Artists and Biology Research

Stephen Wilson, Art Department, San Francisco State University


Why is Biology Interesting to Artists


Critical area of innovation - opening up new possibilities, areas of inquiry, products.  scientific research and technological development genome
NSF - genome research
Contested area of culture.  eg. deconstructing nature, body, gender, disease 

8 cell embryo - stem cells
Biology has a mind of its own.  Unlike other art materials, it sets on its own trajectories.

Australian rabbit coin
We are biology ourselves.  A way of investigating our selves.

Visible Man


Philosphical Issues Underlying Biology Research


Sometimes analysts focus only on socio- cultural issues
Also a significant set of key questions that have engaged philosphers and cultural commentators
Science opens up the questions and invites new reflection.
This reflection can also be part of art.
Biology does not belong just to science but to many disciplines
An old art teacher once said "art was philosophy made visual"
There are a set of issues that underlie biology which will be extremely important in years to come.

What is the nature of life? How are the living and non-living different?

What are the boundaries of naturally occuring life? - What are the limits of the forms it can take? What might exterrestial life be like? Can there be  forms of life not based on carbon?
SetiAtHome - search for extrerrestial life
Can we synthesize life? Can we create semi-life? Can we create artificial life? Will nanotechnology be able fabricate life atom by atom?

 Can we modify life through bioengineering?  through breeding? What are the limits?

Semi-living Art
Tissue Culture and Art Group
To what extent does genetics determine ultimate organism?  What is the balance between nature and nurture?  Can all biology ultimately be reduced to coding and bioinfomatics?

What is the nature of consciousness and intelligence?  What is the relationship of brain and mind?  Can we synthesize them?  What is the nature of non-human intelligence?

Rice University Bioinfomtics group
What are the possibilities and limitations of "posthuman" enhancement?  Can we increase strength, endurance, intelligence, creativity,  sexual powers?

Can we control mood and psychic space?  What are the limits of psychopharmacology?  Is there a prozac for everyone?

Firewater Music Group -
Album Cover
Can we eradicate disease? Can we create super-health?  Can life be prolonged?  Can death be eliminated?
Fountain of Youth
What is the nature of connection between species?  What is the connection between organic and non organic systems?

Ethics.  Which of any of these should be pursued and which not?



Examples of Areas of Biology Research & Development Asking for Artistic Inquiry


Smell & Taste  - Artificial Noses, Smell Synthesis, Pheromones, the near senses

u of Illinois - artificial nose
Bionics - integration of machine and organism

Campbell Aird - Irish bionic arm
Brain-machine interface
Neurons in Petri dish run robots

Steve Potter - GaTech
Brain control - remote control rats

Sanjiv Talwar, SUNY
Bioidentification

Image from MSU Biometrics Research Page
Designer Drugs

Applied Molecular Evolution - cocaine analog without addiction
Bacterial memory for computers

bacteriorhodopsin protein


Protozoa Games  -   Stephen Wilson


New information available via new tools
Digital Microscope and motion tracking
Facination with other life forms


Follow Me - Reverse usual experimental forms
Protozoa in charge

Control Me - Wacky commentary on Experiments
colored lights, sound/voice
what really is important in protozoa lives?

Themes explored:
Human relationships with animals
Ethics of animal and human experimentation
Nature of intelligence and consciousness
Reflections on the essence of life
Protozoa Complexity



Artists Working with Biology



Microbiology - Laura Cinti - Cactus Project

Mcirovenus - Joe Davis  - embed codes in ecoli

One Tree - Natile Jerijemko

Hubert Duprat - Caddis Worm

Diana Domingues -Insn(h)ak(r)es  - Robot snake

Mel Chin - Revival Field

Stelarc - Parasite - external control of body, broadcasts from inside of body - prostheses