Ingeborg Reichle contributes to City Art Gallery’s bioart exhibition LIVING OBJECT in Ljubljana
From September 2, 2020 till Novermber 1, 2020 Ljubljana’s City Art Gallery will show the bioart group exhibition LIVING OBJECT, curated by Alenka Trebušak. Artists presented at the exhibition are Špela Petrič, Maja Smrekar, Saša Spačal, Robertina Šebjanič, and Polona Tratnik: As modern technologies penetrate all pores of life, societies and cultures, the consequences of the accelerating trend of (bio)technological manipulation make us question not only human nature but also the nature of human relationships with animals, plants and other living entities. Ingeborg Reichle contributes to the forthcoming exhibition catalogue with a brief history of the early days of bioart with the essay “BioArt: From the Culture of the Laboratory to Critical Design Approaches” going back to the writings of Peter Weibel from the early 1980ies referring especially to his discussion on interdependency of art and innovations in technology. Weibel argues with a broad definition of the term “biotechnology”, in which he includes all human-made things — everything in nature replaced by technology created by humans — and a wider concept of art based on the ancient Greek term techné, which back then did not differentiate between art, craftsmanship, and technology.
By bringing cutting edge technologies closer to the general public, from the outset BioArt raised important questions about the aesthetic and ethical status of modifying DNA and proteins to redesign the capabilities of living cells, plants, and animals into something useful for humans. Rewriting the blueprints of life for artistic purposes provoked passionate debates about the shifting concept of “life” — a concept that has changed dramatically since the arrival of biotechnology during the 20th century within the framework of the emerging technosciences. The non-normative use of biotechnological tools within the realm of the fine arts opened up new perspectives on life and its limits as well as framed controversies about the growing influence of science and technology on the fine arts and our societies at large. If art was able to alter and recreate “nature”, and found ways to design living entities for aesthetic purposes in the same way as art had done for millennia using traditional media, like marble, gold, or wood, then everyone would soon be able to do this as well: remapping the landscape of everyday life in terms of biotechnological mediation and applications. The recombining of genes across species boundaries, and thus the production of transgenic organisms, was leading to a comprehensive reassessment of the relationship between art, technology, and our concept of “nature”.
One of the first to reflect on the implications and consequences of using tools from biotechnology in the fine arts was Austrian artist and media theorist Peter Weibel in his 1981 essay “Biotechnology and Art” (Biotechnologie und Kunst). After referring to the common etymological root of art and technology Weibel explains how art and technology strongly influenced each other over the course of history, exemplifying his argument by citing the invention of the moving image as an aesthetic medium (film). Driven by the interest in studies of motion—a topic that has been an interest and a challenge for artists for centuries—English-American photographer Eadweard Muybridge and French scientist and chronophotographer Étienne-Jules Marey both used photographic devices to render phenomena observable through technology that were invisible to the naked human eye, for example, whether horses have all four hooves in the air when they gallop. Late 19th century epistemological insights that were fostered by new technological inventions like photography or moving images had in turn a significant impact on how art evolved during the 20th century. French artists such as Edgar Degas or Marcel Duchamp were profoundly influenced by emerging technologies of their day much like the members of the avant-garde movement of Italian Futurism, creating new dynamics within art genres through technology.
Alenka Trebušak’s concept of the exhibition: Humans often fail to detect the diverse life forms surrounding us, especially if they are on a different scale than ours. Some microorganisms even constitute important component parts of our bodies, for instance, bacteria and fungi that inhabit our skin or our bodies. By moving from the human body into the external environment and vice versa, they erode our perception of the human being as a uniform subject.
Many of the exhibited projects were performed in laboratories through interdisciplinary collaborations with experts in natural sciences and the humanities, and all are the result of long-term processes and research. The projects provide an insight into the relationship between humans, animals and plants in light of heterogeneity, hybridity, sympoiesis, intercognition and parallel evolutions, within which notions of subject and object become fluid because a human being, too, is reduced to a material to be processed, for example, a cell/body/object. By emphasising the connection between the human body and the environment, the exhibition Living Object reveals our bond with non-human actors and promotes awareness about the urgent need to take care of nature and its living systems, not only as exploitable resources, but also as living tissues that are crucial for our survival.
The exhibition of visual, audio and interactive installations was produced by established female artists who have been active at the cross-section of art, science and technology for decades, within the broad and often controversial concept of “BioArt”. Presented at high-profile international shows and platforms of contemporary art, their projects combine biotechnological sciences, evolution and artificial intelligence with discursive and theoretical strategies in order to push the boundaries of our understanding of contemporary art practices. Rather than traditional media, the artists use living matter ranging from cells to complete organisms as well as from microorganisms to their own bodies and the bodies of their non-human companions. By subverting scientific methods and technological tools, they explore the complexity of life and question its future. Finally, they address discourses on the fluidity of art objects by inviting the viewer to take on a participatory role.
MGML | Mestna galerija | Mestni trg 5 | 1000 Ljubljana