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Creativity Bytes: A Brief Guide To Bio-art

Read this and sound like an expert. Well, sort of.
February 9, 2011, 8:09pm

Here’s a quick reference guide that will seek to explain the trends, terms, and movements of the brave new media world of art and technology. So you can skim, digest, and be a pseudo-expert next time you’re cornered at a Speed Show exhibition in your local cybercafe. Because, hey, life is short and art long. This week: Bio-art.

So, what is bio-art?
An art practice which uses living forms as materials, a merging of science and art expressed through the medium of biotechnology. Instead of using a paintbrush, coding language, a musical instrument, or a computer, these artists use living cells, bacteria, tissues, genes—the fabric of life itself—which they manipulate and transform by the addition of synthesized or other genetic material. Rather than being mimetic and representational, it is a living experiment.

Where did it come from?
A relatively new art form, Brazilian born American artist Eduardo Kac coined the term in 1997 after mainlining a microchip into his ankle. In 2000 he created a glowing bunny rabbit called Alba. This transgenic art project, GFP Bunny, was achieved by injecting a fluorescent protein gene from a jellyfish into a fertilized rabbit egg cell. Just as controversial is Stelarc who, with the help of SymbioticA, cultivated a scaled down human ear Extra Ear 1/4 Scale using his own cells. He now has an “ear” embedded in his arm as an ongoing performance piece. George Gessert explores the link between the creative powers that lie at the center of art and nature with a project where he breeds plant hybrids as art, thus blurring the line between artist, scientist, and gardener.

This week you're really digging…
Mark Quinn’s portrait of Sir John Edward Sulston hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, London—the work is an abstract but accurate portrayal of the Nobel prize winning geneticist, composed entirely of his DNA. And Tagny Duff’s Cryobook Archives, fleshy handmade books created from human, pig, and plant tissue.

Alba, the fluorescent bunny.

Nano talk
With a nod to the grotesque and a Dadaist grin, these artists are blurring the line between scientist and artist, adapting the methods of the former to experiment with the conceptual frameworks of the latter. The Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School accepts both artistic and scientific submissions, and the artworks go on display in the department’s hallway. If you want to meet like-minded hybrids, then grab your finest Cubist collage made from living matter and head on down to SymbioticA’s Visceral: The Living Art Experiment exhibition taking place right now until 25 February at the Science Gallery, Dublin for discussions on bioscience and art. And to generally get your bio-bacterial freak on.

Describe yourself as…
Dr. Frankenstein with a petri dish.

Alive, bio, tech, genetic, life, organism, living, mutation, transform, adapt, evolve.

Difficulty level

Tagny Duff’s

Cryobook Archives

Age range
The ever living.

My other studio’s a laboratory.

To recap: The mermaid may soon become reality. Along with the Griffin, the Centaur, and (hopefully) the unicorn. Just don’t tell PETA.

Next week: Video game art.