subRosa ::: Biography

SEX AND GENDER IN THE BIOTECH CENTURY

Introduction
"From a nature point of view, the idea of artificial impregnation offers valuable advantages. The mating of human beings, must, from the nature of things, be a matter of sentiment alone… Artificial impregnation by carefully selected seed, alone will solve the problem. It may at first shock the delicate sensibilities of the sentimental who consider that the source of the seed indicates the true father, but when the scientific fact becomes known that the origin of the spermatozoa which generates the ovum is of no more importance than the personality of the finger which pulls the trigger of a gun, then objections will lose their forcefulness and artificial impregnation become recognized as a race-uplifting procedure." (From a report by Dr. Hard who as a medical student viewed the first artificial insemination done l884 by Dr. William Pancoast at Jefferson Medical College. Hard, A.D. "Artificial Impregnation." Medical World 27, l909: 163)

The project of trying to map and control the invisible territories of the body - particularly the female sexual and reproductive parts - began even before the Enlightenment, and it has never stopped. Repro-genetic technologies including Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), fetal and maternal monitoring during pregnancy and birth, pre-implantation screening of embryos for genetic defects, genetic enhancement therapy, embryo selective reduction, and reproductive laser and microsurgery are propelled by a eugenic ideology disguised as aesthetics and consumer choice. Further, they are dependent upon highly specialized visualization technologies - including ultrasound monitoring, screening, imaging, lasers, laparoscopy, microphotography, tunneling microscopes, and related vision machines - many of which were originally developed by the military.

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

Biotechnology and science are not monumental or all the same. There are beneficial aspects to biotechnological deployment. However, these must be considered in the light of economic, ecological, and ethical considerations in ways that are rarely addressed. Furthermore, the overwhelming entrepreneurial and market driven interests of the biotech industry must be brought into clear focus. As cyberfeminists and tactical media artists, the subRosa collective is working to decode and understand the systems of representation and marketing of these technologies to women; to engage with how women are perceiving and using these processes; and to discuss publicly their social and political implications for everyone. Consequently, some of subRosa's current work concentrates on revealing the strategies and tactics with which new reproductive technologies are being represented and marketed.


Top: subRosa. Hysteroscope. From "Economies of A.R.T.", subRosa publication.
Bottom: subRosa. In Vitro Fertilization. Animation still from "Sex and Gender Education Show", Web page.

The Female Body as Technological Laboratory
In the Biotech Century the body - especially the female body - has once again become a pre-eminent laboratory project for medical technology. A century ago, Freud, refusing to believe the accounts of his sexually unsatisfied female patients, became the "father of hysteria" when he proposed that adult women should substitute vaginal orgasms for the masturbatory clitoral orgasms of childhood - in other words, women should focus on sex for reproduction rather than pleasure. (By contrast, Assisted Reproductive Technologies can now completely bypass reproductive sex altogether as reproduction becomes a rationalized, laboratory-initiated process). In 1970, US radical feminist Ann Koedt published The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm which proposed that women achieve orgasm most easily by direct stimulation of the clitoris. Many women have always known that they can have orgasms, and that the clitoris is not just a tiny localized point (which men seemingly can never find), but that it extends deeply into the body, surrounding the structures of the vagina and even the anus. But proof that the clitoris is the pre-eminent female sexual pleasure organ was widely believed only when Masters and Johnson (in the 70s) invented an apparatus to stimulate women clitorally in the laboratory, and clinically measured and recorded the intensity and wave patterns of their (often multiple) orgasms. This example shows how myths about female sexuality must be convincingly dispelled in the laboratories of modern science before the testimony of women themselves can be believed.


subRosa. Vulva de/reConstructa. Still from video.

A new era of medicalization of women's bodies began in the late 70s with the rise of intensive research in genetics and biomedical technologies linked to sophisticated new visualization technologies which together made Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), possible. ARTs are a powerful political and socio/economic instrument of control of women's bodies, particularly of their reproductive functions; and they have been developed as a lucrative private enterprise by an entrepreneurial medical consumer market. Any woman who undergoes ART becomes a performer and prop in a powerful theatrical drama - or video arcade game - scripted in a series of carefully developed acts which end in tragedy more often than victory. The game's plot is the miraculous rationalized creation of life; its action reveals the heroic colonial conquest of resistant (infertile) bodies and genes by fertility doctors wielding scientific instruments and vision machines; its scenes are set in the laboratory and operating clinic; the woman's body performs as a raw materials and biological parts production machine yielding eggs, ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina, uterus, mucus, fetal tissues, cord blood, embryonic stem cells - as well as a controlled incubator. The fetus is the trophy harvested from the dark continent by the deus ex machina of molecular biology. If you think this is a far-fetched analogy let me cite some of the language from a recent ART book written by a fertility doctor:

"I suggest that (the steps of ART) not be viewed as a horrendous ordeal but rather as an exciting adventure during which you can thrill to the view of your own eggs developing on the television screen on an ultrasound monitor..." (Silber 1998)

"Another approach to trying to micro-manipulate sperm into the egg to fertilize by 'brute force' could be 'laser trapping' of the sperm… Dr. Tadir's experiments (are) truly a thrill beyond belief… He uses a low-intensity beam laser directed under a high power microscope to actually 'trap' sperm optically. It works like a video arcade game… once you lock the laser in on that sperm it is totally under your control… the head is held in place just like the collar zoo keepers would use on the neck of a snake. Using the 'joystick' attached to the laser, under microscope visualization you can move that sperm anywhere you want to move it. You can bring it off its carefree, meaningless, joyless wanderings and bring it right next to the surface of the egg…" (Silber 1998)


subRosa. SmartMom Survelling Pregnancy Dress. Web image.

History: The Feminist Women's Health Movement in the US
In the 70s feminist activists in the US staged an all-out rebellion against the experts of medicine. They attacked the heart of the bastion of patriarchal authority which had over the centuries wrested away from women the practices of healing, midwifery, herbal knowledge, and various bodily practices such as poultices, compresses, baths, pelvic massage, bone setting, wound cleansing and suture, pain relief, and the like.

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

Probably the most controversial activities of the Feminist Women's Health Centers were their abortion services - especially the technique of menstrual extraction pioneered by the Los Angeles Feminist Women's Health Center. This made them the target of vicious attacks both from the medical establishment and from anti-abortion and Right to Life fundamentalists. Feminist Health Clinics which still exist today have been the focus of continued attacks, threats and picketing from such well-organized and funded anti-abortion groups as Operation Rescue, who ironically, have adapted many of their confrontational picketing, protesting, civil disobedience and blockage performances directly from left activist movements of the 60s and 70s.


subRosa. Does She or Doesn't She. Performance about Egg Donation.

The abortion wars in the US are not over. In the early 90s feminist activists from national pro-choice organizations regurlarly confronted Operation Rescue cadres in front of abortion clinics, and in Washington, D.C. But there has been an erosion of the activist women's health movement just at the moment when new biogenetic, medical, reproductive and microsurgical technologies are precipitating an explosion of the medicalization of women's lives. Currently, all areas of the female life cycle have been re-colonized and staked out as medical territory.

ART: An Entrepreneurial Enterprise
In the early 1980s feminist biology professor Ruth Hubbard warned the American Association for the Advancement of Science about the Assisted Reproductive Technologies which she felt had not been tested enough, and she was also concerned that In Vitro fertilization "required extremely costly and prolonged experimentation with highly skilled professionals and expensive equipment, distorting our health priorities and funneling scarce resources into a questionable effort." Neither Hubbard's warnings, nor those of many other feminist biologists, theorists, gynecologists, health workers, and sociologists, have prevented full steam ahead developments which have actualized (in 2002) many of the procedures only speculated about in the 80s. This has been achieved almost exclusively through private funding by willing clients who have given fertility doctors and genetic scientists unrestricted access to the innermost molecular and physical structures of their bodies as an experimental eugenic theatre. In 2002, the idea that creating a child by any means possible is a right which can be exercised by any individual in any way he/she sees fit, without regard to the threats these procedures might pose to the genetic welfare of individuals, future generations, the environment, health care resources, and a just human social development, is completely naturalized. How is it possible that this could have happened so smoothly and seamlessly with so little resistance from feminists and other concerned citizens?
A large part of the answer lies in the fact that ART is not funded, run, or controlled by the state. It resides almost entirely in the private, entrepreneurial medico/consumer realm. Its ideology rests on financial and evolutionary genetics. Individuals can choose to improve their genetic success and that of their offspring through purchase of ART technologies. This circumvents the possible objections of scientists such as Hubbard quoted above, that these costly and specialized services are skewing the resources of the public health system, and introducing dangerous eugenic practices as the latest in scientific know-how. The questionable adventure of re-engineering the human race from the genes up has silently become the province of private enterprise capitalism working hand in hand with science. Is this preferable to (or much different than) letting the State or the military control reproduction?




subRosa. Sex and Gender Education Show. Web page presentation (fragments).

Sex and Gender in the Biotech Century
Many people now think of science as the religion of the 21st century; they believe that the authority of scientists is beyond question or challenge and that science's rules and findings can explain the past and predict the future of human existence and of our individual human behaviors.

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

At the beginning of the 21st century we find ourselves in a moment of profound shift and change which is global in its scope, and is transforming the lives and subjectivities of all individuals. This change has been propelled by the development and deployment of digital information and communications technologies (ICT) and the resultant penetration of Western commodity and information culture worldwide (pancapitalism). The new digital technologies affect everyone - directly or indirectly, whether "wired" or not - because they are drastically changing the conditions of work, food production, every day life, identity, health, reproduction, medical treatment, and commodity production and exchange globally.


subRosa. How to Make a Baby With ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies). Fragment of presentation. Expo EmmaGenics Trade Show, 2001.

The mysteries of the creation of matter, of nature, of what life is, and of the processes of human reproduction have preoccupied scientists, philosophers, artists, writers, and theologians since human culture began. The new biotechnologies, genetic and medical human engineering, as well as social, cultural, racial, gender, and economic factors fueled by global exchanges and mixings, have the potential for producing "new humans," "posthumans," new subjectivities, new relations among bodies, and new answers to ancient questions about life and being human. In fact, many terms for new beings have already entered our imaginations, our vocabularies, the media, and our image banks: Frankenstein, Batman, cyborgs, androids, ALife, Replicants, Terminators, Borgs, robobabes and robocops, are all staples of movies, video games, sci-fi books, children's toys, fashion, and the apocalyptic imaginations of artists, consumers, and marketers.
The thrilling, yet scary, promises of biotechnology - including the possibility for creation of new life - are being spectacularized for popular consumption for many reasons. The narrative of scientific progress, of "better living through chemistry," is one of America's founding narratives, and it is fueled almost daily by splashy stories about cloning (for example, the current news reports that an American scientist will be implanting cloned embryos into human test subjects in late 2002), genetic engineering, the sequencing of the human genome, extending human life-spans medically, tissue engineering (mice with ears on their backs), xeno-pigs (for organ donation), artificial and animal wombs, new eugenics, and the like.
Every day, in laboratories and clinics all over the world, doctors are busy "making babies" for infertile or homosexual couples and singles; people are undergoing complex surgery and hormone treatments to change their actual sexual bodies into bodies of the opposite sex with whom they feel gender identification (gender reassignment); thousands of men and women are undergoing elective "aesthetic surgery" to change their looks and self-image; thousands more are taking drugs to stave off the ravages of age and decay; viruses and genes are being isolated, altered, and replicated; organs and artificial body parts are being implanted into humans and animals; farmers are growing genetically modified crops; elderly men are taking Viagra to reproduce the erections of youth; athletes and teenage boys are taking hormones and steroids to alter their bodies and turn them into super machines; and workers all over the world are harnessed to the global ICT system and becoming "feminized" maintenance drones for the pancapitalist consumer machine. And this is only the beginning.
Clearly, digital technologies and bio-genetic sciences are beginning to have a profound impact on how we understand and represent our bodies, our sexuality, our gender, race, and ethnic identifications, and on how we conceptualize and represent our "humanness." In fact, the very idea of an "essential humanness" has been called into question by the changes described above. These are exciting, and disturbing, questions for contemporary artists and audiences to confront and grapple with.


subRosa. Fragment of presentation. Expo EmmaGenics Trade Show, 2001.

SubRosa's Sex and Gender project
Sexuality and gender construction have always been at the heart of the (Western) discussions of human identity and subject formation. Deriving authority from Genesis ("male and female created He them") and the Greek myths, the division of humanity into men and women, each with their distinct biological sexual characteristics, socialized gender roles, and apportioned division of labor, became naturalized long ago in European culture. Simultaneously though, there has always been questioning of, and resistance to, essentializing and rationalizing sex and reproduction. Particularly since WWII, and the profound cultural and social changes ushered in by postmodernity, there has been a proliferation of new thinking and research about sex and gender by feminists, scholars, scientists, the medical profession, artists, and radical cultural workers. Clearly, this is rich and provocative material. To date, there has not been much research - except in specialized academic and medical circles - about the effects of the new biotechnologies on our conceptions of sexuality and gender, and on subject formation. Thus these questions invite speculation, research, and experiment, by artists, cultural researchers, and scientists. These questions are so provocative in nature, and so much at the heart of issues of identity, desire, sexuality and humanness, that they deeply concern everyone - especially young people who are growing up in a world in which all that seemed certain has now been called into question.


subRosa. Autonomy to the Mother! Expo EmmaGenics, 2001.

The performative artist project, Sex and Gender in the Biotech Century was produced by the cyberfeminist collective subRosa, which focuses on political/social issues about women, science and biotechnology. The project is designed to provoke discussion, and disseminate cutting edge scientific, artistic, theoretical, philosophical, and medical research and speculation about the relation of sex and gender to biotechnologies in a way that is accessible to general audiences through art projects. subRosa chose art as the communicative (and pedagogical) medium for this project, because art can combine knowledge and methods from many different disciplines into images, objects, and representations that communicate on sensual, intellectual, emotional, and psychological planes simultaneously. subRosa uses art forms and tactical media that includes performance, painting, sculpture, photography, video and film, texts, sound, and digital technologies. Issues subRosa is exploring in various tactical media projects include:
a) Sex and gender now (sexual practices, contraception, customs - local and global, terminology and language, anatomy and biology, gay and lesbian sexuality, multicultural constructions of sexuality and gender, desire, etc.)
b) New flesh technologies (body building, aesthetic surgery, hormones, drugs, sex transformation surgery, tissue culture and engineering, stem cell technologies)
c) Repro-tech (assisted reproductive technologies (ART) including IVF, cloning, eugenics, fertility and infertility)
d) Genetic engineering, and the Human Genome Project.
e) Medical sex and gender issues: visualizations, electronic anatomies, aging, and the special issues of medicine for women.
f) Impact of globalization on sex and gender: (gene pool mixing, sex tourism, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, AIDS, sexual violence, traffic in women, ethnic cleansing, female circumcision)




subRosa. Children of Choice. Stills from Promo-Video for Expo EmmaGenics, 2001.

The Biotech Sex and Gender Education Show is an audience participatory performance that uses the model of the American sex education class room which has been invaded by propagandistic market forces. (Here we note that, just as some artists have begun to form problematic alliances with biotech corporations, so US educational institutions at every level have accepted corporate funding in exchange for strategic product placement. Remember the child who was sent home from school a few years ago for wearing a Pepsi shirt on a Coke day?) The underlying lesson in the Sex and Gender Show is how enhanced, positive eugenic reproduction through ART is increasingly being normalized for consumers by infertility clinics and biotech companies. The Show contains mini science lectures on topics like "How to have a baby without sexual intercourse;" the procedures of sperm and egg donation; and the laboratory processes of "genetic enhancement" of embryos. Through 'workbook' activities and group projects, participants experience for themselves the (implied) merits of and necessity for Assisted Reproductive Technologies and new eugenic practices. They are then counseled on how they as individuals can improve themselves and their offspring through purchase and use of these technologies. The corporate representative/educator relationship is highlighted throughout the performance, as are the interests the State has in new eugenic reproduction. While engaging in a process of Applied Social Genetics, for example, audience members participate in intensive data collection and are registered and photographed for the data banks of the Federal Eugenics Administration (a federal entity that subRosa created for the project). subRosa has performed the Sex and Gender Show in colleges in various parts of the US. (For more information on this and other subRosa projects, click on Sex and Gender on the subRosa website: ).
subRosa has found that effective tactics for its cultural action projects include 1) employing collective production and performative action in a specific social context; 2) combining feminist critiques of technology as they relate to differences of gender, race, and class; 3) engaging in cross-disciplinary research in biotechnology, bio-politics, feminist and postcolonial art and theory; as well as global politics and economics 4) employing digital communication technologies and tactical media strategies to raise consciousness, address specific issues, interact with diverse audiences and groups, and explore the lived social power relations of the stratified consumer/producer integral to the digital economic world order. subRosa calls its collective activist art practice cyberfeminist because it is based on a feminist analysis and critique of the effects of cyber-mediated and circulated information, communication, and bio technologies on women's material lives, bodies, work, and social relations. subRosa consciously tries to embody feminist content, practices, and agency within the electronic technologies, virtual systems, and RL spaces which we use for our work. Thus we consciously politicize and problematize both the content and form of our work and social relations as they are mediated by digital technologies. Our embodied practice includes collective work on projects, shows, publications, web-sites, performances, and actions; self-education and consciousness raising; technical training and skill sharing; conviviality, flesh meetings, and collaboration with other groups and individuals.

References:
[1]. Sherman Silber, How to Get Pregnant with the New Reproductive Technology, New York: Warner Books, 1998, p. 288
[2]. Ibid., p.326




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COLOPHON

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

Biographies

Bibliography

Webliography

Glossary


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