Potential Contributions of
Bioartists to Research
Wilson, Professor Conceptual Information Arts, San
Francisco State University.
Science and Technology dominate contemporary world.
What is an appropriate response for the arts?
- Consumers of new tools - using them to create images, sounds etc
- Critical commentary from the
- Artists as researchers -
indepedent research agendas, inquiries, development of technology
Topics of Presentation
artist as researcher approach as it pertains
specifically to bioarts
- Enhance understanding of how
artists might contribute to research.
- Review the challenges of opportunities of artists
- Survey a few bioart projects from this
- Consider one of my own installations, Protozoa Games
Based on Research from book Information Arts: Intersections of Art,
Science, and Technology
- Surveyed Artists working with Research
- More work needed to understand how art and research might
influence each other
Much Interest in Exploring Value of Artists' Involvement in Research
- Michael Naimark, Rockefeller Report -"Truth, Beauty,
Freedom, and Money Technology-Based Art
and the Dynamics of
National Academy of Science (Michael Century et al) -"Beyond
Productivity: Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity"
Governmental and Private Arragements
Involvement of Artists
(artists will contribute valuable new ideas
result in better research or development or science/technolgy will
- Global (the culture at large will
by the confluence of these ideas from diverse disciplines.)
- Preface of Beyond Productivity illustrates pragmatic appeal
in culture; creative activities provide personal, social, and
and creative inventions (better recipes, not just more
increasingly recognized as key drivers of economic development. But
takes different forms at different times and in different places. This
argues that, at the beginning of the 21st century, information
is forming a powerful alliance with creative practices in the arts and
to establish the exciting new domain of information technology and
practices ITCP. There are major benefits to be gained from
supporting, and strategically investing in this domain
ITCP can constitute
important domain of research. It is inherently exploratory and
transdisciplinary. Concerned at its core with how people perceive,
and use information technology, ITCP has enormous potential for
reconceptualization and innovation in IT. In execution, it pushes on
boundaries of both IT and the arts and design. Computer science has
stimulated by exposure to new points of view and new problems, which
ever-present in the arts and design. Because of the breadth of use to
artists and designers put different forms of IT, and because they
not steeped in conventional IT approaches, artists' and
on tools and applications may provide valuable insights into the needs
kinds of IT users. The needs and wants of artists and designers can
ways of designing and implementing IT. Engaging their perspectives is a
extension of recent trends in cross-disciplinary computer science
Limited Focus of Presentation
- Can not analyze here the
impact of the art works in the larger culture -eg change in zeitgeist,
subtle changes in the psychology, sociology, politics of
science/research. May ultimately be the most important impact.
- Preliminary investigation
more specifically at how art might impact
the research world and its practitioners in a more concrete ways - with
special focus on bioarts
- Live with this ambiguity for
artists working on the frontiers of biological research certainly seem
doing culturally significant work. Their
contribution to art and to general cultural
research is easy to identify. Less clear how they
specifically influence the world of scientific research
- Limitations even in basic
- What would constitute a
contribution and by whose
- Maybe it is not
important that the art have an impact directly on the research world?
Deconstruction of Narratives
- Currently the most prevalent
theoretical approach in the arts and humanities
- Questioning the conceptual
frameworks - eg objectivity, external reality as a construct
- Deconstructing the language
used - for example, germs as invading armies, animals as the Other
- Unveiling the web of
this research and larger cultural structures (for example, cultural or
- Presumably any audience
encounters this work (including those who work as professional
will become more thoughtful about the cultural implications of research
- Core value of science is
supposedly radical self reflection and criticism
- Make cultural theory
required reading in the sciences?
- Problems with this approach. Many in the sciences
consider radical versions
nonsense. The normal canons and procedures of research are very
effective. Core values of science - there is a knowable, behaved
external world, one can move toward objectivity
- Beginnings of a new 2-culture problem. How might
critique be integrated into the siences.
Examples of How Bioartists Might Directly Influence Research
The pragmatic claim requires much more research. Need to
understand the claim and how influence might work.
- For example, Xerox PARC PAIR - Arist in Residence Program
(documented in Craig Harris ed. Art
and Innovation - everyone involved claimed benefits but hard to
point to specifics
- Similarly Information Arts
documents the phenomenological experience of benefit but had more
difficulty finding specifics
Some Influence Points in Research Process (from Information Arts)
- Artists might assign different priorities to
- Artists might ask different research questions
- Artists might help deconstruct unacknowledged
the frameworks that guide research
- Artists might challenge standard research
procedures or invent
- Artists might discover new knowledge or invent new
- Artists might interpret results differently
- Artists might invent new ways to extract
- Artists might identify cultural implications of
results missed by other researchers
Imagining New Creatures - Bioengineering
- Art has a long history
working with fantastic creatures and chimeras - envisioning life
as it might be
- With genetic
engineering the old dream of inventing creatures
enter the realm of possible
Major ethical and safety issues
If they are solved, then society
will face major questions of what it should do with
- What new creatures
should researchers create?
medicine and economics the only justifications?
- Are genetically modified
square tomatoes, created
to facilitate shipping economics, more worthwhile than creatures
Benefits and Problems
- Eduardo Kac's Alba project embedded florescent genes in a rabbit
- The Critical Art Ensemble;s New
Eve project embedded human
gene sequence in the
that produced beer and then invited audience members to drink it
Cinti's transgenic cactus
project modified a cactus so it grew human hair
audiences consider these kinds of projects
objectionable or frivolous. It is not likely a biological researcher would dream
- This stretching of the
conceptualization of kinds of creatures that can be generated is itself
service. It induces researchers to
think beyond utilitarian goals that dominate their disciplines.
artists have not yet acquired that knowledge and certification
become independent researchers. They are not allowed to do the research
artists will need to arrange to get certified so
have the hands-on involvement that is key to stimulating the artistic
imagination and tinnovation.
Embedding Messages in Genetic Sequences
- DNA is
effective for storing genetic information. Furthermore
mitosis (cell splitting) provides a natural
process for creation of copies
- Artistic Experiments - Joe
Davis, Microvenus; Eduardo Kac, Genesis
- Artists beat researchers to
the idea - Davis' idea originally seemed extreme - value of artistic
- Bacterial memory and
biological computing now focus of worldwide research
Breeding and Selection
engaged a form of genetic engineering long before the current research
breeders of animals and plants
- Some analysts critique
contemporary biology for not paying
attention to this storehouse of folk knowledge
accumulated significant information about genetic
potential within particular species and the limitations and
particular cross breeding
also have knowledge about the way context can affect the expression of
Gessert;s many-year Iris project
(for example, Scatter)
Ebener & Uli Winters Byte project attempted to breed mice with a
chewing on computer cables
Zettl's Breeding series
explores various breeding sculptures
one that bred chickens with a proclivity for flying.
- Ideas pursued for artistic
reasons with possible ideas for research world
- Adam Zaretsky created events
in which he
tested the effects of different kinds of music on the antibiotic
selected strains of E. coli bacteria
- Joe Davis Audio
Microscope listens to the
movements of single celled
animals (perhaps possible to identify sound signature of the organisms)
Vanouse's Relative Velocity Inscription Device developed
Jeremijenko's One Tree
subjected 1000 genetically identical clones to different environmental
conditions by planting all over the Bay Area
Stem-cell and Near Life Research
- Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr -
Use stem cells to grow tissue
into forms they selected for
artistic and conceptual reasons
- Confront technical
challenges - providing
nourishment to growing cells and new ways of providing lattices to
in the patterns they wanted
- Artistic agenda demanded
they develop unorthodox skills and
necessary to complete the work
- Catts tells amusing stories
about the cigarette smoke that fills
environment in art shows in a way that would horrify traditional lab
technicians. Interestingly, Catts
notes that there is some evidence that the smoke encourages growth in
- Now growing interest in
scientific community in manipulated near-life materials
Protozoa Games Art Installation and
Research (Steve Wilson)
- Art Installation in which
humans play motion games with live protozoa
- I Worried that few observe
other animals except pets & zoos
preconceptions were challenged - protozoa were sophisticated and
varied in how they related to each other and to their environment.
- I imagined that this process
observing protozoa and considering their behaviors was not very
the way a biologist might approach them.
a scientist studying a species, I tried to focus on what I
seeing and theorized about its causes and implications.
- I wondered if I could
well enough to predict their behavior
- In Follow-me game visitors
were rewarded for careful observation
- In Control-me game visitors
initiated experiments to try to influence protozoa - colored lights
position and sound stimulation
- Literature did not have much
on this. It is possible
understandings about protozoa life could result from this event
Dilemma of Artistic and Technological Demands
- Several of my pending bioart
projects require technological research
- How does one decide of allocation
of focus? - there may not be enough time
- Heartbeat detector from a distance
- closest is in military classified lab
- Pheremone based art work - need to
integrate artifical nose and pheromone research
- (Pheromone research graduate
students use my pheromone site as resource)
- Next Guests and Parasites project
-people will play against their own bacteria - requires unprecdented
automated micoscope and sample acquistion
Summary: Artists as Potential Contributors to Research
Out of Control - the Paradoxical
Value of Violating Conventions
- I suspect many scientists would
be aghast at the projects described
- They would deny the scientific
value of the work
- They would
violation of sound scientific practice and the "amateurish" quality.
experimental situations would be
seen as insufficiently controlled.
- They would protest that there were
too many contaminating
enough care in setting up the treatments, and not sufficient
allow others to replicate or make judgments about the protocols.
- They would decry the lack of
theoretical framework for design of the events or for evaluating their
- For example, it would be difficult
to draw conclusions from Protozoa Games.
Games (like all the other
projects described) was never intended as
a scientific experiment; it had
might well be information that would be suggestive for scientific
- The art experiments
described in this essay were undertaken by people who had taken the
acquire varying levels of literacy in scientific areas of interest.
- Amateurish is an interesting term.
- It comes from the latin root amo (love).
- It originally referred to people
who undertook activities
loved them; only later did the term acquire connotations of inferior.
science of the 18th
and 19th century depended greatly on the accomplishments of
- Contemporary science
could benefit from finding a way to accommodate and utilize the
the art researchers.
- Paradoxically, their violation of
the canon and their wackiness
part of their contribution by asking unorthodox questions and utilizing
- In some
ways this failure of Western Science to find
ways to incorporate research outside the canon is part of a larger
sociologists and philosophers of science have noted Western science's
to the folk expertise available in many cultures.
for example Science and
Other Cultures: Diversity in the Philosophy of Science and Technoloy edited
by Robert Figueroa and Sandra Harding
is not one of the prime goals for these projects.
commercial viability is often not a goal for
those artists who invent new technologies.
accomplishments are incidental to the artistic goals.
- Science and technological
have a long history of accidental discovery.
- Artistic research can
to this kind of discovery.
- Science depends of careful
documentation of experiments.
- Artists are typically
quite generous in sharing insights, solutions to problems, new tools
developed, technical information, etc on an ad hoc basis but
these details is typically not part of the documentation of art events.
- Should it be?
- Might not this kind of
information become an important part of exchange among artists as they
into technical and scientific investigations?
- Might it not become part
exchange between the arts and science/technology?
- For many years the
Journal Leonardo has
served as an archive for this kind of information
and now many artistsÕ web sites include these details.
- The future of art as an
zone of research may depend on development of ways of sharing and
What is needed to maximize artist
contribution to research?
would need to continue to educate themselves
about the scientific literature in fields of interest and to acquire
skills and knowledge necessary to become active practitioners in
- They would need to at least
classic techniques scientists use for design of experiments, which
clarity about results.
artists would need to consider more careful documentation of their
it might be useful for others outside the arts.
would need to find a way to open themselves
to contributions by researchers outside their disciplines.
- They would need to find a way to
temporarily suspend the rigidity of their expectations about following
in order to entertain the value of unorthodox research questions,
findings and technologies coming from outside.
would need to consider the value of a parallel art
research community composed of individuals with active creativity, high
of literacy in related fields, and
a willingness to engage actively in research even though it might be
questions which seem wacky, irrelevant, frivolous or in bad taste and
conducted in ways considered strange or careless.
- Indeed a radical self
and appetite for alternatives is supposed to be a core value of science. - The parallel world art research
could be seen as and institutionalized way of filling this function.