell cultures were not the only life forms the panelists struggled to classify. It turns out that putting bio-artists in a category is a challenge in itself. Tami Spector, an organic chemist at the University of San Francisco, pointed out how competitive the scientific field often is, especially when it comes to being “scooped”. Could engaging with science in such an intimate way, using its materials and methods, encourage the same degree of competition in artists?

Ross thought so, and added that because of his facility with microscopy and other highly technical methods, he suddenly has a voice as valid as that of anyone else in the scientific process. “You can dabble at the edge of science and suddenly you’re a scientist,” he said. Yet not everyone agreed. Catts, for one, insisted that he would never call himself a scientist by virtue of his art.

All this overlap between the technical methods and emotional motivations of scientists and artists culminated in a profound question: in the world of bio-art, where does science end and art begin? 

Ross, along with artist and writer Meredith Tromble of the San Francisco Art Institute, emphasised the importance of context. Tromble described her recent experiences working with computer programmers, and how her unique demands of them sometimes cast their own problems in a fresh light. Ross related similar experiences, saying that artists have the essential freedom to do the wrong thing or raise the ignorant question. “This very dumb question often belies the truth of what we do or don’t know,” he said.

Catts, though, was eager to keep art in its own category. Though some of the projects the fellows at SymbioticA take on do yield information that interests research scientists, Catts estimates they make up only about 5 per cent of the projects. But even then, these “secondary outcomes” are measured by something other than artistic merit, and Catts is concerned that if artists and scientists start to emphasise data over artistic value, the data will become the focus, to the detriment of the art.
The only function he was willing to concede to his art is its ability to stir conversation about important issues surrounding how we define and behave towards life. Beyond that, Catts insisted that art is defined by its uselessness. “My role as an artist is to maintain this last bastion of futility,” he said." - Source.

We've noticed this disparity, too, not just with bio-art, but with art in general. Art is not a very useful skill - or so it seems. Companies use artists, after all; it's not entirely useless. So, where are we drawing the line between art and science? Aesthetics are a factor, but useless? Tell that to GloFish.

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