The fifth episode of DIYSECT, Hybrid Practices gives a chronological outlook at the field of “bioart,” beginning with the pioneering works of Joe Davis and Eduardo Kac and ending with the merging of the field with DIYBio and biohacking at the present moment. The episode also includes the perspectives of writers and curators of bioart, such as Daniel Grushkin and Wythe Marschall of Cut/Paste/Grow, and Jurij Krpan of Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, who recognize the importance of DIYBio community labs as a facilitator of bioart production. As evident with the Hackteria | Open Source Biological Art network, the fusion of art production with DIY practice will enable more interdisciplinary approaches to working with biology.

Key words: definitions of bioart, pioneers of bioart, aesthetics in science, Cut/Paste/Grow exhibition, motivations of artists, role of artists in science, interdisciplinary collaboration, bioart and biohacking, open source biological art, Hackteria.org relationship between diybio and bioart, biodesign

Hybrid Practices features:

  • Christina Agapakis
  • Adam Brown
  • Joe Davis
  • Marc Dusseiller
  • Daniel Grushkin
  • Eduardo Kac
  • Jurij Krpan
  • Wythe Marschall
  • Robert Mitchell
  • Phil Ross




A FOLDING OF SPACES: BIOART IN THE GALLERY

 

In 2008, the New York Times wrote an article titled “Museum kills live exhibit,” which described the process behind Victimless Leather (2004) project, created by Australian artist duo Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr of Tissue Culture & Art (TC&A). A tiny coat made up of living mouse stem cells had grown out of control, and for the first time in history, the New York Museum of Modern Art had to kill one of its art pieces. This was not the first time that something alive had been placed in a gallery, as bioart has had a long and complicated history- one of occasional fear, confusion. Nonetheless, it is DIYSECT’s perspective that it has always been an important place for the public to interact with emerging biotechnologies.

ARTWORKS SHOWN IN HYBRID PRACTICES (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE IN THE EPISODE)

While live organisms being used as art has a history dating back to the 19th century, one of the original pioneers of “Bio Art” is Joe Davis, an MIT resident who has been making work since the 1970s incorporating biology and laboratory related practices. He has exhibited work all over the world, and he is known by many as the first to encode messages into DNA. Microvenus (1986) is arguably the first art project to create a biological archive that carried encoded information - in this case a vaginal icon that also happens to be a germanic rune. His work has had considerable influence on not only in the art-science intersection but also the modern biotechnological field.

 
 
Joe Davis (left) winning the ars electronica golden nica award in 2012 for bacterial radio. Eduardo Kac (right) winning the same award in 2008 for natural history of the enigma

Joe Davis (left) winning the ars electronica golden nica award in 2012 for bacterial radio. Eduardo Kac (right) winning the same award in 2008 for natural history of the enigma

It was in the early 90s that the artistic interest in biological mediums steadily rose, channeling how the lay-audience might be able to interact with the technology on a personal level. Eduardo Kac used biology to sculpt his own poetic philosophies, and demonstrated this in galleries around the world. In The Eighth Day (2001), Kac created an artificial ecosystem comprised of organisms transgenically modified with a bioluminescence gene. Web participants were given the opportunity to interact with the space using a “BioBot”, a robot with a brain made of amoebas which could be controlled telematically. 

Other artists like Critical Art Ensemble used the public platform to neutralize the reactive fear that lay-audiences hold with biotechnology, rendering them easily manipulated. In Genterra (2001-03)the art collective gave its audience the choice to unleash “recombinant DNA” into a museum, unsure of what the consequences may be. The DNA was completely non contagious and harmless, but it cemented Critical Art Ensemble’s theory that the biological was scary and confusing to the uninitiated, and that this fear would be best neutralized with knowledge.

 

mERGING pRACTICES: biohacking & bioart

I think without spaces like Genspace here on the east coast, it would be very hard for an artists or designer to learn the tools, it gives them a new palette for their work.
— Dan Grushkin
 
 

Since the branding of DIYBio in 2008/09, artists and designers have begun to gravitate towards these spaces for lab workshops, resources, and potential collaborations. Two of Genspace’s founding members, Nurit Bar-Shai and Daniel Grushkin along with curator Wythe Marschall, kickstarted the Cut/Paste/Grow exhibition in Brooklyn, New York in 2013. They collected contemporary art-science pieces from around the world, works ranging from speculations on the future to organisms specifically designed in laboratories. Artist Nurit Bar-Shai displayed her Soundscape series, visually-compelling prints of bacterial colonies growing on agar dishes manipulated by sound waves. Many other artists have utilized the resources and community of biohackerspaces, as they gained access to laboratory tools without the need of academic credentials. Heather Dewey-Hagborg of Stranger Visions is one such artist who took one of Genspace’s crash courses in biotechnology.

NURIT BAR-SHAI WITH SOUNDSCAPE BACTERIA AT GENSPACE COMMUNITY BIOLAB, BROOKLYN, NY

 
 
 
 
 
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In Ljubljana, Slovenia, the Kapelica Gallery of Contemporary Investigative Arts has had a long 20-year history on exhibiting works and performances on the intersection of art, science, and technology. Our interview with Jurij Krpan, the founder of Kapelica, was conducted at the UCLA Art|Sci Center during his visit for a pop-up lecture. One unique aspect of the Kapelica Gallery is its in-house wet-lab, Biotehna, used for both public workshops as well as a space to keep alive and maintain the living works of artists who exhibit in the gallery. For example, inside Biotehna are rats leftover from Circadian Drift (2012), a bioart installation by Špela Petrič and Maja Smrekar that synchronizes the circadian rhythms of the rats and the volunteering human.

 

BIOTEHNA WAS A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT BETWEEN KAPELICA GALLERY AND THE HACKTERIA NETWORK. THIS GATHERING OF ARTISTS AND HACKERS TO SET UP A COMMUNITY LAB IS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE "PRE-HACKTERIALABS." SLIDE TO THE RIGHT IS TAKEN FROM DUSJAGR PRESENTATIONS FROM 2013

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OPEN SOURCE BIOLOGICAL ART INTERDISCIPLINARY NETWORKS

As a co-founder of Hackteria.org and classically trained scientist, Marc Dusseiller has been the initiator of several events and gatherings on the topic of DIY, DIWO, biohacking, bioart, and workshop pedagogy. In particular the HackteriaLab events emphasize interdisciplinary collaboration and cultural impact (footage features HLab14: Yogyakarta and Bio-Commons Lab at RuralHub, Italy).

The works of bio-art and art-science have moved beyond the gallery and into the online open-source community of Hackteria | Open Source Biological Art, Do-it-yourself Biology, and Generic Laboratory Equipment. Cofounder Marc Dusseiller felt that the elite gallery culture and intense collaborations with scientists could be daunting for young artists who are curious to enter the field. Scrolling through the Hackteria.org wiki, one can find a multitude of projects and open source protocols ranging from electornic fish-hacking to DIY Gynecology. These concepts are easily reproducible, introduce a low-tech approach, and have a variety of different ambitions spanning from feminism and the environment, to accessibility and pedagogy. In addition, Hackteria has hosted four HackteriaLabs in the past, which are physical gatherings of this international group of artists, scientists, hackers, makers, designers, etc.

A TWO WEEK INTENSIVE, INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION AND SERIES OF INFORMAL WORKSHOPS ORGANIZED BY HACKTERIA NETWORK AND LIFEPATCH CITIZEN INITIATIVES IN ART, SCIENCE, AND TECHNOLOGY. EMBRACING THE NOTION OF 'PROUD' AMATEUR' PARTICIPANTS HELD WORKSHOPS AND COLLABORATED ON PROJECTS THAT WERE INSTALLED AND DISPLAYED ON EXHIBITION AT THE LANGGENG ART FOUNDATION (LAF).

 
LOW-TECH APPROACH (TAKEN FROM MECHATRONICART.CH)

LOW-TECH APPROACH (TAKEN FROM MECHATRONICART.CH)

 

Artists interviewed for this episode

ReBioGeneSys: Origins of Life is “a hybrid installation that combines sculpture, chemistry, alchemy and conservation to autonomously create extreme minimal ecosystems capable of autopoetic evolution.” The project was inspired by the 1955 Stanley Miller experiment where a self-evolving system was created in order to understand the Earth's evolution of the first signs of life. (In collaboration with Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein and earned Honorary Mention at Ars Electronica 2015).

Self Made incorporates human bacteria into the process of pasteurizing cheese. Collaborating with scientist Sissel Tolaas for the Synthetic Aetshetics collective, Agapakis became aware that many of the bacteria used to make cheeses were closely related to those responsible for the smells associated with armpits and feet. Swabs collected from feet, noses, hands and armpits were incorporated in pastuerized organic milk and incubated overnight. The result were cheese with fresh, unusual smells.

Mycotecture is worked developed at the intersection of architecture, art and biology. Using the spores from the mushroom Mycelium, Ross molds bricks in a variety of different shapes and sizes to be used as building blocks in structures. These bricks are light, sturdy, and biodegradable, and Phil is starting a company in order to sell this material as a new means of construction. Ross now runs a mycotecture manufacturing company called MycoWorks.