Visceral Symposium

VISCERAL: A SymbioticA Symposium at the Science Gallery, Dublin.

Saturday 29 January 2011

Cultural strategies that engage and scrutinise with developments in the life sciences, with a particular emphasis on hands-on artistic research embedded within a biological laboratory will be discussed in relation experiences of residents at SymbioticA. A selection of SymbioticA residents and two of SymbioticA's co-founders will speak on art and biology from the political, ethical, historical and aesthetical perspectives. 

Proposed schedule:

10:00 – 10:05 Welcome: Michael John Gorman
10:05 – 10:20 Opening: Oron Catts: Welcome
10:20 – 11:00 Adam Zaretsky: Art and Gene Action: Pathways to Expression
11:10 – 11:40 Meredith Walsh: Visceral: The Language of the Living.
11:40 – 12:00 Coffee break
12:00 – 13:30 Art/Science Research Centre Initiatives:
Marta De-Menezes: From SymbioticA to Ectopia: A Path of Experimentation.
Jennifer Willet:  INCUBATOR: propositions towards new laboratory ecologies.
Tangy Duff: Generating Fluxmedia
Kathy High: The BioArt Initiaive - Fail Better!
Oron Catts: Ten Years with a labour of life
Panel chaired by Miranda Grounds
13:30 – 14:30: lunch
14:30 – 15:10 Kira O’Reilly: Haruspex (and gutless porcine).
15:10 – 16:00 Adele Senior
16:00 - 16:40 Deborah Dixon: Unruly Ecologies: Ambiguity, Aesthetics and Adaptation
16:40 – 17:00 Coffee break
17:00 – 18:00 Presenting Art/Sci projects in the public domain: Oron Catts, Michael John Gorman, Ionat Zurr

Speakers’ bios and abstract:

Oron Catts (AUSTRALIA)
Co-founder and Director of SymbioticA – the Centre of Excellence in biological Arts, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, the University of Western Australia. Co-curator of Visceral – the Living Art Experiment. Visiting Professor of Design Interaction, Royal College of Arts, London.

Oron Catts is an artist, researcher and curator whose work with the Tissue Culture and Art Project (which he founded in 1996 with Ionat Zurr) is part of the NY MoMA design collection and has been exhibited and presented internationally. In 2000 he co-founded SymbioticA, an artistic research laboratory housed within the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia. Under Oron’s leadership, SymbioticA has gone on to win the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in Hybrid Art (2007) and became a Centre for Excellence in 2008.

In 2009 Oron and Ionat were recognised by Thames & Hudson’s “60 Innovators Shaping our Creative Future” book in the category “Beyond Design”, and by Icon Magazine (UK) as one of the top 20 Designers, “making the future and transforming the way we work”.
Oron has been a researcher at The University of Western Australia since 1996 and was a Research Fellow at the Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston from 2000-2001. He worked with numerous other bio-medical laboratories around the world. In 2007 he was a visiting Scholar at the Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University. He is currently undertaking a “Synthetic Aesthetics” residency which is jointly funded by the National Science Foundation (USA) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (UK) to exploring the impactions of synthetic Biology.   
Some of his past art projects include tissue engineered food and leather, in which the “steaks” and “jackets” were cultured in a laboratory setting to interrogate the possibility of victimless animal products; the Pig Wings Project, in which several pairs of wings made from pig bone marrow stem cells were grown, and Extra Ear-1/4 Scale, in which a miniature replica of Australian performance artist Stelarc's left ear was grown using human cartilage cells.

Marta De-Menezes (PORTUGAL)
From SymbioticA to Ectopia: A Path of Experimentation.

In my talk I will focus on my experience at SymbioticA and the residency I did there and the knowhow I brought with me to Portugal to start Ectopia. I will brefly discuss 2 or 3 of my works in relation to the things I've experienced working in different scientific laboratories and institutions.

Marta de Menezes was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1975.
She is a Portuguese artist with a degree in Fine Arts/Painting from the University in Lisbon and a master in History of Art and Visual Culture by the University of Oxford, under the supervision of Professor Martin Kemp and is now finishing her PhD in Art and Biology at University of Leiden.

In recent years, she has been exploring the interaction between Art and Biology, working in research laboratories demonstrating that biology can be used as new art medium.
Marta de Menezes is also the artistic director of Ectopia, an art experimentation lab in Lisbon ( and of the Cultivamos Cultura Association in Odemira (cultivamoscultura.blogspot.  com).
Her work has been presented internationally at exhibitions, conferences and in publications.

Deborah Dixon
Unruly Ecologies: Ambiguity, Aesthetics and Adaptation

The loss of biodiversity, as part of a broader ecological crisis, has engaged the attention of numerous artists, poets, writers, theatre directors and dance choreographers, working with, rather than from or alongside, scientists in an equally diverse number of fields. Despite a modern-day, institutional compartmentalization that seeks to distance the arts, as a subcomponent of the humanities, from the natural sciences, there is a shared recognition of the need to conceptualize and work through the disciplinary and political repercussions of this same compartmentalization.

Here, I want to extend my recent work on the ‘place’ of a critical BioArt that dwells on and queries the manner in which a technoscientific Biology creates what have been termed ‘Semi-Living Objects’. I do so by focusing upon the ecology research project Adaptation, initiated by the art/science collective SymbioticA, which is comprised of a series of works ranging from poems and memoirs to the creation of a slow-growing sculpture, all located on the shores of Lake Clifton in Western Australia. Though the fate of an unique colony of Thrombolites provides a shared concern, the works also scope colonisation, indigenous cultures, urban development, scientific discovery and practice, and risk and fragility in the face of climate change. In the process, they deploy overt manifesto, but also ambiguity and irony, as a means of politicizing their work; that is, they  speak to the possibilities such collaborations afford for envisioning, communicating and responding to ecological crisis.

For me, the politics of such 'wet'-ware -- that is, the aesthetic re-making of affective and inter-subjective communities -- resonates with a feminist account of an unruly, even 'monstrous,' nature, wherein, as Sue Ruddick (2009) puts it, "the ecological crisis becomes at the same time an ontological crisis."

Deborah Dixon graduated with an undergraduate degree in Geography from Cambridge University before gaining an MSc from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a PhD from the University of Kentucky. Deborah was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography, East Carolina University, before moving to Aberystwyth University in 2000. Deborah has been Book Review Editor for the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers and Area, is on the editorial boards of Dialogues in Human Geography and Aether: The Journal of Media Geography, and is Editor of Gender, Place and Culture. Currently Deborah's research is concerned with the geographic deployment of poststructural and feminist theories, particularly as they relate to a range of 'monstrous' topics such as BioArt, touch and the anomalous.

Tagny Duff (CANADA)
Generating Fluxmedia

Support and institutional infrastructure for artistic research in biological science laboratories is in its infancy stages in Canada.  In order to create the facilities and networks required to pursue my own artistic research and practice, I founded Fluxmedia, a research-creation network based in Montreal at Concordia University.  This network both facilitates and generates collaborative artistic research projects, workshops and training opportunities for graduate students and collaborators with affiliated science laboratories and a hybrid media laboratory.  I will discuss some of the initiatives generated through Fluxmedia over the last year and situate the key issues, institutional tensions and successful cross-disciplinary exchanges that surfaced along the way.  

Tagny Duff lives and works in Montreal, Canada. Duff's interdisciplinary art practice spans bioart, video, performance, net art and installation works. Recent works include Cryobook Archives and Living Viral Tattoos. Video documentation of Living Viral Tattoos was screened at the Moscow Biennial (2009) and National Centre for Contemporary Art (2008) (Keliningrad, Russia) and IX MediaForum and Moscow International Film Festival (2008) as part of the group exhibition Evolution Haute Couture, curated by Dmitry Bulatov.  Other recent exhibitions include Performing Diagnostics (2009) Articule (Montreal, Canada), Moist Media Archives Prototypes (2008) Perth Institute of Contemporary (Perth, Australia) and Recursive Symmetry (2008) Gallery Aferro, USA. Recent articles include How to Make Living Viral Tattoos in Leonardo Journal (co-authored 2011) and Going Viral: Performance and Documentation in the Science Laboratory published in Performance Research Journal (2009). Duff is Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies Department at Concordia University and director of Fluxmedia.

Michael John Gorman (IRELAND)

Dr Gorman is the founding Director of the unique, world-first Science Gallery at Trinity College, Dublin. He was a lecturer in Science, Technology and Society at Stanford University and has held fellowships at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has published widely on the relationship between science and the arts in journals including Leonardo and Nature and is the author of books including Buckminster Fuller: Designing for Mobility.

Miranda D. Grounds (AUSTRALIA)

Professor, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia (UWA). Co-Founder of SymbioticA – the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, at the University of Western Australia.

For over 30 years, the research of M Grounds has focussed on factors controlling the repair of damaged skeletal muscle and on potential treatments for muscle diseases such as Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, with a focus on in vivo studies and tissue analyses. Her research has pioneered many studies into factors controlling skeletal muscle regeneration with a particular emphasis on myogenesis in post-natal skeletal muscle in vivo, and an ongoing interest in the role of the extracellular matrix. Research on cell therapies developed the Y-chromosome probe for tracking male nuclei and identified the massive and rapid death of injected donor cells in Myoblast Transfer Therapy. Other projects investigate stem cell therapies (MG published the first bone-marrow reconstitution experiments to look for bone-marrow derived muscle stem cells in 1983) and Tissue Engineering for skeletal and cardiac muscle. Current research includes the in vivo role of IGF-1 isoforms, a focus on inflammation and anti-cytokine therapies, and metabolism, all with applications to muscle wasting with ageing and muscular dystrophy.

Kathy High (USA)
KATHY HIGH is a visual/media artist from New York working with living systems, animals, biology and art. She produces videos, sculptures and installations posing queer and feminist questions into areas of medicine/bio-science, science fiction, and animal/interspecies collaborations. Her art works have been screened in galleries and museums nationally and internationally. In 2010 she was awarded a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. K. High is an Associate Professor of Video and New Media in the Department of Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, a department specializing in integrated electronic arts practices. She and Rich Pell started the BioArts Initiative at Rensselaer in 2007, a collaboration between the Arts Department and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Kira O’Reilly (UK/IRELAND)

Haruspex (and gutless porcine).

This presentation tells tales and tails of insides and outsides of bodies moved and manipulated across borders and territories of designated art and bioscience zones, the ‘interzonal’ visceral space of inbetweetweeness and inthrewrongplacessness is explored Carnal and chaotic fleshery.
Tipping unstable dystrophic muscle cultures onto bone progenitor cells, the bony beforeness are delicate things, a tab temperamental.
Cannot find the nervy cells in the liquid nitrogen which is being reorganised and recatalogued.
Webs nets calcifying and not twitching.
Nests tangles being filled with emergent extra cellular matrix.
Ecotoplasmic goo, cloying and clogging.
Cell signalling crashing.
Cells clumping and beginning to look like explants.
“Fucking undisciplined cells.”

Kira O’Reilly is a UK based artist; her practice, both wilfully interdisciplinary and entirely undisciplined, stems from a visual art background; it employs performance, biotechnical practices and writing with which to consider speculative reconfigurations around The Body.
Since graduating from the University of Wales Institute Cardiff in 1998 her work has been exhibited widely throughout the UK, Europe, Australia, China and Mexico. She has presented at conferences and symposia on both live art and science, art and technology interfaces. She has been a visiting lecturer in the UK and Australia and U.S.A in visual art, drama and dance. Most recent new works have seen her practice develop across several contexts from art, science and technology to performance, live art and movement work.
In October 2004 she completed an honorary research fellowship and residency at SymbioticA, the art science collaborative research lab, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia, funded by a Wellcome Trust sciart research and development award. She was concerned with exploring convergence between contemporary biotechnical tissue culturing and traditional lace making crafts, using skin at its cellular level as material and metaphor. She has continued and expanded these investigations as an Honorary Research associate and artist in residence in the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham in collaboration with Dr. Janet Smith, funded by Wellcome Trust where she  investigated using spider silk and bone, muscle and nerve cell cultures as biomedia, and the relations between tissue, text and textile as variants on the theme of techné.
In autumn 2010 she began an AHRC funded three year creative fellowship at Department of Drama, Queen Mary University of London,Thresholds of Performance: Between Body, Laboratory and Text.
In December – February 2011 in collaboration with Canadian artist Jennifer Willet are photographic works, Refolding (Laboratory Architectures) at What Next for the Body, Arnolfini.

Adele Senior (UK)

Adele Senior is a Lecturer in Drama and a member of the Centre for Intermedia at the University of Exeter. She has recently completed an AHRC funded Ph.D. which situates bioart within theatre and performance studies through a critical examination of its aesthetics, ethics and politics. As part of the research, she undertook a residency at SymbioticA, the art and science collaborative research laboratory at the University of Western Australia.

Meredith Walsh (AUSTRALIA)
Visceral: The Language of the Living.

According to Ilya Prigogine’s and Isabelle Stengers’ reading of Kant, the language of physics that reads the world the same forwards as it does backwards no longer needs appeal to a divine guarantee for its ethical or moral dimension; all reality can be accounted for within its terms. (Prigogine and Stengers, 1985, 89.)  In response to this physically accorded theological redundancy, Kant divided reality into phenomena, the ontological world that can be scientifically known, and noumena, the realm of ethics and aesthetics which has no physical dimension.  Thus, the language of what it means to be living was separated from knowledge of the physical world.  Not being the last word on the division of the arts from science by any means, the distinction between the two realms continued to persist.  Until artists entered the laboratory.  And in an experiment of their own they began to manipulate living material to explore the ethical and aesthetic implications of the life-sciences.  In doing so, they arguably drew back the ontological curtain that divided the two realms. (Punt 2003)  However, despite being created through living biological material –often critically and provocatively so –I suggest the living art experiment remains largely outside of its empirical terms, with the life-sciences still claiming privileged access to physical reality.  

Drawing on Prigogine’s and Stengers’ assertion that all reality is conceptualised, I will suggest that not only the language and instruments of science but also those of art have ontological traction; and this traction offers an opportunity for ethics and aesthetic to be constitutive of the living scientific experiment in its ontological claim.  

Meredith Walsh has been exploring the distinction between art, philosophy and science over a number of years through a strongly theoretically informed creative practice.  She has been resident at a number of laboratories, including SymbioticA, (The Centre of Excellence for Biological Art) and the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation.)  In 2010 she was the recipient of the ANAT (Australian Network for Art and Technology) Synapse International Residency grant in collaboration with the Pier Luigi Luisi Synthetic Biology Laboratory in Rome, where she is currently located.  She is also a PhD candidate at the London Consortium, the University of London.  

Jennifer Willet (CAN)
INCUBATOR: propositions towards new laboratory ecologies.

INCUBATOR Hybrid Laboratory at the Intersection of Art, Science and Ecology is a physical and theoretical hub, a new art/science laboratory at The University of Windsor.  It functions both as an apparatus in which environmental conditions can be controlled towards the assisted proliferation of life, but also as a site that supports the proliferation of new ideas.  In a practical sense INCUBATOR is a teaching and research laboratory housed in the School of Visual Arts – allowing for art/science practices that may prove disruptive in traditional bioscience environments to proliferate. IvNCUBAITOR serves as site for innovative productive and performative imaginings of biotechnology as a technology of the body – a complex ecology – that implicates each of us intellectually and biologically in the continued propagation of the life sciences.  In 2011, in collaboration with The Banff Centre for the Arts, and The Art and Genomics Centre INCUBATOR will construct a portable laboratory in the Canadian Rocky Mountains - bringing internal scientific ecologies in direct contact with external ecological environments.

With this talk, Willet wishes to introduce the art/science community to this new facility, with heavy emphasis on notions of ecology and democracy in imagining possible alternative biotechnological futures.  Willet will highlight the similarities and differences between INCUBATOR and her previous research experiences at SymbioticA at The University of Western Australia, and The Art and Genomics Centre at The University of Leiden.  Additionally she will present her ongoing research and the bioart expedition planned for 2011.

Jennifer Willet is an internationally successful artist in the emerging field of bioart. Her work explores notions of representation and body in relation to evolving biotechnologies with an emphasis on ecological metaphors.  She has exhibited, and presented her research extensively across Canada and internationally.  From 2000-2007 Willet and Shawn Bailey collaborated on an innovative computational, biological, artistic, project called BIOTEKNICA.  With this project she participated in two residencies at SymbioticA at The University of Western Australia in 2004, and 2006.  She taught in the Studio Arts Department at Concordia University in Montreal Canada from 2000-2007, and completed her PhD in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program at the same institution.  Willet also taught "Bioart: Contemporary Art and the Life Sciences" for The Art and Genomics Centre at The University of Leiden in The Netherlands in 2008, and now works as an Assistant Professor in the School of Visual Arts, at The University of Windsor in Canada.  In 2009 she opened a bioart research and teaching lab called INCUBATOR: Hybrid Laboratory at the Intersection of Art, Science, and Ecology at The University of Windsor.

Adam Zaretsky (USA)
Art and Gene Action: Pathways to Expression

Diversity is a record of the unpredictability of anatomy. Time based living media shows control’s drift. Beyond the anarchistic love of results, what can drive the widest range of aestheticised bodies to leap into science’s waiting arms?

Goals for future research aesthetics should allow celebration of the compulsive meddlesomeness that the primate movers of hereditary cascades perform in their arts. Initially the seductive relationship undulates between a small range of research aesthetics: Applied (utilitarian/engineered) ± [pop art]-cynical product optimizer, Fundamental (pure) ± [jazz improvisation]-experimental play as surprise enabler, Health (enhancement) ± [minimalism]-naïve perfectionism, world rejection, longevity alone, Defense (weaponry) ± [tap dance]-sadofuturist thanatopian kitsch or gore cabaret. Through art historical diversity as a methodology, we can include all of art’s refined movements as pathways to gene expressionism. For instance under-explored avenues include: Rococo Biolistic Transgenic Arts, Synchromism Electroporation Germline Arts, DNA Op Art Stemcell Microinjection Arts, Constructed Painting Lipid Transfer Genetic Arts, 3rd Millennium Eugenic Husbandry Bioarts, The Inherited ‘Case Against Art’ Living Antiart Engineered Arts.

Of course, ethical responsibilities are engraved in the mutagenic application of art and science’s broad stroked aesthetics. They are writ in the brains and sinews of those whom have been imprinted upon. Different weights and measures are standard issues when force evolving aesthetics into plants, bacteria, animals, humans, cell lines, embryos etc. Ecological risk benefit analyses fluctuate according to market forecasts. But this project is a pursuit towards Intentional Germline Manipulation (IGM) of the human germline. Transgenic humans will live to experience life beyond the limits of benefit or dignity but with added attributes. Analysis of prescriptive sketches: 1) lean on the potential role of genetic determinism in the behavior of germinal choice (including deconstructive drives as a form of laudable sustainability), 2) accentuate the role advisory committees can play in rewarding sociopathy as an economic seedbed for future ethical performances, 3) funnel funding allegiance to mutation as an aesthetic beyond intention, disruptive alone and benevolent only in its perverted, contagious virulence.

Adam Zaretsky is a Wet-Lab Art Practitioner admixing Ecology, Biotechnology, Non-human Relations, Body Performance and Gastronomy.  Politically, Zaretsky focuses on legal, ethical, social and libidinal implications of biotechnological materials and methods: Fecund Assisted Reproductive Technology and Transgenic Edification Architecture. Currently he is co-creating Mutate or Die with Tony Allard: a live cut-up, biolistically impinging on life through the creative misuse of a Helios gene gun loaded with DNA from the William S. Burroughs Microbiome Project (WSBMP.) He is also participating in the Waag Society’s StudioLab, researching Solar Zebrafish – the research intends to produce chloroplast microinjected, genetically modified, photosynthetic plant-animal hybrids whom are then subjected to larval ethological personality studies. Zaretsky is the headmaster of VASTAL (The Vivoarts School for Transgenic Aesthetics Ltd.) and is currently completing his Ph.D. in Art Practice, Integrated Electronic Arts at Rensselaer (I/EAR), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Ionat Zurr (AUSTRALIA)
Artist/Researcher at SymbioticA – the Centre of Excellence in biological Arts, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, the University of Western Australia. Co-curator of Visceral – the Living Art Experiment.

Ionat developed and co-ordinates the postgraduate program in Biological Arts. Ionat received her award winning PhD from the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts, the University of Western Australia. Ionat together with Oron Catts formed the internationally renowned Tissue Culture and Art Project. She has been an artist in residence in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology since 1996 and was central to the establishment of SymbioticA in 2000.  Ionat is considered a pioneer in the field of biological arts and her research been published widely, exhibited internationally and her artwork has been collected by MoMA New York. In 2009 Ionat was listed by the Icon Magazine (UK) as one of the ‘Top 20 Designers making the future and transforming the way we work’. Ionat have been an international fellow at the InStem Institute, NCBS, Bangalore (2010) and a visiting scholar at The Experimental Art Centre, Stanford University (2007) and The Tissue Engineering & Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School (2000-2001). She exhibited in places such as the MoMA NY(2008), Mori Museum Tokyo (2009), Ars Electronica (2000, 2001, 2007), GOMA Brisbane (2010) and more. Ionat’s writings have been published by MIT Press, Palgrave and others while her artwork and research has been written upon by both scholarly writers as well as the popular media.


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