Some quick backstory is probably helpful:
- during the 17th century, British scientist Robert Hooke (1635-1703) discovers that the tiny piece of cork he's examining under his microscope isn't a block but a honeycomb of cells - hundreds of thousands of them. A profound discovery in biological sciences.
- DNA gets identified by 19th century Swiss physician and biologist Friedrich Miescher and its double-helix structure discovered in 1953 by Francis Crick and James Watson
- In the 70s, a baby fertilized in-vitro is born.
- During the mid 90s, a sheep is the first mammal cloned, named for a well-endowned human: "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell," explained one of the researchers, "and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."
This type of cutting edge technology which encompasses vast oceans of moral dilemmas is what many artists live for. To say nothing of the cool tools they get to play with as they cultivate human tissue, breed frogs, assemble DNA profiles and modify bacteria for use as electrical transmitters - collectively called Bio-Art. And because of the equipment involved, from incubators, to centrifuges to the transportation of living tissues to disposing of the biohazardous waste from projects that fail, Bio-Art asks more of a venue that a traditional art exhibition does. "Most museums and galleries are ill equipped to provide this sort of infrastructure. So, for the most part, bio-art circulates among experimental festivals and university museums," explains ARTnews. "To organize a show as a curator, you need to find institutional partners—labs that will do the work,” adds Jens Hauser, a Paris-based curator who has organized several bio-art exhibitions in different countries. "And sometimes it’s not just one lab. I did an exhibit in Luxembourg where we worked with four or five labs." (illustration by Lotties Des'Ascoyne via source)
BIO-ART TIMELINE & HIGHLIGHTS:
For Microvenus, Boston-based artist Joe Davis, a resident artist-scientist at Harvard Medical School, encodes a strand of DNA with a symbol of the rune for life and places it into an E.coli bacterium, the first example of transgenic art.
2004: Tissue Culture & Art Project (TC&A). Highlight: a teensy jacket cultivated from mouse tissue (right) that was teeming with living cells and kept alive in a sterile glass jar. The cells multiplied so rapidly, the garment threated to outgrow its incubator and needed its life support switched off. “I really had to think about whether this little coat was alive," adds the MOMA curator, who at first refused to "kill" the little jacket. “It generated reactions you wouldn’t think you’d have rationally." (image)
2007: Orlan, a French conceptual artist, produces a “coat” made from a patchwork of human tissue.
DNA-laced cookies! The Critical Art Ensemble baked 'em up and handed them out to visitors to explore the issues inherent in biotech - in a really delish way.
Be sure to enjoy the podcast I recorded about this!
fashion professor Helen Storey
Primitive Streak (Helen & Kate Storey)
WEIRD SCIENCE: Biotechnology as Art Form (ARTnews)
Robert Hooke (17th c.)
DNA dicovered & its double-helix structure identified
Dolly the cloned sheep
The Tissue Culture & Art Project - Victimless Leather
Critical Art Ensemble (DNA cookies)
the human-tissue harlequin coat by French conceptual artist Orlan
Music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott