Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Virtual Symposium: the discussion continues

The posts listed below represent the transcripts from the Virtual Symposium on Visual Culture and Bioscience held on March 5 through March 15, 2007 and co-sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The posts are listed in chronological order with the first post at the bottom of the list (to the right) and the more recent post at the top.

Over thirty panelists from a variety of disciplines and geographic locations presented their ideas and perspectives on such topics as the visualization of art and science, artists in the lab, and the cultural and social implications of bioscience. The list of panelists can be viewed at www.visualcultureandbioscience.org

Although, the panelists may or may not be available to respond, we encourage interested members of the community to continue to use this site by posting comments relevant to the discussion.

On behalf of the NAS and UMBC, we wish to think Suzanne Anker for her insightful moderation of this symposium and to all of the panelists for their commitment to this discussion both in the context of this conference and in their personal work. We would also like to thank the over 2500 members of the internet community who participated online during the conference.

JD Talasek
Office of Exhibitions and Cultural Programs
National Academy of Sciences

Friday, March 16, 2007


From: Suzanne Anker
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2007 06:42:43 -0500

Dear Panelists, Conference Hosts, IT Specialists, Bloggers and JDTalasek,

To all on board, my sincerest appreciation for your participation in our conference. Your thoughtful dialogue, opinionated comments, humor, and engaging ideas provided a stimulating and at times a well needed, if not, contentious discussion. The on-line symposium proved itself to be a worthy form of exchange and allowed for a contagion of comments, not to mention the flu. The manner of our discussion incorporated personal style as a method of doing business, for better or for worse. Embedded in the results was the desire to let conversation do what it does as a hypertextual mode of connecting. As a self-generating system, of yeas and nays, our conference ran its course of obstacles. However, I cannot report any casualties. As an update on current ideas at the nexus of visual culture and the biosciences, our dialogue will be added to the literature on this subject and hopefully be employed as a tool to generate further ideas, discourses, projects and the like. I have never had the experience of being so ardently tuned into my computer. It reminded me of my teen-age years waiting in anticipation for the telephone to ring. And although our conversations were solely conducted through zeros and ones, I couldn’t help myself feeling delightfully ever-present in the rush and pace of energized personas. Thank you all and we will be in touch.

Best regards,
Suzanne Anker


From: Ingeborg Reichle
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2007 10:04:07 +0100


Thanks to Suzanne for making this symposium possible and thanks to JD Talasek, and all the people who were involved behind the scenes. Next week we have a symposium about "Visual Models" (Visuelle Modelle. Fragen der Bildwissenschaft) in the context of image sciences here in Berlin, where some of the issued adressed by Suzanne and others will be on the agenda. I hope to see some of you at the workshop 'Biomedicine and Aesthetics in a Museological Context? in late August 2007 in Copenhagen, followed by a one-day public conference on 'Biomedicine and Art'.
All the best,

Dr. Ingeborg Reichle
Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Interdisziplinäre Arbeitsgruppe "Die Welt als Bild"

Thursday, March 15, 2007


From: Michael Sappol
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2007 10:25:26 -0400

I want to congratulate the participants, JD Talasek and the other organizers, and especially the moderator Suzanne Anker, for an enjoyable and enlightening symposium.

As for my projects, I'm currently working on two that may be of interest to the group:

1) A DVD publication series of historical medical films from the collection of the National Library of Medicine. The first volume, on American WW2-era public health films, is very near completion; other volumes will be on cancer, tuberculosis, child development, human psychology, dental health, etc. (See image 1 for a taste.)
2) "Man as Industrial Palace": Fritz Kahn, Conceptual MedicalIllustration and the Visual Rhetoric of Modernity, a book project on theorigins of modernist medical illustration, focusing largely on the workof Fritz Kahn (1888-1968). (See image 2.)
Michael Sappol, Ph.D.
History of Medicine Division
National Library of Medicine


From: Andrew Carnie
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2007 08:45:47 -0000

The symposium has to end just when I was beginning to get the hang of the whole
event. Well done JD Talasek, Suzanne and all that were involved behind the scenes.
Hope you get well soon Jill.
Many, many thanks but it is time to Disperse.

DISPERSE. 2002. slide dissolve work, 162 slides 2 projectors,
3 voile screens, + dissolve unit.
Made for the \School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine , London.
Photograph Andrew Carnie.

Andrew Carnie
Artist and Lecturer
Winchester School of Art
Southampton University Website http://www.andrewcarnie.co.uk/

Rijsingen: WRAP UP

From: Miriam van Rijsingen
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2007 15:04:09 +0100

Dear Suzanne and all,
As I came down with a very heavy flu I was unable to contribute more unfortunately. I will however have much to read and think about, as there are many sparkling points of interest which should be pursued further. Perhaps I will come back to some of the postings individually later, when I am well again.

In the Netherlands we have the Genesis show at the Utrecht Central Museum, starting April 14th, with a symposium in June. Adam Zaretsky is doing his guest professorship at Leiden University in April and May, hosted by The Arts & Genomics Centre. Two more research projects(initiated by TA&GC) are financed and start this summer under the title: Imagining genomics: Introducing Visuality in the Genomics Debate. It focuses on the word-image issue and on the function of the visual in the ethics debate.
For more information see: www.artsgenomics.org
We will meet at various conferences no doubt, and I am looking forward to it. I thank you Suzanne for this conference, and for your various leads(both words and images) in the discussion. It was quite an experience.

Best wishes,
MiriamDr. Miriam van Rijsingen (PhD)
Department of Art History
University of Amsterdam

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

CARNIE : Futher brief answer to Richard Wingate

From: Andrew Carnie
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 19:03:00 -0400 (EDT)


the artist’s studio is often only occupied by one person, but this does not stop it being the site of many a love-hate relationship. The hate when one thinks why did I ever start on this painting, why did I ever begin on such a precarious career; to some great self-satisfaction and self-love on the occasion of the completion of some work which has ended up far beyond the expectations to which it was conceived, and for that moment when one is alone in the studio to love, the space, and the chance to begin to play with materials and ideas.Back to your other posting on “hands” on and “outsiders”; I very much agree with the sentiments of what you say, it seems the conversations that have crossed between us, as we have been observing, interpreting and understanding the world have been the most important moments, and this just emphasizes my wish that all disciplines become more permeable to “outsiders”.

Andrew Carnie
Artist and Lecturer
Winchester School of Art
Southampton University Website

Djerassi: Final comment

From: Carl Djerassi
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 16:15:45 -0400

Sent: 11 March 2007 13:40
Subject: Suzanne Anker: Science and Gender (Jill Scott)
Science and Gender Discourses on gender and society abound in the cultural and scientificliterature. In this symposium there have been several references tosocial issues regarding gender identity and its power politics. As newtechnologies reconfigure the sexual revolution into an asexual one,Susan Squier's initial comments about trans-sexuality and reproductiverights target an aspect of this circumspect and unchronicled territory.Lee Silver in Remaking Eden goes into full detail about theconceivability of male pregnancy. He also cites a time when humanembryos may be created from the fusion of cells from same sex parents.Brad Davis further engages the ways in which the female is erased by theimaging practices of sonograms. These images focus only on the fetusitself as if it is located somewhere else. The new technologies of sexselection raise serious questions issues concerning female fetuses,particularly in China and India. Recently the American College ofObstetricians and Gynocologists (ACOG) released a statement on thenon-medical use of sex selection as a sexist practice (Committee Opinion#360, "Sex Selection" February 2007, Obstetrics & Gynechology.) However,this Committee Report also raises questions about the nature of anindividual's reproductive rights. What I do find so compelling in thissymposium, that as soon as it begun, reproductive rights and embryonicimages flooded in. In what way, are we engaged in updated variations ongendered anatomies? Or on the other hand, is the fetus a "primal marvel"that still remains opaque to us? Are there any sociologists out there?Richard Twine and Troy Duster, what do you think are the core issuesregarding gender, society and technology at this point in time?

3/14/07 London
This is a combination of a wrap up message from me and a grumpy comment. I apologize for the critical tone, but there is little purpose in sanitizing one's comments.

I am bothered by the direction in which some of the messages and comments dealing with "reproduction" went since some seem to deal quickly and superficially with a vast number of issues and do so rather devoid from the real world. The following sentence from above "As new technologies reconfigure the sexual revolution into an a--sexual one, Susan Squier's initial comments about trans-sexuality and reproductive rights target an aspect of this circumspect and unchronicled territory" is such an example.

What sexual revolution is being talked about? That of the 1960s dealing with sexual behavior and its impact on the power relation between men and women or the reproductive revolution starting in the 1980s created by IVF technologies with a very different impact on that power relation? The above sentence marked in bold only makes sense if sex and reproduction are always bundled together. As I have written in books, scientific articles, novels, and plays, what we are facing is a separation between sex and fertilization. Sex, as always, for love, lust, fun, curiosity or whatever and fertilization increasingly under the microscope. This is happening primarily in the "geriatric" countries of Europe, Japan and soon also USA, where the average family consists of 1.5 children. Planned fertilization and consequent reproduction now happens so infrequently that it must be firmly separated in our discussions about sexual behavior. There is plenty of realistic and societally crucial new territory, foremost of which is the postponement or circumvention of the biological clock, because that impinges on the lives of millions of women and has an enormous effect on the power relationship between the two genders. Sex predetermination falls into this category and so do many of the implications of preimplantation embryonic genetic analysis. But to put potential "male pregnancy" into the same pot is absurd. It is a form of mental masturbation that, as most masturbation, is enjoyable, sterile, and basically harmless, except when it offers fodder to the lunatic fringe and reproductive fundamentalists. I am of course not referring to Silver as the lunatic fringe, but rather to some people who will make horror scenarios out of this. Face the fact that enabling male pregnancy is of no priority whatsoever among reproductive scientists and is of so little importance globally speaking that it isn't worth arguing about, compared to the enormous implications of the other applications of reproductive technologies.

The Ars Electronica 2000 Festival of Art, Technology and Society on NEXT SEX in Linz, which incidentally is summarized in an excellent volume:NEXT SEX: Sex in the Age of its Procreative Superfluousness. Sex im Zeitalter seiner reproduktionstechnischen Überflüssigkeit (Ars Electronica) (Paperback) by Gerfried Stocker (Editor), Christine Schöpf (Editor) , Springer, 2000 (as well as another good book "Sex vom Wissen" which was published in 2002 by the Deutsche Hygiene Museum in Dresden on the occasion of its huge exhibition under the same name) offers a good example of what I am worried about. During that excellent and wide-ranging festival, Nobuya Unno from Japan reported on his work on the artificial placenta, which included stunning video footage of 4-months old fetal goats inside an artificial placenta where they were hooked up to a dozen or more tubes, pumps and artificial feeding systems and thus kept alive for several weeks. Since they were already at an advanced stage of development, they moved around to a startling extent and seemed "live.". Of course these fetuses were removed from the goat uterus and placed into the artificial placenta when they were already fairly advanced in order to see whether they could be brought to maturity. The ostensible ultimate aim of this research is to see whether even 22-week old super-premature HUMANS could be kept alive and allowed to mature for another few weeks so as to provide viable babies. Without now arguing whether such efforts are really worth while from a societal standpoint, at least the scientific rationale was made clear. But the journalists present at that conference all focused on the question whether this meant that in the future women would be able to have babies in that fashion by depositing 3 or 4 day old embryos into such artificial placentas and then pick up the intact baby 9 months later. Aside from the preposterously difficult scientific hurdles to be overcome (tubes and pumps can be hooked up to an advanced fetus but hardly to an embryo or blastocyst) and the unbelievable cost of such an artificial placenta baby, is it really worth while to seriously debate this issue? Given the existing opposition to societally useful applications, is it worth while to offer fodder for horror scenarios to the strident opposition? It does far more harm than good and the same applies to discussions of male pregnancy. A 9-month ex-utero gestation or successful male pregnancy are not the societally important issues of this century.

Having gotten this complaint out of my system, let me end by doing what Suzanne Anker suggested today: feel welcome to preview any forthcoming projectsyou are engaged in.

The program introduction of my play TABOOS, (which premiered in London in 2006 and will have its North American premiere in September 2008 at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City) states:

Terms such as “marriage,” “family,” and “parent” used to have firm denotations. They were the rock on which our cultural values rested. Terms such as “embryo,” “baby,” or “twin” were also considered unambiguous. Assumptions that marriage must be heterosexual and that a child cannot have two parents of the same sex were never even considered assumptions, because they were beyond questioning. All of these terms have become destabilized, their meanings blurred, their ranges extended. Some would blame in vitro fertilization technology during the past three decades for these developments, but in actual fact major social and cultural changes­primarily in the United States and Europe­ were even more responsible for the monumental shift that has caused so much fear and antagonism, especially among the ever increasingly strident fundamentalists in the United States. So why not write a play about a situation where “family” and “parent” have assumed disturbingly fuzzy meanings? This is why I have situated Taboos in two of the socially and politically most polarized parts of the United States: the San Francisco Bay Area and the American Deep South.
Anyone interested in reading the text (and thus understanding why I am so touchy about sloppy definitions) can actually do so on the following link http://www.djerassi.com/taboos/TaboosFull.html

Carl Djerassi

Mironov: Artists as spokespeople for bioindustry

From: Vladimir Mironov
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 12:54:10 -0500

Popularization of biotechnology through bioart is an excellent and reasonable idea. Scientific conferences is probably not the best place for bioartists to present their works. Criteria and goals in science and bioart are different. However, science and art museums is probably most appropriate place for BioArt. BioArt can help to attract new generation of scientists to bioindustry. BioArt can also create much broader public appeal and public impact especially in discussion of potential social aspects of adaptation of new biotechnologies.

Concerning suggestion: "Might we someday see artists as spokespeople for pharmaceutical companies?". Any new technology in drug or medical device industry usually needs and uses professional visual presentation and even animations. Thus, it is safe to say that in certain aspects artists are already working as spokespeople for biotech industry. One can predict that the contribution of bioartists to bioindustry will continue to increase. However, the interaction between BioArt and Biotechnology, their mutual enhancement and mutual benefit is definitely beyond just pragmatic considerations and it deserves special systematical analysis.

Vladimir Mironov


From: Suzanne Anker
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 08:04:48 -0500

As we embark on our final last words segment, please feel welcome to preview any forthcoming projects you are engaged in. Additionally, please free to express your thoughts in regard to any of the ideas posted here. We will be accepting posts until Thursday, March 15 11:59 EST

Anker: Preview of Kemp’s The Human Animal in Western Art and Science

From: Suzanne Anker
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 07:48:58 -0500

Many posts in our conference have referred to questions about “the animal.” From a companion species (Haraway) to living test-tubes ( Karafyllis) to food sources, our co-evolution with non-human species continues to raise innumerable questions, both ethically and psychologically.
At a time when H.G. Wells fantasies of Dr. Moreau move out of the laboratory and into social space, question concerning “taxongenomic crash” as I term it, rise to the forefront. Examples include the accelerating ease with which diseases are jumping from animals to humans and Darwinian selection between industrialized food source fish and “wild-type” species. Martin Kemp’s forthcoming text, which is cited here, historically traces human thinking and picturing in regard to our sentient others. I invite you to a preview .

The Human Animal in Western Art and Science
Martin Kemp

If it is dangerous to make man see too much how he is like the beasts, without showing him enough of his grandeur, just as it is to make him see his grandeur without showing him enough of his beast-like qualities, so it is even more dangerous to let him ignore one or the other. (Blaise Pascale, 1632-1662)

Part I.: Humours, Temperaments and Signs
Chapter 1:Fixing the Signs
Chapter 2: Feelings and Faces
Part II: Souls and Machines
Chapter 3: From Meaning to Mechanism
Chapter 4 Fable and Fact: La Fontaine and Buffon
Part III: Going Ape
Chapter 5: Beastly Boys and Admirable Animals
Chapter 6: Our Animal Cousins
Chapter 7: Art and Atavism

Facing up to ourselves

We all exhibit a propensity to react to members of the animal kingdom as if they have personalities that we can read from their appearance. We also manifest a tendency to see individual people as bearing some kind of resemblance to one of our fellow vertebrates, or even invertebrates. The title of this series of studies is to be understood in this double sense – humanised animals and animalised humans. There is rich historical legacy of imagery, which illustrates both sides of this animalistic coin.

On one hand we have the wide vein of animal representation, ranging from compilations of natural history to the illustration of animal fables. It would be easy to disassociate the more obviously humorous and story-telling aspects of the animal capers from the “serious” scientific illustrations. But this is certainly not valid historically. In the first great printed picture-books of animals in the Renaissance, the character and meaning of the animals as defined in the “Bestiaries” was of as much concern as what we might regard as more scientific data. And fables, for their part, could serve serious philosophical ends. It might seem the whimsy of legend was progressively expelled from the portals of zoological science, above all in the 19th century. However, the element of “story” in the natural history of animals has continued to exercise a powerful if somewhat covert hold on the imaginations of those who aspire to build up a picture of nature in action. Darwin is a key participant in this respect.

At the more popular level, we can all recall as children the central role that animals played in our developing consciousness of character, behaviour and life-narratives. Children’s storybooks are replete with speaking animals, often standing on two legs. How many of us have not possessed beloved cuddly or less cuddly stuffed animals, accorded human names and very distinct personalities? It is striking how relatively constant are the virtuous and the villainous amongst the child’s cast of animal characters. Teddy bears – improbably, given, the fierce irascibility of bears in the wild – have become the most popular repositories of warm feelings and trust companionship. Over the longer span, we expect to find dogs and cats and small birds featuring strongly in the lists of the basically good. Snakes figure hardly at all amongst the virtuous. Foxes, amongst the canines, are not regularly regarded with feelings of trust, whereas badgers, which are at least as keenly carnivorous, generally fall on the friendly side of the divide. Wolves are generally beyond the pale. Certainly for Red Riding Hood. Though for the Romans a she-wolf suckled their legendary founders, Romulus and Remus, and there were persistent legends of wild children nurtured by wolves.

Clearly the actual behaviour of the animals in relation to humans plays a powerful role in our instinctive perceptions of their characters. The most sustained relationship that we have enjoyed with any animal is with the horse, the noble beast that for generations carried men into war, pulled wheeled vehicles and tilled our fields. Only exceptionally does the horse play anything other than a worthy role. Equally, it is difficult to imagine a dairy cow or woolly sheep acting as the villain of the piece (or peace), even less so if they feature in their youthful guises as calf or lamb. Bulls and rams are a different matter. Gender and age are obviously potent factors. On the other hand, some notably violent and unsociable animals regularly play admired roles. Our cherished cats are noted for their ritual slaughter of mice and baby birds. Even the lion is conventionally granted a noble personality, according to a legend of many centuries’ standing. There is hardly a building erected by European and many oriental rulers that do not parade lions as representative of the potentates’ just but fierce virtues. Tigers occupy in a more ambiguous position, desirably signifying the high performance of Esso petrol, while not commonly regarded as promoters of peace and harmony. Bats, creatures of the dark, are not much liked, in contrast to many birds. Black crows do carry sinister connotations, however, while black and white magpies are notorious thieves.

Inhabitants of the waters are best considered on a case-by-case basis, but tend on balance to fall on the distrusted side of the emotional spectrum, with sharks and octopuses regarded as particularly malevolent. Fishes’ eyes tend to be regarded as unappealing and unsettling, and we often refer to something “fishy going on” when we suspect that deceit is being perpetrated. Amphibians and reptiles also tend to evoke feelings of revulsion. To describe someone as “reptilian” is certainly not a complement, and we may suspect that are likely to be involved in fishy or creepy activities. The aesthetics of touch undoubtedly play a role in stigmatising such genera of animals. Wetness, sliminess, hardness and temperature all have roles to play. Someone lacking warmth of emotion is described as a cold fish.

Non-vertebrates as whole tend not to get a good billing, though snails clearly do much better than slugs. Animals with angular exoskeletons exude an air of aggression, reminiscent of knights in armour. Strangely, such “medieval” insect garb has become one of the stock in trade features for futuristic sci-fi warriors from alien planets. Insects and crustaceans are not fondly regarded as a group. Butterflies are an exception, even when masquerading as caterpillars, as are bees for the most part, but not wasps (unless you own a Vespa scooter in Italy). Spiders can sometimes be regarded as OK, especially with respect to their arachnid weaving skills, and little “Money Spiders” can be children’s favourites, but they more often stimulate strikingly adverse reactions beyond rational explanation. Even in Britain, where there are no native poisonous spiders, the sight of a big, black specimen who has ascended the waste pipe into a white bath is likely to produce a shudder of dread. Size and hairiness are definitely significant factors in defining a spider as threatening.

Ancient legends of the animals, particularly as recorded in “Bestiaries” told of idiosyncratic habits that were frequently read in terms of human meaning. The legacy of the legends is found in popular imagery and sayings, “Hiding one’s head in the sand”, as ostriches were wont to do, has come to symbolise not facing up to reality. When we manifest insincere grief, we are “crying crocodile tears”. The key compilations of fables, by Aesop and La Fontaine, including many illustrated editions, and the recurrent tales of Reynard the Fox, have typically dressed up salutary lessons for humans in the garb of picturesque stories of talking animals. Reynard’s legendary cunning is both a literary topos and related to the well-documented inventiveness of foxes pursued by hunters. As in other territories inhabited by the human animal, many beasts retain relatively constant characteristics, such as the kingly lion, though even he could be satirised as occasion demanded.

Over the ages and across cultures, many different animals have been regarded as sacred, and even as deities. Just to take two examples, monkeys are sacred in Sri Lanka, while cows are accorded divine status in India. The term “sacred cow” has entered common usage to indicate something or someone who cannot be criticised (often with the implication that such status is not altogether warranted). The many Egyptian statues of cats testify to their divine attributes, while combinations of feline and aquiline characteristics in such compound beasts as griffins signify origins and powers beyond those of natural creatures. Generally speaking, creatures fantastically assembled from the component parts of diverse species have served as harbingers of divinity or devilry. Almost all religions that have exploited figurative imagery have developed fantastically confected agents for good or for evil. Human-animal compounds carry a particular frisson, as mermaids, sirens, harpies, centaurs and satyrs testify.

The perceived character of particular animals, male and female, real and imaginary, is not subject to simple generalisation, and once we embark on the assembly of lists it is difficult to know when to stop a complex and often unstable mesh of cultural factors, knowledge, experience, and deep-seated instincts are involved, collectively and individually. The same creature can play the roles of polar opposites. Many people love birds of all kinds. A few cannot stand to look or touch of feathers. And one of the scariest of all Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces of filmed unease was “The Birds”, in which flocks of flapping insurgents wreaked mass revenge on humans, as fronted by the lovely Tippi Hendren (fig. 1). The complexity and fluidity of our feelings does nothing, however, to diminish the elemental power of our reactions to each creature in particular circumstances.

The power of a film such as Hitchcock’s, addressed to adult audiences, shows that whatever we may have sloughed off amongst our childish things, we retain a very strong instinct to anthropomorphise animals and to build them into our own stories. Domesticated companions are obviously in the front line, but no visitor to a zoo is likely to the resist the pull to assign character on the basis of appearance. Even the popular names of some wild animals and, most notably, birds speak of their fancifully assigned roles in human society. The Secretary Bird, for instance, is all neat precision and high-heeled pertness.

Orwell’s exemplary “fairy tale” of revolutionary animals taking over their farm, and the inexorable onset of hierarchies and divisiveness, gains much of the efficacy of its characterisation from our instinctual anthropomorphising. The initial assembly was convened by “old Major, the prize Middle-White boar”, now venerable and stout, but still “majestic looking”. Of the sketches of the animals, all of whom behave as more-or-less true to type, none are more finely characterised than the horses, the beast best known to humans over the ages:
"The two cart-horses, Boxer and Clover, came in to together, walking very slowly and setting down their vast hairy hoofs with great care lest there should be some small animal concealed in the straw. Clover was a stout motherly mare approaching middle life, who had never quire got her figure back after her fourth foal. Boxer was an enormous beast, nearly eighteen hands high, and as strong as two ordinary horses put together. A white stripe down the centre of his nose gave him a somewhat stupid appearance, and in fact he was not of first-rate intelligence, but he was universally respected for his steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work…
At the last moment, Mollie, the foolish, pretty white mare, who drew Mr. Jones’s trap, came mincing daintily in, chewing a lump of sugar. She took her place near the front and began flitting her white mane, hoping to draw attention to the red ribbons it was plaited with."
Writing this, as I am, in Los Angeles on the night that the Oscars are awarded, I sense that Mollie would had felt more at home amongst the bejewelled starlets than with the pigs snuffling in their troughs. Though in Orwell’s tale it is the pigs that are the cleverest of animals.

At the very end of the book, the pigs are to be discovered forging a self-serving alliance with neighbouring humans. Looking into the house at the summit meeting of pigs and farmers,
"Clover’s old dim eyes flitted from one face to another. Some of them had five chins. some had four, some had three. But what was it that seemed to be melting and changing?…"
Later, following an argument between Mr Pilkington and Napoleon, the leading pig, who had been accused of cheating at cards,
"Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
This last line of Orwell’s novel flips to the other side of our coin; that is to say; to our parade of animalised people.

Carnie: "hands on" and "outsiders" response

From: Andrew Carnie
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 07:19:31 -0400 (EDT)

I do wonder whether our training sets our brains differently. I wonder whether the situation is analogous to sport. In sport, preparation sets up the body for the rigours of the particular activity. It is impossible to think a thin framed, lean cyclist like Lance Armstrong could be involved in the Tour de France and in-between be an American Football player in the Super Bowl. The world I think my work comes from as an artist is the area of slippage and leakage between brain areas the fortuitous accident and the ability to recognise its value. Living at ease with this state and maintaining it is difficult. In science a different rigour is needed. It is strange how many artists are dyslexics and I wonder if this is part of the brain set needed to be artistic. I did start a training to be a scientist and think I could have done this; but I think much of either of these disciplines is dammed hard work and doing the amount of labour twice over to be fully trained in two disciplines is hard to conceive of unless the economics of matters changed massively to help free up lots of time. My dyslexia would certainly have got in the way and I could never do the paired down writing that Richard achieves for his journal submissions; that I am jealous of.

Carnie: The Two Cultures

From: Andrew Carnie
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 06:45:16 -0400 (EDT)

The Two Cultures, some thoughts

With reference to recent discussions I would like to add a few points in a similarly clumsy way that I have added to earlier discussions. Writing is not my metier and from time to time some would say neither is my visual work!

I would agree with what Suzanne is saying that there is a drive to move away from some of the maddeningly commercial driven aspects of the Art Fair and Art Market. Certainly some sanity can be found in the discourse and images displayed within this symposium. The web offers other ways of displaying material and new technologies, new ways of presenting material. This mean sartists can subvert the traditional dominant cultural forces and make the own production and consumption zones. Of course they then have to accept the limitations that come with such a domain.

With regard to the two cultures and notions of dominance of one over the other or considerations as to whether they are coming together that has been suggested, certainly I think mixing the two cultures up is healthy with us all having deeper understandings of every field of life is important. I think artists should be very happy to talk and work with any field of study.

Maybe there will be a new phase and a new fusion of science and art work and this will produce new types of production which will supersede our traditional separations. However I would venture to stand by the fact that ultimately I think the good scientist and the good artistist have to stand back from any excursion into the others field and make good science and good art from the heart of their own practise respectively. I do think that artists need to have content and they need to know it well, and this can be in a scientific field. The specialist will have to reign ultimately returning to what they know bestand the successful multidisciplinary expert will be very rare. I have written this, now do I believe it? give me a few days.

As a practitioner I don't feel any particular jealousy towards scientists and what they discover. I am amazed by what they do produce and I am amazed by whatI have produced and what other artists have produced over the centuries. I havetalked in conferences amongst scientists been overwhelmed by their discoveriesand ideas only to find at the end that they have been very impressed by what Ihave shown them in terms of my practise. The images and metaphors produced byartists are obviously powerful things.Strangely maybe it is often the art that seems to linger longer in memory fromany one generation or from any past century down the years. Is this acontroversial thing to say; is it only true of the past, only true of me? Willthis current generation and future generations remember only science from thisperiod we are in now, with science so dominant, or are there visual iconscurrently being produced which will pass on into the collective image bank thatfuture generations might carry?I can see an image of the Dutch anatomists at work in my head from the 17 century, [Thomas de Keyser, Osteology Lesson of Dr Sebastian Egbertsz 1619], but can remember little of the science of the time. Like wise I can conjure many artists from the Renaissance and their paintings but remember little of the fascinating discoveries made in Florence. I think if ones understanding of science are that it deals with facts one surpassing the other this does mean that the history of science becomes weakened force in ones memory over time. Ultimately the product of science is rules and formulae about the world which are ever being advanced. "Significant" art deals with particular human "subjective" truths and that these strangely become critically and objectively "true" generation after generation. Art is about sounds, pictures, poetry and prose and they seem to linger for longer. The science writing that Richard Wingate talks of in his recent submission is as he says paired down to exclude all metaphor, and has no place to resonate. The visual and sound world we know has existed for humans for much longer than that of the spoken and written word. We have always seen and heard but we have only begun to talk and write more recently; with the first the earliest known hieroglyphic inscriptions around 3200 BC; thought Homo Habilis was looking and hearing in Africa some two half million years ago. The picture and metaphor maybe have a deeper resonance a connection maybe with older areas of the brain. I rather like Richard Gregory's visual experiment with the hollow mask, spinning slowly; the nose always appears to stick-outeven when the reverse should be true. Our brains over rule our eyes, to say ""that nose's always protrude"; perception acts over sensation. A further adaptation to this demonstration has been added by Gregory and I think a team of Canadian scientists. Subjects asked to point to where the nose is on the mask when looked at hollow side facing them, always point in the air in front of the mask if asked to undertake this process with consideration. Asked to do it with speed and with no hesitation the subjects finger reaches into the mask and point into the inverted nose. At a deeper level our "old brain" gets it right and understands the real spatial aspect in the experiment. Deep down lies an unconscious visual awareness and truth.

Andrew Carnie
Artist and Lecturer
Winchester School of Art
Southampton University
Website www.andrewcarnie.co.uk

Wingate: "hands on" and "outsiders"

From: Richard. Wingate
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 06:26:24 -0400 (EDT)

There is indeed great deal of value in a constant explanation and defence of ideas and results with the non-scientist, the "outsider". Best when it’s witha creative mind that has a similar interest in observing, interpreting andunderstanding the world (artists, playwrights, children, sometimes students).However, I’m not sure that the artist in collaboration is necessarily anoutsider. Over the last year or so of hearing Andrew Carnie talk about my work, I feel he invests it with more interest and excitement than I can muster. He explains the concepts equally well and is an excellent advocate for science andscientists. I think, incidentally, that this is something that he has conveyedin some of his postings. So Andrew’s an “insider” but not a benchresearch scientist.Could he be? Well the training is long and hard - there are degrees anddoctorates to be won along the way - and he’s already been through his ownlong and hard professional development, with so many parallels in structure andbenchmarks for achievement. Andrew, what do you think?So when a non-scientist is trained to use a scanning electron microscope(Jill’s observation), the use of the term mimicry is very accurate superficially daunting equipment can be used efficiently and correctly by anyone with a relatively brief training. But these are just tools. Theinstinctive understanding of the significance in form and function -what todiscard and what to leave in is gained through experience and often a greatdeal of scholarship.

Wingate: SESSION TWO brief answer

From: Richard Wingate
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 06:19:27 -0400 (EDT)

1) What is a laboratory? I don’t think of the laboratory is as a creative space - it’s more like a battleground. I’s a place where we wrestle with temperamental equipment anddiscomfort and the site of almost constant defeats and only the occasionalheart-stopping victory and revelation. It’s also a collegiate atmosphere ofconstant banter, gossip and humour, flirtation even. Because so many peoplepass through and invest each inch of bench surface with the story of theirstruggle the laboratory is often redolent with memories and evidence of pastcolleagues - a very “human” (and I’m conscious of the conversations inthis session) environment, not at all impersonal. Scientific creativity is inmy experience exercised on whiteboards and paper, in offices and seminar rooms, on the commute into work and at home in the late night around the kitchentable.

The studio, by comparison, seems enormously liberating - a playground. However, I’d imagine that what the studio shares with the laboratory is a love-hate relationship with their respective occupants. Is this true?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sappol: The Two Cultures Update

From: Michael Sappol
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 21:41:54 -0400

I like your response to my two cultures posting. But I think you misunderstood what I was getting at with my statement that artists are "making themselves into scientists and philosophers of science” (because I was operating in the ironic mode). I was thinking about performative aspects of contemporary art. I was arguing that artists play-act the discourse, tropes, productions and characteristic (or stereotypical) performances of science. This work, like other contemporary art, participates in the creation of marketable personae and trendy commodities. But in the best cases it also performs a valuable critical function--in collaboration with the apparatus of art historians, documentarians, etc.--mounts a critique of science, art, governmentality, markets and lots of other things that need thoughtful explication and criticism.


Waldby: Science and Gender (Jill Scott) and session 3 questions

From: Catherine Waldby
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 16:04:15 +1100

Re Eugene's point about the labour of tissues

I agree thinking about the productivity of biological material as a from of labour is really useful ? effectively this is the source of productivity of the bioeconomic industries - their ability to tweak in vitro and in vivo living materials and turn their normal productivity into labour for biocapital as it were. At the same time I would want to link this labour to what I would call human in vivo labour. A lot more areas of biotech involve ongoing relationships to populations who give access to their in vivo biology as well as their ex vivo tissues - biobanking, where banks take blood samples but also monitor the lifetime health of their cohorts, clinical trails participants, increasingly drawn from third world populations where this is their main source of income, women who sell ova on a regular basis, to the reproductive industries and now to stem cell research. The last two of these are very onerous and involve significant risk and often pain. In each of these cases the labour performed by tissues requires a prior and ongoing labour performed by subjects. I think the biotech industries would like to escape this relationship and rely purely on in vitro life, but in many arenas they can?t.


Eugene wrote
I wonder if this neoliberalization also relates to anew type of labor - one different from the maternal body and the attendanttechnologies involved in reproductive biology. What "labor" is performed bycells, eggs, and embryos? It sounds a bit ridiculous, I know (no, I don't meanembryos as a form of child labor in Chaplin's factory...). But much of thescience behind these innovations is predicated on the notion that, given theright conditions (e.g. the right growth factors, etc.) a group of cells willthemselves differentiate in a particular way - with a minimum of intervention.Of course there is a lot of intervention. But the concept is that thebiological entities will do it themselves - there's an interesting approach of"pulling back" here that seems consonant with the neoliberal "flexibility"surrounding reproductive technologies...?

RE: SESSION THREE: bioscience and bioart

From: Eugene Thacker
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 14:51:36 -0400 (EDT)

Hi all -
I have to admit that I concur with many of Michael's statements here, though I remain interested in innovations in both and across both areas. Personally I'm not convinced that we are anywhere near being "beyond" the two cultures (let alone in a "third culture" as that book by Brockman suggests).

(i) There's a conceptual issue involved, in that we often *begin* discussion presuming the categories of "artist" and "scientist," if only for heuristic reasons. That's fine, we all do it, whatever. But there's an important discussion to be had about the function of those categories in making possible a discussion at all. The "artist-scientist" dichotomy often comes tometonymically stand in for the "two cultures," whereas there are far from being identical. I'm not sure a philosopher would be on the side of the artist, or a programmer on the side of the scientist, etc.

(ii) But I'm always reminded of the way that the various institutional sites relentlessly - and invisibily - interpellate us into these positions as well. I would include here the very literal spaces of the classroom, the art studio, the media production "lab," the science lab, the conference/convention/symposium, and online variants of these. There's no reason to think that Peter Burger's critique of the "institution of art"doesn't apply to other fields as well.

(iii) This conceptual issue, and its articulcation within institutional sites, lead us to think about the refractory effect that many of our basic concept shave. For instance "creation" may mean something very different for one artist and another, let alone between those artists and a scientist. How different can the concepts become while still remaining the same concept? (The concept of "purpose" is another one; Kant famously posited a weird "purposiveness without a purpose" in the asthetic...).

A while back I tried to - in a somewhat provocational manner - sort out some of these problems in a short article that started by flaming Jeremy Rifkin andthen talking about bio-art. I quote from a part of it here:
"-Bioart usually benefits the artists more than the scientist collaborators.While there are a great many examples of scientists collaborating with artistson projects, there are a few asymmetries worth noting. First, the work itselfis usually shown in an art context. Second, if publication occurs, it is morelikely to be in an art journal than a scientific one. Third, when instances ofprofessional recognition arise (e.g., tenure & promotion), the artist getsrecognition, while the scientist often does not. Fourth, artists and scientists work with very different funding budgets. Very different.- The context for bioart is often the site of the gallery. This may not beproblematic in itself, but when bioart claims to be speaking about biotech interms of education and public awareness, then we have to wonder about the siteof this engagement. The art gallery is itself a specialized site, quitealienating for many people. How can art claim to reach a public about science,when it still has not resolved its inability to reach a public about art?- In bioart, "gee-whiz" science often overwhelms critical engagement. That is, bioart often eschews ethical considerations in favor of technical ones. Anyone will admit that learning how to work the automatic sequencing machine is cool, but it is worthwhile to reflect on it a little. The old question can I do this versus should I do this is worth reconsidering in the context of bioart practices as art practices.
- Bioart can sometimes become PR for the biotech industry. In some cases the aestheticization in bioart can feed into the "rhetoric of wonder" abundant in popular discussions of the genetic understanding of life. It is fascinating that your DNA stretched out is five feet long (or whatever it is) And?
- But not all bioart is formalist. In fact, a number of artists enjoy and cultivate the "outsider-artist" persona, which indicates that bioart may be attempting to fashion itself as the new avant-garde (oh no, not again!). By pitching itself as transgressive, bioart risks replaying the tired narrative of mainstream recuperation. Except that recuperation will this time be activated by government research institutions and biotech companies with programs titled "a celebration of art and science." (Might we someday see artists as spokespeople for pharmaceutical companies?)..."
[ full article: http://rhizome.org/thread.rhiz?thread=7028&page=1 ;]


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Anker: The Two Cultures Update (Sappol)

From: Suzanne Anker
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 13:12:19 -0500

Having recently re-read C.P.Snow’s The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959) with my M.F.A. Graduate students in S.V.A.’s Writing and Art Criticism Program, we did in fact, find some points that still have currency. Although couched in existential terms, Snow distinguishes “the individual experience and the social experience, between the individual condition of man and his social condition.” Thus for Snow, who had one foot in each camp,
he talks about scientists thus:
“Most of the scientists I have known well have felt just as deeply as the non-scientists I have known well-- that the individual condition in each of us is tragic. Each of us is alone: sometimes we escape from solitariness, through love or affection or perhaps creative moments, but those triumphs of life are pools of light we make for ourselves while the edge of the road is black: each of us dies alone.”

Your impressive and comprehensive listing of “structural similarities” between art and science, is in fact well taken. However I would like to argue with your notion of “artists making themselves into scientists and philosophers of science.” I have made references during the symposium to the fact that at the present time, art practice has devolved into an entertainment industry. Operating as an unregulated insider trading brokerage network, it advances its platforms and cultural consensus through a checkbook. From the Art Fair to the International Biennial, goods for sale (or tourism bucks) are only outflanked by the perception that the “expression” of art is synomous with human rights and political freedom. The enormous interest in objects and markets may in fact dilute the actual practice of art. If one conceives of the artworld as a microcosm of the real world (and this may or may not be true in science) than the commodity trumps the iconic, linguistic, philosophic or other charges that have historically been within the provenance of modern art. And it is here that we can consider the changing ways in which communities and social complexes form. As global markets produce more and more “stuff”, objects, as stated by Karin Knorr Cetina, replace personal relationships substituting ‘things’ for sentient intimacy.

If artists, are migrating towards alternative discourses, it may in fact be that they do not agree with the art world’s self-proclaimed agenda. In this sense, artists are still doing what they have always done, particularly in regard to the historical avant-garde. The claim that art has value, exceeding it material costs, has created a coterie of art historians, historians, curators, documentarians and others as they interpret, catalogue and protect what has been deemed valuable. So in some ways, art functions as a data-bank or archive of the changes over time in our ideas about what constitutes “world-making.” Hence, this current round of artists, not content to endorse the slogan “dumb like a painter” wish at least to have the “creative moments,” the “pools of light” that C.P Snow talks about. And it is to this ambitious undertaking that I give my respect.

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From: Richard Twine
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 16:45:01 -0000

Each discipline has its own set of practices with regard to this question. From your particular perspective, please identify the issues, values, and ethics involved in these transformative bio-practices.

As a sociologist interested in the social and ethical aspects of animal biotechnologies, a central issue is to investigate the extent to which the bio-sciences are effecting a shift in our relations to nature, and the very meanings of 'nature'. I take on board Oron's point that artists, sociologists and cultural critics can certainly become embroiled in the mythical hyping of bioscience, and so consequently we should be cautious in over-stating our claims. Interestingly since we are talking about highly commercialised domains of science, scientists may be encouraged to adopt a rather performative stance to prospective venture capital audiences. We can witness this right now in the area of using cloning technologies for animal agriculture which (setting aside ethical questions and focussing on the technical possibility) is rather 'gung ho' in the USA and treated with much more scepticism in the EU.

We're in the early stages but arguably changes are afoot, hyped or otherwise. Marker Assisted Selection or Gene Assisted Selection which are molecular techniques of refined selective breeding using genomic information (not to be confused with genetic modification - GM) are developing with some already in use, and pockets of research for the use of GM & Cloning in animal agriculture are also ongoing. Xenotransplantation has hit a wall, but research continues, and biopharma research although rather slow in progress is also ongoing. Several of these techniques encourage a convergence between medical and agricultural domains which is novel in its hybridising effect, if not its history of knowledge exchange. Obviously plant agriculture is further 'ahead' in these respects.

The ethical import in these transformative bio-practices could revolve around the question of what the human becomes when it transitions into a designer of life? The bio-sciences might equally be drawn upon to underline cross-species solidarity or indeed a definitive humiliation of a nature still represented as abject and nonhuman. In terms of animal ethics specifically, the vast majority of GM work is in medical research, a historical paradigm that is very difficult to extract ourselves from. Nevertheless our values towards other animals are highly ambiguous, with this ambiguity probably being a latent cultural resource for change. It's arguably the dark little marginalised truth pertaining to our cultural practices of animal consumption that is more ethically interesting. Unless our thriving posthumanist vegan and vegetarian friends are grabbing some animal protein on the sly, it does in fact appear that our animal consumption is a psychological/cultural/geographical need rather than a physiological one. We might then want to think more on why art/sci interactions could be seen to be privileging certain forms of 'sexy' science. An artist working with a team of animal welfare or behavioural scientists or even nutritionists might come up with a different take on the issues of hubris and anthropocentrism than one who goes for animal transgenics, as interesting and as valid as that is. Perhaps, as implied by one or two earlier posts, sciences such as tissue engineering will have a considerable impact on human/animal relations if engineered meat really does happen, or at least a proliferation of novel protein foods (see this Dutch research project for more information on that - http://www.profetas.nl/). It would be good to hear more from the artists here who use animals in their work - whether or not they think their work is raising any particular ethical questions or questionings of bioscience.


Dr.Richard Twine
Principal Investigator & Postgraduate Director
ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (CESAGen)

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Sappol: bioscience and bioart

From: Michael Sappol
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 10:51:38 -0400

This may be stating the obvious but I want to offer an abstract, but I hope useful, response to the virtual symposium as a whole. Oron Catts's post about the unfriendly reception of his poster at an international tissue engineering conference raises the issue of the ambivalent relationship between artists and scientists, and their work. Without invoking the now-tired "two cultures" argument, it seems evident to me from many of the posts in this symposium that there are structural, and more than structural, similarities between artists and scientists: both make artifacts that are connected to truth claims; both do their work in sequestered spaces (the laboratory, the classroom, the studio, the gallery, the journal); both derive authority and legitimacy, cultural privilege, from claims to be connected to progressive lineages of accomplishment, with chronologies of "landmarks" and "breakthroughs"; both have a canon of performance based on the notion of "genius"; both increasingly use a specialized technical vocabulary that excludes the larger public; both have knowledge communities that assess, comment on, and validate their claims (and both share a knowledge community, the group of people who do sociological/cultural theory/critique of art and science). And both have transformative effects on a wider public, on society and culture, on everyday life, on the embodied self.

Although some of the posts in this symposium have stressed the ways in which artists and scientists collude, and have colluded over the centuries, it seems to me that there is a competition for authority, an abiding tension. Today, the cultural prestige of science is very high, hegemonic; for a long time science has trumped art. Artists have responded in part by adopting the language of "experimentalism" and the "laboratory", first in music, then in conceptual and visual art; by working in new technologies (video, digital imaging, tissue engineering, recombinant DNA); by taking up residence in the institutions of science; by adopting at least in part the specialized technical vocabulary of science; by making "epistemic objects" that mimic or parody or "destabilize" the objects of science; and by taking on an oracular, prophetic role that offers a critique of science, especially biotechnology. In other words, artists have responded by making themselves into scientists and philosophers of science. Who make far-reaching truth claims about science and technology: about the way science works; about the power relations that are built into science's "epistemic objects"; about the mystification, reification, and/or naturalization effects of scientific productions; about science's embedded ideologies and aesthetics; about its cognitive, and much more than cognitive, effects on us and the world around us.

Mike Sappol
History of Medicine Division
National Library of Medicine

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Wingate: Use of Metaphor

From:Richard Wingate
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 11:16:05 -0400 (EDT)

Hi Jill,
Really racing to catch up with this fascinating symposium - if I can return toyour questions (of many days ago)...You mentioned the use of metaphor (visual and written) and the differences in their use in arts and science. I'd agree that there is a lack of training of science researchers in the use of a visual language, at least (maybe not quite the same thing). To me this gives free rise to a fascinating absorption and recycling of stray elements of visual culture in visual scientific presentation. This contrasts with the written science research paper, which in its ideal form, is a highly disciplined and sparse form of literature, entirely free of metaphor (well, that's the idea at least). Perhaps this is the origin of the ambiguity you've identified - we formally reject metaphor within primary written research but bask in the pleasure of a poorly balanced visual metaphor given the opportunity.

In answer to your points:
-I think that scientists would enjoy explicitly confronting the poetic motives behind what they produce. A comparative scientific and an artistic appreciation of an identical set of events might come up with parallel models thatcomplement and define each other. I suspect that, in any case, we use thisprocess of poetic/literal comparison in interpreting what we see - even if wecouch these interpretations formally within a more austere language.
- Successful Art-Sci collaborations are indeed a dicussion of metaphor, butI'm not sure that a resultant artwork would ever be judged purely within ascience arena. My utilitarian stance would be that the value of the exercisecame within the process. I'm not sure which part/element of science is able tojudge or afford respect to the product - an artwork that was useful to sciencemight fail in so many other ways...

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Anker: Modes of Depiction/Epistemic Systems (Florian, Brad, Max)

From: Suzanne Anker
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 09:50:12 -0500

Several panelists have had professional training and/or careers that span the visual arts and the sciences. Florian Dombois is commenting about the way in which content from one discipline can be transfigured and expanded into content in another. Please talk about the ways in which symbolic forms intersect with your work in the sciences. To what extent do you differentiate your roles in each? What are some of the ways you can describe art practice as an epistemic system?

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Kemp: Reporting on Human Chromosome 16

From: Martin Kemp
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 08:55:53 -0400


In lieu of being able to participate in the debate, though sheer pressure of time, I’m sending my latest Nature column, which is at least germane. It is not yet published and has not been through the editorial process.
Sarah Jacobs has been keeping me informed about her work for a number of years. We met for the first time when I was preparing this essay. I think she will come to be regarded as one of the major artists working in the field.

Martin Kemp

Reporting on Human Chromosome 16

Sarah Jacobs mutates information into art
How is any artist to confront the excruciating complexity of the human genome – or any genome for that matter? There are just too many CGATs. It is possible to make some general artistic “statements” about the project, about its implications and about genetic engineering. It is all too easy to sink to the level of the “Frankenstein Food” headline in the Daily Mail on13 February 1999.
But Sarah Jacobs shows that the complexity can be tackled head on and turned to brilliant aesthetic account. She has a record of working with the blank poetics of modern scientific discourse, with its studied eschewing of stylishness or personal _expression_. Her 92-page e-book, Deciphering Human Chromosome 16: We Report Here is studded throughout with phrases from the original 2004 article, “The sequence and analysis of duplication-rich human chromosome 16” (Nature 432). “We report here” is one of these, together with “We observed” (of course),“Here we describe”, “We constructed”, “We adopted a strategy”, “We then eliminated”, “Finally we identified”, and so on. Isolated, the phrases that are so much part of scientific normality, assume the quality of an incantation.
Following the Nature article, Jacobs googled such terms as “human chromosome 16”, “chromosome 16 book” and “chromosome 16 _expression_”. She even searched for odd combinations, such as “chromosome 16 Saddam Hussein”. (Yes, it really does produce results). She sifted out around 250 website links on the basis of what appeared intellectually or intuitively interesting and “looked good”. The e-book proceeds through simple pages of the incantatory phrases interspersed with coloured lower-case overprinting of the site links with fragments of their texts and numbers from the original article in large capitals, such as the “…..NINE PERCENT / EIGHT HUNDRED / AND EIGHTY. ONE THOUSAND / SIX HUNDRED AND SEVENTY / NINTEEN /THREE HUNDRED AND / FORTY-ONE / 3” on the illustrated page.
The result is a doggedly accumulated “report” on the incredibly rapid Internet diffusion of the knowledge in standard and bizarre forms. The contents are however subject to constant mutation. Every 6 months Jacobs took screen shots to document the changes.
To accompany the Report, she has now issued an Index as a print-on-demand book, heavy in its fixed form of 552 pages. Against the rat-a-tat background of the CGAT permutations, the accumulated numbers are remorselessly spelt out, up to “Sixteen million five hundred and forty-one thousand and nine hundred”, still short of 90 million plus noted in the article. They are accompanied by enigmatic fragments from the websites.
Given the vagaries of the production process, each Index assumes an individual character. The CGATs on every left hand page are bled to the very borders, and their visible _expression_ along the unbound edge of the closed book varies unpredictably as the result of minute variations in the trimming process.
The Report and the Index are strange, difficult, perplexing, suggestive and strangely beautiful - and awesome in their numerical persisitence. Jacobs has created something that is very directly drawn from the science and its diffusion, using the tools of a rabid bibliographer-cum-classifier. Yet the result subverts the science in the direction of chaos and cacophany. The effect is analogous the way that the extraordinary particularity of each individual person seems to confound the overwhelming similarity of our genetic constitutions.
At least, this is one interpretation that I can give it. There are others. Jacobs is, I suspect, resisting any closed or dominant reading. Therein lies the difference between the original article and Jacobs’s visual play. The scientific exposition states that “WE FOUND” with as little lattitude for alternative readings as possible. Jacobs provides a field for interpretative flexibility that triggers thoughts and insights of an unexptected nature – unexpected even to the author herself.

Illustration: Deciphering Human Chromosome 16: We Report Here, p. 6 http://www.informationasmaterial.com/ http://www.informationasmaterial.com/documents/HC16report_06_12_20.PDF

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Catts: Living Removable Tattoo as a BioArt?

From: Oron Catts
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 21:21:28 +0900

The use of biomedical technologies for non medical ends is one of the criticism that is been laved against artists who are working in this field. I remember that Vacanti once said that the goal of tissue engineers is either to get the Nobel prise for medicine or to find a way to regrow hair...

When we present one of our pieces as a poster in an international tissue engineering conference we got lots of hard time for degrading this technology to something so frivolous as art, while some posters next to us dealt with penis extensions and other cosmetic enhancements... As the technology of producing 3D organs using tissue engineering proves to be as elusive as ever this technology is starting to be employed for nonmedial ends - body enhancements is an obvious way to try and manufacture needs for this new technology. Others are the development of in-vitro meatand leather (that we had something to do with...), as well as military applications.


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Catts: response to A small note on the lab

From:Catts Oron
Date:Tue, 13 Mar 2007 21:02:13 +0900

This interesting point that is important to note- what it really means that as with much of this type of technology, and in particular technology that employ rudctionist abstraction- the victim is hidden from view. The notion of the technologically meditated victimless utopia that our last few projects ironically dealt with is indicative to the distance that western capitalism generate between the perpetrators and their victims (see the media coverage of war in the US). This type of distance can be seen as a device to eliminate the need of contemplating the ethical issues so not to hinder "progress". The visceral experience that much of the wet "bioart"
produce might be seen as a way to confront this notion.


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Anker: Migrating Social Spaces - Art As Invention

From:Suzanne Anker
Date:Tue, 13 Mar 2007 06:47:04 -0500

Novel ways of thinking and doing can be socially, economically and politically beneficial. The wonder of invention is a creative springboard allowing the more adventurous to remix the given. Negotiating territorial discourses and practices requires tenaciousness and makes significant learning demands on the border-crossers. Mironov’s suggestion about living, removable tattoos as possibly being a form bioart , is something to think about. Certainly within the traditions of body and performance art possibilities abound. Many artists have used their own bodies as malleable sites of sculptural form. From Beuys and Nauman to Hannah Wilke and Orlan, performance art is very much alive within the cultural establishment of the artworld. In an earlier post, Orlan talks about a prospective collaboration with Oron Catts. Mironov’s idea about removable tattoos may in fact one day cross the art/sci divide as well.

Invention can also be looked upon as incorporating an element of chance. There are many historical examples in this regard, the discovery of penicillin being one. For the artist, recognizing nuance and possibility in the process of making, is part of artistic creation. Another aspect, furthering collaboration and creative process is the random and not so random meeting of various practitioners at cocktail parties, lectures art exhibits and the like. The scientific laboratory and artist’s studio are generally off-limits to a public audience. Perhaps shared laboratory/studio visits could be arranged?

I am very intrigued to learn about Thomas Edison's tattoo machine. In some ways it can be compared to Paul Winchell's prototype for an artificial heart. The comparison is not one of function, but one of migration between the worlds of art, science and entertainment. Most Americans (of a certain age) are familiar with Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, as a ventriloquism duo performing on early television. Paul Winchell being sentient, Jerry Mahoney, a puppet. However, what is not well known is that Winchell was also an inventor. He studied acupuncture, was engaged in medical hypnotism and had a close relationship with Dr. Henry Heimlich. In consultation with Heimlich, Paul Winchell designed the first the prototype of what we now know as the artificial heart.

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Twine: A small note on the lab

From: Richard Twine
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 11:28:09 -0000

I don't think this has been mentioned yet but it occurs to me that weshould be a little cautious about valorising the lab as the site ofscientific investigation when talking about art/sci cross-over. Duringmy research into animal geneticists and genomics scientists it becamevery apparent that less and less work, and in some cases no work, iscarried out in the lab as we might traditionally conceptualise. Many ofus will be familiar with the idea of life being converted into code,information (see Canguilhem, Haraway, Rose, Rabinow, Anker and so on).Well I saw this in practice - the majority of work is now done in theoffice in front of a computer screen doing comparative work on variouscross-species databases of sequenced code. Livestock animal scientistsdraw upon the sequenced human and mouse genomes in order to learn -through homology - about quantitative trait loci of economic interest intheir respective species, be that pig or whatever. Obviously lab workstill happens, but there is a degree of stratification, it's more likelyto be the grad students or post-docs doing the lab work. Maybe somethingto think about/of use to someone.


Dr.Richard Twine
Principal Investigator & Postgraduate Director
ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (CESAGen)Lancaster UniversityUK.
Project Web-site http://www.cesagen.lancs.ac.uk/roar/
Homepage http://www.richardtwine.com/

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Catts: Vacanti Mouse

From: Oron Catts
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 20:02:37 +0900

Hi all
This is an interesting tread and I would like to get into it on both fronts
The Wiseman human brained mouse and Vacanti’s mouse. But first I would like to add to Eugene’s SF comment - as mentioned else where much of the developments in the life science and in particular in the area of molecular biology are over hyped (sometimes referred to as DNA mania (Andre Pichot) or Genohype (Neil Holtzman). The interesting thing is that as a result both the opponents and the proponents of developments of biotech subscribe to the same hyperbole rhetoric that exaggerate the power of this technology- hence we have a debate that creates unrealistic expectations as well as fears which have very little to do with the actualities of the knowledge and its application. One of the best examples was the use of the ear-mouse in an ad in the NY times (attached) where the mouse was used as an icon of the monstrosities that genetic engineering. The problem is that as you know –this mouse had nothing to do with molecular/genetic intervention. How can we then have a credible debate? Ionat and myself just finished a paper addressing it and in particular the ongoing straggle we have to distance our work from the discourse of GE and molecular biology.

As for the ear mouse- Vladimir rightly mention the failure of Vacanti's mouse to produce the ear that would keep its structure. This poster boy ofTissue engineering can be seen as one of the most celebrated technological(note- not scientific) failures. The question is did Vacannti know at the time that it is not going to work - and released the image as he was aware of its highly evocative nature as away to show the possible potential of tissue engineering and call attention to the new ways of dealing with living materials - I know that it evoked me and was one of the major influences on my decision to work with tissue engineering as my medium of artistic research. One of the reasons for that was that this mouse represented the surrealist project comes alive but by someone who did not call on the history of these types of images. In a sense like any "good" "bioart" pieceits strength was in it's eventual failure - making it a non utilitarian culturally evocative object - and in my books that the closer one can get to an art piece. I still have a dream of trying to collect artistic references to the ear mouse for a show. Vladimir talks about a transgenic muse at the San Jose science museum - well in the science museum in Shanghai that had amouse with an ear on its back - it was made specifically for them and was presented alive for awhile - it is now preserved and presented (intestinally enough) in the section of the museum the celebrates our "genetically engineered future"... Irving Weissman's human-mouse hybrid was even more explicitly presented (at first at least) as a theoretical object for debate (seehttp://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9400E5DA1738F934A15752C1A9649C8B63 )This project (among other things) prompt Ionat and myself to develop our new project (see project description below). But before that I would like to comment about Jens reference to epistemology vs ontology, it is interesting to note that when we started to work in this area we thought that we are dealing with an epistemological crisis however, in the last couple of years we realise more and more that we are dealing first and foremost with ontological questions. It is not surprising then that we see our work as dealing with life rather then cognitivistic approach of art and science(back to knowledge production vs meaing production).

Here is the blurb about our new project:

NoArk is a research project exploring the taxonomical crisis that is presented by life forms created through biotechnology. NoArk will take form as an experimental vessel designed to maintain and grow a mass of living cells and tissues that originated from a number of different organisms. This vessel will serve as a surrogate body to the collection of living fragments, and will be a tangible as well as symbolic ‘craft’ for observing and understanding a biology that combines the familiar with the other. As opposed to classical methodologies of collection, categorization anddisplay that are seen in Natural History museums, contemporary biologicalresearch is focused around manipulation and hybridization, and rarely takesa public form.To create NoArk we will use cellular stock taken from tissue banks,laboratories, museums and other collections. NoArk will contain a chimerical‘blob’ made out of modified living fragments of a number of differentorganisms, living, in a techno-scientific body. In a sense, we will be making a unified collection of unclassifiable sub-organisms.

NoArk will critically examine and make strange contemporary life sciences’ formations that confront our familiar ordering of the living world: How do taxonomical systems based on traditional classification accommodate life forms created by humans? We hope to answer this through the development of strategies to collect, display and preserve sub-life (lab made cellularlife), visit and research Natural History collections/practices, consult with experts in regard to a place for sub organisms in current taxonomy and research and collect what widely referred to as anomalies that do not adhere to traditional classifications. In addition to the philosophical and ethical dialogues that we feel this project will engage with we are also interested in artistic and technological strategies for maintaining and exhibiting living collections of sub-organisms in a vessel for long periods of time. NoArk will offer an evocative tangible ‘semi-living’ system which will further problamitise human anthropocentric desire to classify the living world around it. NoArk will present ecology of parts as an attempt to observe the living world through a post-anthropocentric system; once we have become fragmented into tissues and cells, the possibility of being embedded within each other, and within the greater living world emerge; the Human is not the centre but rather a part of a larger changing ecosystem. Ultimately, this will be presented as an installation in which the vessel containing living tissue constructs will be displayed as a chimera, alongside technologically preserved specimens of organisms. The project will involve developing methods of co-culturing different celltypes from different organisms over 3D matrixes inside a costume designed vessel.NoArk will present materiality of life and its forms, in a time that life is becoming a raw material for utilitarian manipulation. We believe that artists should offer alternative modes of engagements with the material of life. Description Rapid developments in the life sciences and its applied technologies have created new ways for beings to come into the world, and ew categories of existence that are challenging the order of the world. This requires us- humans to rethink our understandings and our relationships with our own identity/body, other animals, as well as the concept of lifeitself. The growing number of ‘labmade’ life forms, either modified living organisms or different combinations of modified living fragments such as cell-lines and tissue (which we refer to as sub-life or sub-organisms), requires special attention. In pharmacological factories, research universities, and other technologically driven institutions there already exists a mass of disassociated living cells and tissues (sub-life) in thethousands of tons. These fragments do not fall under current biological or cultural classifications. We created the Tissue Culture & Art Project (TC&A)in 1996 mainly as a way to define this category of life and, at the same time, as an attempt to destabilize some of the rooted perceptions of the classification of living beings. We see TC&A, and our other attempt to grow aspects of the extended body, as an amalgamation of the extended human phenotype– a disembodied body that is unified in living fragments, and anontological device for re-examining current taxonomies and hierarchical perceptions of life. The extended body is by no means a fixed, scientifically binding order; it is rather a soft, artistic and conceptual view of the subject of technologically mediated and augmented life. NoArk is an attempt to develop this idea further by engaging with the notion of the collection of parts that constitute a whole. By creating a device that will allow the co-culturing and fusion of cellsand tissues from different genotypes and phenotypes (i.e. from differentorganisms and different tissue types) NoArk will present the breakdown ofboth Linnaean taxonomy and Molecular systematics (chemotaxonomy). A newtechnologically mediated ecology of semi-living fragments that will question deep rooted perceptions of life and highlight the need for re-evaluation ofhuman relationships with the greater living world.

The new sites for the collection of specimens of ‘neo-organisms’ are the life science/engineering laboratory, the research hospital, the biotechindustry, and increasingly among artists and amateurs/hobbyists. These specimens of neo-organisms and sub-organisms are catalogued and collected systematically, in tissue banks, research institutes and the patent office. However, most of these systems have little connection to historically agreed upon taxonomies of the natural world. The appearance of these new forms of life in the public arena is, say, more akin to the cabinets of curiosities then to the natural history museum, and it is almost always anthropocentric. As part of its historical narrative, NoArk will investigate the construction of knowledge through the acts of collection and classification as manifested by natural history museums, which stand in opposition to the disorganized and unique conglomerations found in cabinets of curiosity. We will also contrast these two historic attempts to systemise life to the development of modern biological curiosities, bringing into question deep rooted perception and beliefs about the ordering of life. In NoArk we will explore collections of natural history museums, tissue and cell banks, and biological laboratories.

Cell and tissue culture:
NoArk will house cell-lines that we will obtain from various cell and tissue banks. Cell lines can broadly be defined as modified cells (often immortalised) that are derived from primary culture (cells and tissues that are taken from complex organisms). An established or immortalised cell line has acquired the ability to proliferate indefinitely, either through random mutation or deliberate modification. There are numerous well established cell lines representative of particular cell types, from a wide range ofsources. We are particularly interested in cell lines that are established from cells of two or more individuals, and cells in which their origin is designated as one type of organism while being classified as another (such as the McCoy cell line that originated from a human and is now classified as a mouse cell line). It is interesting to note that there was at least one attempt to classify a cell line as a new type of organism that should fall under traditional classification, Helacyton gartleri (Van Valen & Maiorana1991).

For the last ten years we have worked with, and in some cases developed, environments for cells and tissues to grow within. These environments are often called bioreactors, and we refer to them as the Techno-Scientificbody. For this project we will be interested in working with new types of bioreactors as well as developing a prototype vessel/bioreactor that will allow us to dynamically co-culture different types of cells. The bioreactor will act as the visual foundation for the conceptual underpinning of the project while also functioning as a vessel for its enclosed cells.

Being located at a lab in a biological science school within a research university will enable us to order the cells of interest without breaching any regulations and material transfer agreements (we feel that it is important to note this, in the light of artist Steve Kurtz’s case in which he is facing court for getting biological materials that were ordered on his behalf by a scientist). Having ten years experience in tissue culture and tissue engineering we are now interested in perfecting our techniques for co-culturing and fusing cells from different species. We will analyse the successes and the types of fusion using the expertise of Dr. Stuart Hodgetts. This stage will be monitored and documented using the microscopy facilities available for us in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, the University of Western Australia. We will also learn new techniques in the DEPARTAMENTO DEENGENHARIA BIOLÓGICA at the Universidade do Minho, Portugal. This part of the project will help us to scientifically, conceptually, and metaphorically learn more about cells interrelations inside a techno-scientific body. Growing the cells over and into different matrixes will be an integral and important part of the biological research as well as towards the final visual presentation. We will be developing the prototype for NoArk using both modified scientific equipment as well as of-the shelves materials. We were fortunate to get the use of a bioreactor for free for a year. This is an expensive and significant piece of equipment that will enable us to learn about methods and technologies employed to grow cells externally to their host body. This bioreactor represents a novel way of growing tissue in a clear soft environment, it is also unique as it is a stand alone bench-top bioreactor that does not requires an incubator for its operation, and all of its operations can be controlled from a computer. Working with the Wavebioreactor will enable us to look at ways of modifying the system for thedevelopment of the first prototype of NoArk.Working with Dr. Clive McFarland from the Biomaterials and TissueEngineering Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, UNSW will enable usto research the use of hollow fibres as both delivery system and a substratefor the cell and tissue growth. His expertise will be invaluable in thedevelopment of the Vessel and other aspects of the NoArk prototype.The development of the bioreactor represents another possible benefit to thedevelopment of low cost biomedical equipment; we will be developing a cheap,large scale bioreactor for coculturing cells and tissue and might be able tocome up with some novel approaches that will be able to be used by otherresearchers and artists.

The exploration of strategies to collect, preserve and display neo-life and sub-life will benefit both the emerging field of biological art and possibly will contribute to collecting and preserving specimens of lab-made life forms. This will allow for the development of systematic approaches to be adapted by research institutes and museums who wish to collect and preserve these types of specimens. This will be conducted by talking to specialists in the Western Australian Museum (as well as other museums around the world) and having accesses to methods as well as collections in the natural history museum. We have formed strong relationships with the Western Australia Museum, which holds a vast collection of animal specimens, including marsupials, platypuses etc. these unique animals by themselves presented a taxonomical challenge. The WA Museum will assist us in developing strategies of collection and preservations using their well established procedures and protocols. We have located few locations which have began to tackle the issue of systematically collecting sub life and its orderly preservations. Examples are ATTC (the American Tissue Type Collection) – a global bioresource centre (which most laboratories around the world work with) and the San-Diego Zoo’s Bioresource Banking project and in particular the Frozen Zoo and Adult StemCell Acquisition and Culture programs that positioned in a very interestingjuncture of collection and classification. We will attempt to useBioresource Banking project as a benchmark to question its epistemology,explore its rhetoric and strategies of collection and preserving sublife. None of these resources have explores artistic sub-life or artistically driven public displays of the new sub-lives and their peculiar position in the continuum of life. NoArk will be displayed as a semi-living artistic vessel along side preserved living organisms (specimens) arranged to reflect new taxonomies. It will offer a visual interpretations of the so called ‘new order’ by presenting, maintaining and growing our living and semi-living collections as well as preserved ones. The exhibit will form an historical narrative of the evolving living world and the human position within this ‘chart’. Special techniques will be devised, mainly by the use of hollow fibres to physically and conceptually ‘connect’ between the life in the vessel and therest of its surrounding specimens, to suggest alternative taxonomy whichaccommodates neo-life and sub-life. We also hope to be able to use sensors that will be able to provide with live feed information on the well being of the sub-life inside the vessel. This information will be then transferred to a dedicated web site. We believe NoArk has the potential to be exhibited in art galleries and other public spaces such as natural history museums around the world as well as the new locations of the Cabinets of Curiosities; science fairs, zoos, performance places etc.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Talasek: Response to "that audience issue"

From: JD Talasek
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2007 22:32:46 -0400

thank you for the comments regarding the challenge of providing venues for the type of work discussed in this symposium.

First, I would like to acknowledge how the origin of this symposim can be traced back to Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution. When the exhibition traveled to UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, it provided the catalyst for dialogue between our two institutions culminating in the creation and co-sponsorship of this symposium. The exhibition introduced me to the art work of our facilitator Suzanne Anker as well as others who we have exhibited at the National Academy of Sciences.

You mentioned the “entrepreneurial spirit” it takes to create venues to show this type of work. As implied in your post, the real challenge is creating and educating an audience. After all, the work that has been discussed so far is introducing an unfamiliar dialogue and process to the community which still all too often judges the quality of work based upon what would look good hanging in one’s living room.

So within the context of this section on social and cultural concerns, I’m curious to hear from our diverse experts on the issues faced by venues hosting bioart exhibitions. If such venues are liaisons between artist and public, how can they better facilitate this connection? What is the critics’ role in this?

JD Talasek
Director Office of Exhibitions and Cultural Programs
National Academy of Sciences

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