Thursday, March 8, 2007


From: Suzanne Anker
Date: Thu, 08 Mar 2007 18:46:01 -0500

Visual Culture and Bioscience: Artists in the Labs

In Session Two: Artists in the Labs, we will concentrate on the ways and means artists have turned their attention to working within the context of scientific laboratories and research institutions. Working with “wet-ware” materials and processes in addition to traditional and digital media, both hardware and software, artists are collaborating with scientists on particular projects. Other artists working independently also employ bio-matter as their medium. Symbiotica, under the artistic direction of Oran Catts, is a unique research laboratory located in Perth, Australia in which artists can experience first hand, the manner in which the biological sciences are be employed to realize projects in the arts ( Jill Scott’s Artists-in-labs, Process of Inquiry is the first pioneering program in Switzerland addressing these issues as well. The nine participating laboratories in this project range from the fields of bioscience, to physics, to the computer and engineering fields. ( In addition, there have been other projects sponsored by the Wellcome Trust ( or even by individual artists themselves.

In moving into this next area of discourse please respond as you see fit. It is unnecessary to address each question separately or to answer them all:

1) What is a laboratory? What characterizes its distinctiveness and how is that different(or not) from an artist’s studio, a writer’s den or a scholar’s office? Physically these “sites of investigation” may be ensconced with technical apparatus, manuals and texts, picture archives, organic matter such as cells, plants or animals, or inert materials and chemicals. Tables and chairs, various energy sources, obsessive daydreams and/or points of clarity round out the d├ęcor. In some zones, the individual is alone, in others collaborative teams work together on problem-solving. As a locus of inquiry and investigation, what kinds of “things” are produced here? As behind-the scenes places, to whom and under what conditions is public access offered?

2) What case histories of artists working in the lab can be cited as having seminal significance in developing new ways to conceive of art practice?

3) In another sense, laboratory practices bring into focus a host of other questions and obligations concerning:
3.1) animal models for and in research
3.2) experiments with transgenesis in animals and plants
3.4) reproductive technologies
3.5) bio-hazards and public health
These questions spring from unprecedented and accelerating alterations to biological matter. As social, economic, political and ethical issues abound, what responsibilities do artists and scientists have with regard to the future? To what extent is hyperbole employed by both artists and scientists?
4) In a text edited by Jon Turney entitled Science, not Art: Ten Scientists’ Diaries, scientists record their daily activities and thought processes. What is noticeably clear is that scientist’s efforts (similar to artists) in maintaining their practices is wrought with risk. Scientists in their journal entries, appear as human as anyone else. Therefore, to the scientists out there, can you talk about the problematics of being a scientist?

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