Thursday, March 8, 2007


From: Eugene Thacker
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2007 15:04:01 -0500 (EST)

Hi all - I realize this phase of the discussion is ending today, but I wanted to chimein, and perhaps also to offer some questions to contribute to the transitioninto the next phase on bioartists and the lab.

I agree with Cathy's points about digital media and biological mutability. Ithink you can also see it in pop culture. Many SF films (often reinventions ofcomicbook superheros/overmen) will feature digital images of DNA. One thinks of the X-Men & Spider-Man series, Hulk, etc. This can either happen within thestoryworld (e.g. a lab with computers displaying DNA as part of amad-scientist's experiment), or as a formal part of the film itself (e.g.visuals in opening credits of a film). Now, of course DNA has, has DorothyNelkin & others point out, become a "cultural icon," standing in for a greatmany things. But I think one message of CGI-DNA in pop culture is exactly toreinforce the notion of the mutability - and programmability - of thebiological domain. Flesh has source code. I dont' know, sometimes I feel thatpop culture does more "radical" things than any art practice (I like Cathy'snotion of "biological fantasy" here)...But I wonder how all this changes (if at all) when we move into the tissue engineering lab, where (as I understand)computer modeling is increasingly being used (e.g. to model biodegradablescaffolds for seeding cells)...?

And here I turn to Oron's points concerning representation. On the one handthere's the notion that there is no "picturing" in the traditional sense withbio-art. One works with the very "stuff" of life, as it were. But then there'salso the notion that what paint is for the painter, DNA or cells are for thebio-artist. The latter position makes it possible to view even a cloned mammalin terms of representation (painting, sculpture, etc.), while the formerposition, it seems, posits a kind of materiality that works againstrepresentation. (Oron, arguably your early work w/ cell-paintings is thelatter, while the Extra Ear is the former?). I wonder if the art-world analogue for this position is performance art (or indeed "performativity" in general)?

In this way I basically agree with writer/curator Jens Hauser, who argues thatbio-art must be understood in relation to post-1960 performance art (and heincludes body art and actionism in this). That is, the issues it raises areless about picturing and more about the affect, temporality/process,materiality. The specter of "presence" haunts this discussion of bio-art.Perhaps it's no coincidence that bio-art and "new media art" are happening atthe same time, both grappling with the problem of mediation and materiality(telepresence & biopresence)...

Ah, I see I've alot of reading to catch up on, so I'll stop here for now...


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