Mini Survey of Artists Exploring Genetics and Bioengineering

Stephen Wilson, Art Dept, SFSU

Orientation and Historical Issues

Range of artistic agendas
(reflection on science; commentary on corporate/governmental contexts of bioengineering research; eugenics;  concern about identity & the body;  curiosity about new possiblities; eagerness to work with culturaly important processes; exploitation of new materials; extropian desires to modify one's own body; the lure of creation)

Imagining alternative life

Working with the living
(artistic control, ethics, commodification,  museum architecture)

Other kinds of biological work not addressed in this survey
(Manipulations of the body, biosensors, medicine, work with animals and plants, ecological art)

Samples of Artistic Experimentation

Historical forms of genetic manipulation (breeding)

Genetic engineering

Embedding messages in genetic sequences

Exploration of cloning and environmental influences

Use of modified materials to create images

Chromosome images as semiotics

Genetic images as explorations of identity

Music based on genetic patterns

Interventions & commentary

Photographic studies of genetic research settings

Artificial life

Issues in Art and Genetics &  Bioengineering

Is bioengineering something the community should pursue?

What are the hierarchies of value systems that justify research? - scientific, medical, commercial, art

Who owns biology, the genome?  Why is science seen as the prime locale?

Lack of artistic traditions of procedural limitations in research and acceptance of communal oversight.  Can a bioengeering artist be trusted?

Danger of restriction to oppositional/critical stance.  Other options.  Independent zone of research.
(Internnational Rice Research Institute)

Danger of restriction of media.  Hands-on work with the  contexts, materials and tools of bioengineering. Cross currents in the arts - physical/sensual/embodied/gooey vs abstract/representational/imaginary/virtual/critical

Danger of Mystification: Wariness about claims of complexity, access as barriers to investigations.  Digital revolution as model of access.

Conundrum of training.  What does someone need to know to start working?  How much training? From whom? Is it possible to learn the skills without the socialization?

Shows and Symposia
Henry Art Gallery - Gene(sis) Show  (artists explore human genetics)
Leonardo Art & Biology Exhibit  Art&bio bibliog
Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution (show & commentary)
Picturing DNA  (online book by Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles & Marilyn Nissenson)
Ars Electronica - Life Sciences (99)  Next Sex (2000)
Smithsonian Artist Book Exhibit