16/07: Ethics 2
2) A second type of ethics concern was raised by a number of arists involved in the exhibition “Transbiotics” and by scholars working at the intersection between art and research.
A problem that has been widely discussed (see the recent book Tactical Biopolitics 2008, MIT press ) but that won’t be solved any time soon is: how does the artist/researcher deal with the problem of exhibiting a work that engages with controversial and easily instrumentalized biomaterial and biotechnologies? How can the artist stir a critical discussion when her work is often seen as an embellishment, as an annoyance for the scientist she is working with (Kathy High), or her work is shut down by popular (and often wrong )assumptions (Tagny Duff)? In addition, a lot of artists/researchers do most of their work in labs. However, most of this process will never be experienced by the audience, who will have to rely on documentation and pictures that simplifies the whole research and gravely limits it to mere artifact, or gallery object. while attempts to transfer entire labs into the gallery have been successfully accomplished, they are still rare, as the artist is left to fight against health and safety and ethical committees.
16/07: Ethics 1
In the context of the main theme of the conference and the exhibition, the issue of ethics emerged following two directions:
1) ethics in pondering the figure of the hybrid, the entanglement of zoe and bio, the intersection of bio and info. In the first case, Zylinska suggests that we are at an impasse after Haraway’s definition of the cyborg. In fact, in this implosion of organic and inorganic, human and machine, where do we locate the animal? And how do we define our coexistence and interspersing with the animal without maintaining an anthropocentric view?
Monika Bakke for instance asks us to think of the bioengineering of plants: recently, there has been a move to acknowledge that plants are sensitive beings responding to the external environment in a more intricate way than we think. However, what does it do to us in terms of our anthropocentric thinking? Bakke proposes two case studies that expose the long-history of human plant domestications (as human domination over plants) and their patenting (a form of colonization)
In the art intervention Common Flowers the "moon dust carnations" bioengineered by the company suntory and relocated in SouthAmerica were illegally reproduced by the artists using very simple recipes and then released into the territory in a case of reverse biopiracy.
Bakke reminds us of a controversial swiss ruling that revendicated the dignity of plants
See two articles that document the episode
in both cases, the question is not : do plant have dignity of their own? But it is rather : is there a way in which we can speak of plants without always approaching them as other than our own and in a fashion that avoids instrumentalization, ownership, reproductive ability, patenting etc?
the same issue was also raised by Oron Catts about the alleged semi-status of the semi-living entities. Would our behavior in the lab change if we didn’t manipulate objects that we don’t see, cells that we approach only by wearing protections and through the distance of the microscope lenses in a sterilized, sanitized environment ?
finally, another ethics concern was raised during the Symbiotica workshop when we realized how much waste it is involved in working in the lab. how many pipettes, how many gloves, how much material is disposed to assure that every process is properly sterilized and doesn't incur in any type of contamination?
If aesthetic conventions and assumptions contribute to the shaping of the object, then also the technologies that allow us to "see" or "visualize" the object contribute to it. In my presentation on visualization of viruses, which in a timely manner followed Steinman's, I observed how when it is visualized, a microscopic object like the virus becomes a multilayered entity and a complex hybrid. in fact, being substantially invisible, the virus can be only seen through layering and transforming tools such as electron microscope, data software and 3D software. Thus, the virus effectively manifests as an “implosion of informatics and biologics," one that is “not born, but it is made,” as Haraway so elegantly put it. once again, the resulting "object" is a texture of diverse forms and processes: it doesn't exist as a single well-constrained entity, but as a dynamic texture.
During a panel dedicated to "sensations in worlds…" Thomas Lamarre paraphrased Gabriel Tarde regarding the issue of social textures and, in particular, the divide between things in the world and things of the mind: in opposition to Durkheim, who posited a preexisting divide between individual and society that must be mediated through exchange,Tarde advocated "modes of individuation in which individual and society are already entangled." of course, this interpretation poses a challenge, as in order to examine the individual or society, we can no longer rely on the pre-established separations by categories, as individual and society, nature and nurture, biology and informatics, animal and human, human and machine intersect and overlap.
The above issue emerged during the conference and the exhibition over and over again since the very first presentation: Dolores Steinman, focusing on the connection and relationships between medical imagery (in particular models of blood flow), the scientific community made of several individuals with diverse range of interests, perspectives and education (medical doctors, clinicians, technicians, lab scientists and anatomists), and the public at large (the patient, or the lay person trying to make sense of medical models and imagery.
Steinman asked: what is an accurate representation of an organ? what is the perception of the lay public? is it possible to portray an accurate "picture" that bypasses all ambiguities and coveys the same message to the family doctor, the anatomist, the lab scientist and the patient?
her skepticism is historically grounded, as she observed that this particular issue of representation has always been a challenge since the early days when representation became crucial to science. Changes in the human ability to process the information acquired, in the skills required for representing this information as well as the technology at hand, have often been a challenge. While the models produced (today rigorously computer generated) may all reflect different understandings and scientific goals, they are, to put it with Steinman's words, "fold in the large canvas of body representations and we feel responsible for the layered meanings that get woven into the visual popular culture"
Figure: Evolution of virtual representations of blood flow in a simulated brain aneurysm, starting from
corresponding patient angiogram.
14/07: the Fold
As Daina Tainina claimed early on during her intervention, it is not sufficient to write about the intersection of meanings, words and material. Rather, it is necessary to make these intersections happen, by concretely practicing or experiencing such intersections, in the same way Leibniz did with calculus, an attempt at creating a universal method to determine symbolic calculation.
Tainina spoke of her attempts to represent non-euclidian geometry, in particular the hyperbolic plane, by evoking the Deleuzian notion of the Fold, which manifests as simultaneously form and process that intersect and correspond and cannot be separated. Rather than working with mere models, she tried to reproduce hyperbolic planes as crocheted objects. This process is not unlike exploring the (physical) folds of Sta Teresa's dress in Bernini's Ecstasy.
This practice also reveals unexpected intricacies and complications that lie underneath the rather smooth and perfected theoretical assumptions that make computer models and simulations. when we observe computer model, we cannot avoid noticing their smoothness, their precisions of contour. this is definitely not the case when we try to reproduce such model with our own hands, or in the case of Tainina, by crochet-ing it.
Her experience reflects Anna Munster's conception of information aesthetics where...
“The digital conceived as part of a baroque flow, now unfolds genealogically out of the baroque articulation of the differential relations between embodiment and technics.. . in this baroque unfolding, the binary pairs that have populated the understanding of digital culture and new media technologies, can be seen to impinge upon each other rather than be mutually exclusive (from A. Munster, Materializing new media, 2006).”
Remaining in the field of textiles, two further works provided diverse approaches that departed from the simple notion of tissue = skin, or skin =textile, to demonstrate not only the connections, but also the ethical issues that underpin the use of such logical analogy. For instance the work of Seçil Uğur , “Social Skin: Between Textile and Technology” explored the clothes as second skin, and developed this concept to the limit with a project that uses technologies to shape garments after the body's emotional inputs when immersed in a social context. the issues here are profoundly ethical, as clothes are often used to hide emotions, rather than to externalize them.
in a different way, Mili John Tharakan, from the Singaporean CUTE lab explores he economies that revolve around the world of textiles as tradition and search new ways to encourage the new generations to get involved with a textile community that has become stagnant. In India, craft comes form sanscrit शिल्प, zilpa, standing for "any art that uses color."
craft is rooted into the culture of India and was hereditary, regulated by the chaste system . it was not about the individual creativity, but about translating concepts into something material. While craft people never had a formal education, things have now changed. however, traditions have been strangely maintained.
generations upon generations craftsmen have been producing the same things. However, now they have realized that there are more options for crafts. following a wave of migration of younger generations into the big metropolis in search of more rewarding High tech jobs, and policies that regulate the production of textiles in a rather conservative fashion, craftsmanship seems to disappear and remain into the domain of tradition or, worse, mere tourism. Tharakan organizes workshops that introduce smart materials and new technologies into local textile communities. this, she believes, would inject some much needed innovation, and would turn this activity into a much more rewarding and appealing profession, especially for those younger generations interested in technological artifacts.
12/07: tissue as fabric
Despite the broad and multilayered notion of tissue and tissue culture, a number of participants in the conference and the exhibition interpreted the term as a synonym of skin, as a text, as fabric. However, all the explorations revealed a much deeper and complicated understanding of the above notion.
Zane Berzina's work on skin and textiles is already widely known (see her projects here). For Transbiotics she decided to go beyond the surface of the skin, and its relationship with texture and textiles, by exposing and bringing to visibility hidden and often inadvertently produced electric charges produced by people interacting with materials.
the installation, E-Static Shadows, part of Transbiotics and produced in collaboration with Jackson Tan, revealed exactly that: a monumental cloth structure containing LED, miniature transistors and woven electronic circuits were stimulated by electromagnetic fields produced through the interaction of individuals.
12/07: Tissue Culture
As Joanna Zylinska noted during her introduction to the "tissue culture" stream, " tissue economy is also a very important voice in the economy of tissue." Unavoidably, the resulting tissue exchange(s) are very material and multitextual, raising a number of ethical, ontological and epistemological questions. in her project "If it reads it bleeds" about blogging and social network as "tissue" she asks:
a collage composed of juxtaposed screenshots of selected blogs, "If it reads, it bleeds" lays bare the materiality that constitutes a blog or social network site. focused on the content, we tend too often to ignore such materiality.
12/07: Transbiotics- exhibition
as anticipated, conference and exhibitions were nicely coordinated. discussions and artistic interventions appered to responded to each other creating a strong thematic continuum. The exhibition and the performances were widely documented through videos and blogs. you can see Garret Lynch's blog here with a description, a brief commentary and some useful links .
here is a collection of pictures taken during the opening of the exhibition
and here are a few videos taken during the performancesmucilaneous omniverse by Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand
Materia Obscura by Jurgen Reble and Thomas Koener
I am back from a week of intense work and discussion in Riga, where I was given the chance to "double-dip" in two joint events: "Textures," the sixth European meeting of the society for literature, science and the arts, as well as Art + Communication, the 12th International Festival of New Media Culture. The latter featured a series of exhibitions and performances organized by RIXC (the Center for New Media Culture) and taking place at Kim? at Spikeri (beautiful neighborhood just off the railway station and the massive city market), as well as the RIXC space itself ( performances ). the series of events culminated in the major exhibition "Transbiotics. Temporal Stability Points," which focused on the "emerging biotechnologies as means for artistic expression" and challenged the ever-changing notion of "materiality" in the arts. A series of other events enriched the already busy schedule of events: an installation at the of Latvian National library by Brigita Ozolins and the exhibition "Patterns of Relationships by Latvian artist Gundega Strautmane. Finally, Symbiotica and the department of biology at the university of Latvia offered a one day Tissue culture engineering workshop. Garrett Lynch documented the whole workshop in his blog, so I won't upload my pictures as they might be a bit redundant.
The conference program was packed with concurrent lectures and panels classified under a number of main streams, "networks of sustainability" "tissue Culture" Biopalimpsests" „Art as Research”" architextures". While the streams overlapped (biopalimpsests was sometimes hardly distinguishable from "tissue culture" , and thus it was possible to catch a general glimpse of the themes discussed during the conference,my experience of the conference is rather partial, as I was jumping back and forth between biopalimpsests and tissue culture sections, with seldom attendance of the "arts and research" stream. Following are a few of the themes that seemed to recur across sessions, which in turn greatly resonated with the entirety of the festival and the topics explored by the exhibition.