[spectre] Arts and Sciences

Anna Munster A.Munster at unsw.edu.au
Sat Feb 18 23:26:22 CET 2006

You raise some important distinctions that have to do with an approach and
critical relationship to science within bioart (or indeed within any
art-science collaboration). Just like any artistic practice there will be
a range of political relations to the 'object' or 'discousre' with which
we are collaborating (or dissenting against). This is true of bioart where
a numbar of artists are simply interestede in gaining access to science in
order to make beautiful images or objects etc. Then there are more
oportunistic collaborations in which artists use the space, equipement,
lab etc to getsome funding but do their own thing. then there are DIY
approaches etc.

One of the more interesting strategies to emerge has been that of Critical
Art Ensemble's 'amateur science'. By engaging with actual biotechnologies
(although at a rather high school level of biology) and in collaboration
with sympathetic and radical scientists (they do exist!), CAE create
performances that engage in the process of demystifying the practices and
claims of biotechnological corporations and state support of these
(http://www.critical-art.net/biotech/index.html). CAE claim that amateur
science can  use scientific techniques to create different knowledge about
current scientific claims that can then be disseminated to the public.
This is also the startegy of artists such as Natalie Jeremijenko. In a
sense this is a DIY approach but it collaborates with scientists and also
requires the artists involved to become fairly sophisticated users of
biotechnologies. It also requires the artists to be aware of the history
and politics of biotech.

Another approach comes through the Tissue Culture and Art Project
(http://www.tca.uwa.edu.au/) - an Australian artist group who work within
an art-science lab in a university in Australia. In order to get into this
position they have had to buy into the current funding for sciences thrust
that is part of Australian research culture. However, their position is
that they are not scientists but are artists who are critically
questioning the hype, politics and ethics of biotech by engaging with and
making work that is biotech. One could say they are in a privileged
position. However, what they have doen with that privilege is to set up an
entire residency program for international artists to apply for in order
to come and live and work with the laboratoty. They also hold regular 'wet
lab' mobile workshops in Australia, UK and US where up to 15 or so artists
can come and learn some basic biotech, discuss the politics and ethics of
art-sci work and develop projects.

So, what I'd like to say here is this - while it is useless to put forward
a grand plan of art-sci collaboration, it is also uninformed to dismiss
the art-science relationship. What we need instead are concrete histories
and discussions about who is doing what, where and why. the debate around
these issues is really becoming very sophisticated within the bioart
arena. the Tissue Culture people, for example, do not claim to be
scientists at all but rather to be creating a critical discussion about
biotechnology by engaging biotechniques. I also think that we should not
make blanket statements about science and what scientists do. the life
sciences, for example, are incredibly contested in terms of framework -
neo-Darwinists vs. palentologists vs, complexity theorists vs,
symbioticists etc etc. there is rigorous and heated discussion here and
there are a lot of scientists 9although not enough) who are radically and
politically engaged with the practice and politics of contemporary science
(see, for example the Union of Concerned Scientists

Lastly, I agree however, that the area in biotech and in bioart that has
rarely been thoroughly thought through is that of  biotech and so-called
developing nations. This is something that could really be a point of
constestation and intervention for critical art-science intervention.
Theer's a good interview on why it is that issues of biotech and
developing nations are always pushed aside by Nikolas Rose

> Anna:
> I see your point but I am not sure if the recent bioart movement has to
> with the investment in biotechnology on certain countries, specially if
> define bioart not as a sophisticated laboratory-like approach, but more
> DIY home-based practice.  It is true that the value of media art is to give
> a critical dialog around these practices and in that sense is
> the DIY practice versus the formal laboratory practice (and we should
analyze both their differences as well as their similarities).
> My point is that if bioart is being developed in counties such as
> UK, US and Canada are we promoting the DIY approach or just devonting media
> practice to an elitist realm, or even worst towards a sophisticated
laboratory formal practice in the arts?   As somebody who came to media
> from the basic sciences I can tell you that biotechnology is
> and has been growing in developing countries for centuries and there are
also interesting approaches including many DIY practices.  What we
> do
> is to promote bioart in those countries (some of them are germplasm-rich
developing) instead of just focusing in just a small bunch of developed
> Best regards,
> Jose-Carlos
> on 2/18/06 2:47 AM, Anna Munster at A.Munster at unsw.edu.au wrote:
>> As someone involved in the actual conference (although not writing the
blurb), I'd like to weigh in on this discussion and basically agree
>> what Trebor has stated in his post. I think there are specific issues
>> do with geographic locale and governmentality that affect the terms and
conditions of the art-science debate.
>> In particular, I think the issue of funding in an Australian context
(which is where the conference is being hosted) has had a big influence
>> where artists are now forced to seek their livelihhood. Similar issues of
>> funding and research that Trebor has elaborated in his post affect
Australian artists and therefore the relationship of art and science
within Australia.
>> Big assertions about art-science collaboration are probably useless but we
>> can certainly say that there has been increased collaboration between
artists and life sciences within the last 5 years - bioart is an
>> process/genre/movement that indicates this. Interestingly enough,
>> seems to be coming mainly out of Australia, UK, US and Canada. We don't
need to dig too deep here - all these countries have substantial
goevernement investment in biotechnologies...and of course, there is
>> creative capitol spillover when this level of investment occurs and
artists are able to exploit opportunities for limited amounts of time
>> they did during the 1990s in these countries with 'new media'). I think
the point is not whether art-sci  is happening but why, how and what
might be done with it. Especially, how can artists within a critical,
>> reflexive media art tradition deploy these strategies in relation to
>> politics of the life sciences...
>> In addition, although I think the kind of bland blurb for the
>> is not great, I recommend people go in and have a look at the session
descriptions and at who is speaking....for example Steve Kurtz is a
>> The conference is  reasonably well thought out and does in fact put
artists and scientists in the same space and try to get them to address
each other, although I'm sure everyone is familiar with all the
>> involved there.
>> However, in the session I'm responsible for –'New Languages' – all the
speakers in fact start from a position that says: " Science and art
>> actually speak the same language, so then what do we mean by
>> collaboration? What is the mythology created around this idea by using
>> 'language of collaboration'? Is a 'communication' paradigm useful for
describing art-science working strategies or is there a problem here
>> glides over crucial problems of translation, slippage, praxis etc?'. Other
>> sessions deal with the politics of legitimation ie how do artists use
science to legitimise their work etc. So I think you might find that
>> content of this conference is not some kind of generalised crap about
happy art and science people!
>> cheers
>> Anna
>>> Andreas wrote:
>>>> (most of the 'gravitation' mentioned here might be coupled with a
centrifugal force, in which case it would be interesting to
>>>> understand who or what is keeping the two, art and science, in each
other's orbit.)
>>> In the face of resource scarcity the arts have a hard time! This is
>>> (or at
>>> least -one) backdrop for the flirt between the arts and sciences. In the
>>> U.S.
>>> the business logic of the university moves the largest part of
>>> funding
>>> to the sciences. Universities see this investment as seed funding to
>>> corporate involvement aiming for large-scale profits that so far have
>>> not materialized. In light of the absence of much significant cultural
>>> outside of academia this trend matters a great deal in Bush country.
>>> the
>>> battle over resources the humanities have no chance of winning and the
>>> for these areas of inquiry may increasingly be found only at
>>> long-established
>>> niversities who can still afford the luxury. In the context of this
>>> dynamic a widespread scientification of the arts kicks in. Cultural
>>> battling over grants adapt to science formats. This is not always
>>> genuine
>>> choice. Their work is suddenly framed as 'research' and 'case studies'
>>> being
>>> carried out. A Ph.D. is often necessary to apply for national science
>>> The noticeable interest in practice-based doctoral degrees is more often
>>> than
>>> not related to this funding logic. This is at least one rational for the
>>> centrifugal force that you allude to...
>>> Trebor
>>> ______________________________________________
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>> Dr. Anna Munster
>> Senior Lecturer,
>> Postgraduate Co-ordinator
>> School of Art History and Theory
>> College of Fine Arts
>> University of New South Wales
>> P.O Box 259
>> Paddington,
>> NSW 2021
>> ph: 612 9385 0741
>> fx: 612 9385 0615
>> ______________________________________________
>> SPECTRE list for media culture in Deep Europe
>> Info, archive and help:
>> http://coredump.buug.de/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/spectre

Dr. Anna Munster
Senior Lecturer,
Postgraduate Co-ordinator
School of Art History and Theory
College of Fine Arts
University of New South Wales
P.O Box 259
NSW 2021
ph: 612 9385 0741
fx: 612 9385 0615

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