Marta de Menezes ::: Biography

THE LABORATORY AS AN ART STUDIO

During the last thousands of years humankind has tried to manipulate Nature. Today's dogs, cats, horses, and crops are evidence of what has been achieved by artificial selection. In the last 50 years significant scientific advances have been made, allowing the modification of life in an extremely controlled way. Biotechnology was born to explore these new tools for the benefit of humankind. However, the remarkable tools of modern biology are seen with hope and fear, simultaneously. It is becoming possible to develop new therapies for incurable diseases, but at the same time the public fears misuse of this powerful technology. As society becomes aware of biotechnology, with all its hopes and fears, artists have started to include references to biotechnology in their works. Furthermore, modern biology and biotechnology offer the opportunity to create art using biology as a new medium. We are witnessing the birth of a new form of art: art created in test-tubes, using laboratories as art studios.

The trekking towards wet biological art
In the recent, and not so recent, history, technical advances frequently resulted in opportunities for artistic exploration. Photography, video, or computers have been successfully adapted by artists using such technologies as art medium. Biology will not be different, in spite of some particular hurdles that can still deter a wide artistic use. Unlike photography or video, biological equipment is not readily available outside research facilities. Artists willing to explore the use of biology as art medium still have to engage into collaborations with scientific laboratories. Equally, much biological material and equipment may raise bio-safety concerns: research laboratories have to comply with several safety guidelines, regarding for example the containment of live organisms according to their characteristics. Also scientists are trained in the use of laboratory equipment, and biological material, in order to protect themselves and the environment. As a consequence, it is likely artists will have to continue to use the laboratory as an art studio, rather than converting their studios into laboratories.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: bulatov@ncca.koenig.ru (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): http://www.yantskaz.ru. Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

My work has focused on the possibilities that modern biology offers to artists. I have been trying not only to portray the recent advances of biological sciences, but to incorporate biological material as new art media: DNA, proteins and cells offer an opportunity to explore novel ways of representation and communication. Consequently, although lacking formal scientific training, my recent artistic activity has been conducted in research laboratories.

Beyond genes
Biology and biotechnology do not deal exclusively with genes. In spite of all the recent hype concerning the sequencing of the human genome, the development of transgenic organisms, or the use of powerful genetic screening methods, biological research is making important advances in other fields. It is clear that genetics offer immense possibilities for artists, but other biology areas have similar potential. Proteins, cells, supra-cellular systems, and organisms can also be used as an art medium, as has been demonstrated by several artists including myself.
It is likely that other fields of biological research will become more exposed to the public in the near future. For example, a significant effort is being made to characterize all the proteins produced by human cells - the proteome. A task more daunting than the sequencing of the genome: a recent meeting on proteomics was entitled "Human Proteome Project: 'Genes were easy'". Many biotechnology start-up companies have been constituted to explore the economic possibilities of proteomics, and last December Oxford GlycoSciences alone filed patent applications for ~4,000 human proteins.
Concerning the opportunities that proteins offer to artists, I would like to invite the exploration of any database of protein structure. Certainly the three-dimensional shapes of proteins will not leave anyone indifferent. Proteins are frequently as beautiful as contemporary sculptures. To explore a computer database of protein structures using software and hardware allowing three-dimensional visualisation is like exploring an art gallery.
It is possible to take advantage of proteins as a medium for the creation of sculptures. In my project Proteic Portrait, I decided to take advantage of the visual opportunities offered by structural biology in order to create a self-portrait using proteins as art medium.
Proteins are made of 20 different amino-acids, each one can be represented by a letter (one-letter code). As a consequence, it is possible to use that convention to design a protein whose amino-acid sequence corresponds to a name. However, interesting three-dimensional conformations are only seen when the protein is over a given length: very short peptides adopt linear structures relatively uninteresting. As a consequence, my professional name - Marta de Menezes - would be too short for an interesting conformation. Fortunately, as Portuguese people tend to have very long family names I could design a protein with my full name, the marta protein:

MARTAISAVELRIVEIRDEMENESESDASILVAGRACA

Using computer databases it is possible to confirm that there is no known protein in Nature with such amino-acid sequence. In fact, it is even possible to identify the natural proteins most similar to marta. Computer modelling also creates several possible conformations for marta, based on the structure of similar amino-acid sequences in known proteins. However, the exact conformation of marta, can only be determined experimentally by solving its structure using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) or crystallography.
The proteic portrait will only be finished when the true structure of marta will be uncovered.


Marta de Menezes. Proteic Portrait (study), 2001. Protein sequence and structure prediction printed on canvas, 130 x 95 cm.

Picturing the mind
For years artists have been attempting to portray not only someone's appearance, but also how the person is. The personality of the model can be conveyed by elements of the pose, the setting and even the technique used by the artist.
Science has developed powerful tools to image the interior of the body. Since Roentgen's discovery of X-rays, one can easily see what is hidden behind the skin. Today, new imaging technology allows better visualisation of both biological morphology and function.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: bulatov@ncca.koenig.ru (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): http://www.yantskaz.ru. Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

As a development of Functional Portraits, I am now planning to paint the brain by manipulating its activity. With the knowledge of the brain regions that are activated by certain tasks or stimuli, it is possible to design a number of simultaneous tasks and stimuli that will achieve a complex brain activity pattern. In other words, by planning a defined set of tasks it is possible to "paint" a defined pattern of brain activity. Although the artwork has a short lifespan - as long as the subject is performing the tasks - it is possible to document it by means of fMRI. It is a case where it becomes possible to create art by simple thought.






Today new imaging technology allows better visualisation of both biological morphology and function.

Using DNA as an art medium
I have also been exploring the use of genes, DNA, and chromosomes as a new art medium. In spite of my assertions above that biology is much more than genes and DNA, the importance of genetics in our present society is beyond doubt.
In nucleArt I have been using DNA labelled with fluorochromes to paint the nuclei of human cells, adapting cell biology techniques to the production of art. I combine knowledge of the relative position of the chromosomes with the capacity to use DNA to paint each chromosome specifically. The technique is known as Fluorescence In-Situ Hybridisation (or FISH) and can also be used to visualise segments of chromosomes or even single genes. Groups of chromosomes can equally be stained with the same colour. In this way, it is possible to create relatively controlled images where one or many chromosomes are painted, with or without portions of them in other colours. The resulting artworks (the stained cells) require the use of a confocal laser scanning microscope in order to be visualised, and are displayed at a visible scale using computer projections in order to convey the three-dimensional structure of the human nucleus.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: bulatov@ncca.koenig.ru (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): http://www.yantskaz.ru. Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

It is a central feature of my work, not only to take advantage of scientific techniques adapting them to the production of artworks, but also to try to contribute to the scientific research of the lab. Although my work is not based in scientifically designed experiments, occasionally my artistic experiments give unexpected results. Such results are frequently a consequence of attempts to use the technology in a different way. Occasionally, results of "artistic experiments" reveal scientifically important issues that require follow up by the scientists.


Marta de Menezes. Functional Portrait: Self-portrait while Drawing, 2002. fMRI scan and digital images printed on canvas.


Painting with DNA
In another recent project - Chip-Art - it is my objective to further explore the use of DNA as an art medium, while simultaneously elaborate on the differences between humans and other animals. When I was working with butterflies (see below) I have noticed that the public considered butterflies very different from humans. So different that the study of butterfly genetics and development was seen as simple academic curiosity, without application for human biology.
In the Chip-Art project I want to stress the similarities between all life organisms. I want to show that when studying butterflies or flies we are also learning about ourselves. I plan to make this statement by demonstrating that a Drosophila fly and a human being share more characteristics than one might imagine. Genes determine to a great extent what humans and flies are. DNA and genes are the key for the similarities between all life organisms, and also for the differences between individuals. Many human genes are remarkably similar to fly genes.
I plan to use DNA microarrays (also known as DNA chips) in the Chip-Art project. DNA microarrays is a recent technology developed to identify the level of activity of many genes at once. The chips are composed of a high number of DNA probes attached to a surface. Each probe is specific for a given gene. When DNA is incubated with the chip, the probes bind the genes they are specific for, providing these genes are present in the sample. Fluorochromes allow the visualization of the DNA that was bound in the chip.
Professor Corey Goodman's laboratory at Berkeley has been producing DNA chips containing probes for most of the fly genes, since the Drosophila genome was sequenced. In the Chip-Art project I am collaborating with that laboratory, learning how to "print" DNA chips and how to prepare DNA samples from human and fly cells for analysis. With this knowledge I will be able to generate images by incubating the chips with the DNA samples from flies and humans. Interestingly the images with the genetic similarities and differences will be "painted" by the DNA itself!


Marta de Menezes. Nature? 1999-2000. Live Heliconius melpomene butterfly with modified wing pattern.

The artificial - natural
In Nature? I have created live butterflies with wing patterns never seen before in nature. This has been achieved by interfering with the normal developmental mechanisms of the butterflies. The butterflies are simultaneously natural (their wings are made of normal live cells, without artificial pigments or scars) but designed by an artist.
I have only modified the pattern of one wing of Bicyclus and Heliconius butterflies. As a consequence, all butterflies have simultaneously one wing with the natural design and another one with my design. Through this asymmetry, I have tried to emphasise the similarities and differences between the unmanipulated and manipulated, between the natural and the novel natural.




Marta de Menezes. Nature? 1999-2000. Live Bicyclus anynana butterfly with modified wing pattern. Detail.

I have been trying to express concepts in the butterfly wings that deal with our perception of shapes. By adding, changing or deleting eyespots and colour patches it is possible for our imagination to identify shapes and rhythms familiar to our senses. Another approach includes highlighting particular aspects of the natural wing - for example, the removal of the outer rings of an eyespot to simply show the white centre of it. I never had the intention of enhancing in any way nature's design. Nor did I intend to make something already beautiful even more beautiful. I simply wanted to explore the possibilities and constraints of the biological system, creating (within what is possible) different patterns that are not the result of an evolutionary process.
It has also been my intention to create unique butterflies. The changes are not at the genetic level, and the germline is left untouched. As a consequence, the induced modifications are not transmitted to the offspring. Each modified butterfly is different from any other. The new patterns are something never seen in nature before, and quickly disappear from nature not to be seen again. This form of art has a life span - the life span of a butterfly. It is a form of art that literally lives and dies. It is simultaneously art and life. Art and Biology.

Acknowledgements:
Works mentioned in the text were created in laboratories at the University of Leiden, Netherlands (Nature?); MRC - Clinical Sciences Centre, London and Vivid, Birmingham (nucleArt); University of California in Berkeley (Chip-art) and University of Oxford, UK (Functional Portraits, and Proteic Portrait). The following people have contributed to the development of the mentioned projects: P. Brakefield, A. Monteiro, R. Kooi, K. Koops, and M. Bax (Nature?); A. Pombo, M. Higgbottom (nucleArt); P. Figueiredo, and J. Waldmann (Functional Portraits); T. Magalhaes, and C. Goodman (Chip-art); R. Alves (Proteic Portrait).




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CONTENTS:

I. LABORATORY: science and technology

Svetlana Borinskaya. Genomics and Biotechnology: Science at the Beginning of the Third Millennium.

Mikhail Gelfand. Computational Genomics: from the Wet Lab to Computer and Back.

Irina Grigorjan, Vsevolod Makeev. Biochips and Industrial Biology.

Valery Shumakov, Alexander Tonevitsky. Xenotransplantation as a Scientific and Ethic Problem.

Abraham Iojrish. Legal Aspects of Gene Engineering.

Pavel Tishchenko. Genomics: New Science in the New Cultural Situation.
II. FORUM: society and genomic culture

Eugene Thacker. Darwin's Waiting Room.

Critical Art Ensemble. The Promissory Rhetoric of Biotechnology in the Public Sphere.

SubRosa. Sex and Gender in the Biotech Century.

Ricardo Dominguez. Nano-Fest Destiny 3.0: Fragments from the Post-Biotech Era.

Birgit Richard. Clones and Doppelgangers. Multiplications and Reproductions of the Self in Film.

Sven Druehl. Chimaera Phylogeny: From Antiquity to the Present.
III. TOPOLOGY: from biopolitics to bioaesthetics

Boris Groys. Art in the Age of Biopolitics.

Stephen Wilson. Art and Science as Cultural Acts.

Melentie Pandilovski. On the Phenomenology of Consciousness, Technology, and Genetic Culture.

Roy Ascott. Interactive Art: Doorway to the Post-Biological Culture.
IV. INTERACTION CODE: artificial life

Mark Bedau. Artificial Life Illuminates Human Hyper-creativity.

Louis Bec. Artificial Life under Tension.

Alan Dorin. Virtual Animals in Virtual Environments.

Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau. The Application of Artificial Life to Interactive Computer Installations.
V. MODERN THEATRE: ars genetica

George Gessert. A History of Art Involving DNA.

Kathleen Rogers. The Imagination of Matter.

Brandon Ballengee. The Origins of Artificial Selection.

Marta de Menezes. The Laboratory as an Art Studio.

Adam Zaretsky. Workhorse Zoo Art and Bioethics Quiz.
VI. IMAGE TECHNOLOGY: ars chimaera

Joe Davis. Monsters, Maps, Signals and Codes.

David Kremers. The Delbruck Paradox. Version 3.0.

Eduardo Kac. GFP Bunny.

Dmitry Bulatov. Ars Chimaera.

Valery Podoroga. Rene Descartes and Ars Chimaera.
VII. METABOLA: tissue culture and art

Ionat Zurr. Complicating Notions of Life - Semi-Living Entities.

Oron Catts. Fragments of Designed Life - the Wet Palette of Tissue Engineering.
VIII. P.S.

Dmitry Prigov. Speaking of Unutterable.

Wet art gallery

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