Ionat Zurr
SymbioticA group
::: Biography

COMPLICATING NOTIONS OF LIFE - SEMI LIVING ENTITIES

The use of living tissue from complex organisms for growing/constructing Semi-Living sculptures is an artistic expression that challenges long held beliefs towards life. This practice is particularly problematic for Judeo-Christian derived ideologies; while it can be seen as enhancing the belief of Human dominance over all other living beings, it meant to challenge these perceptions. The use of living tissues isolated from the organism from which it was obtained confront the absolutist view of death and present issues regarding human obligation of care for other forms of life. This obligation of care is of particular importance when the other living beings are affected by human manipulation and are dependent on human care for their survival.
The ever increasing pace of technological development, in particular biological technologies, have far exceeded our cultural capacity to comprehend and create the corresponding value systems that will deal with its implications on our society, the environment and notions of life. In this paper we would like to illustrate how some art movements attempted to explore alternative ideologies to the view of technological "progress," and the consequences of this view on living systems either nonhuman or human. We will also describe the subversive and contestable futures The Tissue Culture and Art Project suggests by the creation of a new class of object/being - that of the Semi-Living.

The use of living materials in Ecology Art and Earthworks
During the late sixties and through the seventies the movement of Ecology Art suggested alternatives to the failed promises of Enlightenment and to the perception of human betterment through technological progress. Following the disillusion with Western society destructive "achievements" such as the atomic bomb and the eugenics ideologies of the Third Reich, artists were looking for a radical change in the prevailing Judeo-Christian ideologies. This new artistic exploration was expressed through their engagement with what they perceived as natural materials. Continuing the long held dichotomy of Nature/Culture artists looked at nature and living materials as a source for criticizing Western culture. Ecological discourses, focusing on responsible and "closer" relationship with the living environment, have offered a resistance to the consumerist driven technological Western society. Some artists examined eastern religions and their treatment of Nature/Culture relations; as opposed to the Judeo-Christian view of history as linear, in which humans are at the top of the "pecking order" and have control and dominance over the rest of the living world, eastern religions offered an alternative; perceptions of cyclic history and more harmonious and equal relations with the living, while life is not a linear progress towards death, but rather a cyclic transformation.
Artists suggested different approaches for the changing perception towards the living environment and human position within it:

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

Other artists have further problematised the relation to what perceived to be natural as opposed to cultural and their social constructed aesthetics (hence nature is beautiful as opposed to cultural artifacts) by working into environments polluted by the effects of human technology and "re-aesthetisizing" them through restoring them "back" to their original undisturbed state. Examples ranges from Smithson's (American 1938-1973) artworks with swamps and industrial wasteland to the reintroduction of constructed natural landscapes into urban environment, as in the case of artist Alan Sonfist who believed that it is not enough to repair the landscape: one must also "repair the hole in the psyche which is left when all traces of our biological and ecological roots are obliterated." [2]


SymbioticA/TC&A. Semi-Living Worry Dolls, 2002. Detail.

Christo, a French artist of the same era examines human-made intervention in nature from another perspective. His major works are concerned with wrapping landscapes with a human-made fabric. Preble (1989) [3] and others described that Christo's works are "environmental constructions, frequently made of sculptural materials, designed to interact with, but not permanently alter, the environment." Though some might claim differently, suggesting that Christo artworks are a manifestation of human dominance over nature, that leaves a long lasting effect on the environment and its living habitants. Such in the case of Wrapped Coast Little Bay, Australia 1969, when Christo and Jeanne-Claude embarked on their monumental project in a landscape setting: wrapping the cliff-lined coast at Little Bay, Australia. The artists, together with 110 laborers and 15 professional rock climbers, transformed the coastline into a sculptural space in one month. One million square feet of a light beige erosion-control fabric and 35 miles of polypropylene rope shrouded 1 1/2 miles of the rocky shoreline, and although "As with all of their succeeding endeavors, the materials for Wrapped Coast were recycled" [4] the environment have transformed (and some claimed been adversely altered) by the end of the ten weeks installation.
Ecological Art and earthworks of the sixties and seventies have questioned Western Meta discourses concerning human perception of the living world and the manifestations of such perceptions. Discourses suggesting a more balanced and equal relation with nature processes and resources were presented as opposed to modern technology and its associated notions of human progress, dominance and self-destructive consequences. Many earthworks are intended to bridge relations with "nature" by demonstrating the perceived inherent differences between nature and civilization. Paradoxically the same desire to "better understand" nature manifested itself with the need to understand natural processes, manipulate and control them using technology for the artistic creation. Earthworks might have offered the reexamination of Judeo-Christian perception of nature and the cycle of life and transformations, but also reaffirmed the artist as a manipulator of living systems.


SymbioticA/TC&A. Semi-Living Worry Dolls. Part of BioFeel, Biannual of Electronic Arts, Perth, 2002. All images courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

Life as Symbiosis
Around the same time James Lovelock, have developed the Gaia hypothesis. According to Lovelock (1979) [5] the earth can be seen as a single whole organism. This idea defied the conventional belief that living matter is passive in the face of threats to its existence. In his book he explored the hypothesis that the earth's living matter, air, ocean, and land surfaces forms a complex system that has the capacity to keep the Earth a fit place for life. This theory proved contentious as it changed the perceived role of humans from guardians of the living world to a form of uncontrollable malignance menace analogous to cancer. Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis was further developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis. Margulis (1981) explored the concept of life as complex interrelated, interdependent relations among many entities. For example, she suggested that a eukaryotic cell is a result of the evolutionary symbiosis relations between two prokaryotic bacteria. [6] By that Margulis, has emphasized the importance of symbiotic relationships as a major force in evolutionary development and evolutionary "advantage." Prior to the Gaia hypothesis the dominant perception of evolution was based on models of competition and struggle, which led to the survival of the fittest. Darwin's writing on the origin of species have stemmed from the economic theories that were developed in the late eighteen-century. Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which was published in 1776, argue for a natural basis for poverty and the need for a free market as a model for progress and innovation. Margulis, who her theories are widely accepted now, was a pioneer in suggesting a different view of evolutionary development. She argued that some of the major evolutionary leaps were a result of corporation and symbiotic relations.






SymbioticA/TC&A. Semi-Living Worry Dolls. Part of L’art biotech, Le lieu unique, Nantes, 2003. All images courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

Virtual life
The digital revolution of the eighties and nineties, have changed again our perceptions towards life. Digital technology has created forms of life that never existed before - virtual life. And artists, as manipulators have begun to manipulate this new medium to create artworks that could have not existed before. The use of "genetic algorithms" and other compositional based tools enables artists to create simulations of life, life forms and ecosystems, expose them to different conditions; processes' defying completely what is possible in the realm of the "real." Evolutionary laws could be tempered with, bend and simulated in different time scales. Artists could create and diminish artificial life forms and artificial eco systems, without the ethical complications, as these new lives existed only in cyberspace. These art expressions amalgamated with postmodern notions of the non-existence of "real" and "truth"; Making the surrealist juxtapositions easier and quicker using different algorithms and software.

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

Despite the evolvement of virtual-life and cyber-life the flesh did not cease to exist and persisted with its needs. The flesh is mortal.

The Flesh
Orlan, a French artist, employs plastic surgery and its related technology as a medium to articulate self-transformation. She performs surgeries on her own body, some times designing her body according to beauty myths such as the Mona Lisa's bone structure while in other she attempted to grow the biggest nose possible facial anatomy can sustain. She declares, "This is my body...This is my software." [10] Besides using her own body, she utilises photography, video, medical technology, theatre and mass communication via networks to experiment with physical changes in identity and to critique traditional notions of beauty and prevailing Western concepts of femininity and identity. Her plastic surgery is broadcast live around the world using the internet and satellites. The actual surgery room adopts ritualistic functions, from specifically designed uniforms for the medical staff, to a planned set design of the interior of the surgery room. Orlan reads poetry and other self-written material while being operated on. She believes that her own planned body design is an "assertion of the supremacy of the individual's designing will over the late capitalist image factory." [11] Orlan is using western technology as an empowering tool of resistance. She persist that technology enables her to free herself from the body she was forced to live with. She can transform, enhance and play with what she was born with. She also persist that this use of technology is done to offer an alternative direction to the Western dominant ideologies of what is considered to be beautiful or even normal. Her own body transformations are purposely preformed against what is usually done with the same technologies as part of consumerist capitalist society. Orlan offers a way of resistance that does not oppose technology but rather embrace technology as a tool to suggest alternatives to the Judeo-Christian notions of life, and the sacred body. Life is not what you have born with and not what society wants you to be - life is your own play.
Sterlac, an Australian based artist, looks at the integration of technology into the body as an evolutionary development: "technology, symbiotically attached and implanted into the body creates a new evolutionary synthesis, creates a new human hybrid - the organic and synthetic coming together to create a new sort of evolutionary energy." [12]
In his performance Amplified Body, Laser Eyes and Third hand, Sterlac's body movements were controlled and choreographed by muscle stimulators activated via the Internet. Special amplifiers could recall and enhance Sterlac's internal body sounds, and a mechanic third hand attached to Sterlac's right hand, was incorporated in this performance, manifesting its own involuntary movements. Sterlac, like Orlan looks at technology as a subversive tool. "What characterises all the projects and performances is the notion of the prosthetic. The prosthesis seen not as a sign of lack, but as a symptom of excess. Rather than replacing a missing or malfunctioning part of the body, these interfaces and devices augment or amplify the body's form and functions." [13]
Both artists are revolutionary in their use of "flesh" technology, as a suggestion for contestable and alternatives futures. Both artists, though, still maintain a strong human-centric view of life, looking at their own body (which in turn represent only the human body as oppose to the body of all Living beings) as a medium to comment on the effects of new technologies on human condition and human society.


SymbioticA/TC&A. Semi-Living Doll H - Symbolizes Our Fear of Hope, 2000. Biodegradable / bioabsorbable polymers, surgical sutures and McCoy Cell Line.

Wet biology art practice
Since the late nineties we are witnessing the emergence of a new form of art, that engage with the treatment and manipulation of life and living systems using the tools of modern biology. It is refer to as Biological Art or Wet Biology Art Practices. It is closely tied to the current developments in modern biological technologies. This practice exposes many ethical and epistemological issues and dilemmas that rise from the new scientific knowledge and its application as part of biotechnology.
New developments in modern biology are forcing us to radically question our value systems in regard to our perceptions of life, the extent of manipulation of life and humans position in life continuum. It is also the time that humans are gaining greatest understanding and control over biological process while it is human centric in its outlook, and governed by a profit based dominant ideology. It is a crucial time for artists to engage in biological related technologies as a medium of suggestion for alternative and contestable futures.

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

The Tissue Culture & Art Project is using tissue engineering technologies and stem cells research to create Semi-Living entities, which would never survive in the Wild, and their survival depends solely on humans care.


SymbioticA/TC&A. Sharp 1, 1999. Muscle tissue from mice was grown over a hydrogel replica of a neolithic stone tool c. 10,000 years BP. Image courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

Semi-Living Entities
Semi-Living entities are Evocative Entities. They expose and reveal the lack of understandings, let alone language, in regard to new human mediated creations that defy the objects/entities humans had constructed or bred using evolutionary principles. These are new entities, which humans still need to understand, define and classify in the hierarchical taxonomy we have constructed in regard to life and the living kingdom.
Semi-Livings are extensions of parts of the body and exist independent from a body. They further reveal Margulis view of a body as a community of cells, and they can survive and grow, with the aid of artificial support mechanism, as part of the environment.
It is a dialogue with nature that could have not existed drawing solely on evolutionary principles. It redefines our perceptions of what is living/non-living and enables us to extend the life of parts of complex organisms even when these organisms are considered dead. It physically questions the Nature/Culture dichotomy by combining these two elements of living biological materials with constructed non-living materials into an autonomous entity. It is a human creation that forces human society to reexamine and redefine its ethical and epistemological frame of thought.




SymbioticA/TC&A. Spear, 1999. Muscle tissue from mice grown over a hydrogel replica of a neolithic stone tool c. 10,000 years BP. Details. All images courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

It is a subversive suggestion for a high-tech nature, which at this stage, as an artistic project, aims at making us feel uneasy about the extent of our abilities to manipulate living systems, and the extent, we are prepared to take responsibilities for our Semi-Living creations. It is also a symbol of the inadequately of the Judo-Christians attitudes towards the Other in the full sense. Judging by the war clouds hovering over our current times, and the minimal level of compassion towards the Other who is from the same species but a different race or class, we are pessimistic towards the destiny of our Semi-Livings, as their survival depends on human care.

References:
[1]. Sonfist, A . (ed.) Art in the Land - A Critical Anthology of Environment Art (Dutton, 1983), p.46.
[2]. Heartney, E. "The Garden in the Machine: The Time Landscapes of Alan Sonfist," in: Alan Sonfist: History and the Landscapes, pp.14-15.
[3]. Preble, D. & Preble , S. Artforms - An Introduction to the Visual Arts (USA Harper Collins, 1989), p.438.
[4]. <http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2002/christo/coast.htm>
[5]. Lovelock, J.E. GAIA: a New Look at Life on Earth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).
[6]. Margulis, L. Symbiosis of Cell Evolution (San Francisco: W.H Freeman and Company, 1981).
[7]. <http://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/>
[8]. Gibson, W. Neuromancer, 1984.
[9]. Turkle, S. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984).
[10]. Cited in McCorquodale, D. (ed.) Orlan: This is My Body…This is My Software… (London: Black Dog Publishing Limited, 1996), p.4.
[11]. Goodall, J. "Whose Body? Ethics and Experiment in Performance Art," in: Art, Medicine and the Body (Perth Institute of Contemporary Art Forum, 1996).
[12]. <http://www.msstate.edu/Finear.../Gallery/Sterlac?sterlac.html>
[13]. <http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/extra_ear/index.htm>
[14]. cited in Catts, O. (ed.) The Aesthetic of Care? The artistic, social and scientific implications of the use of biological/medical technologies for artistic purposes (University of Western Australia: SymbioticA, 2002), p.5.
[15]. cited in Catts, O. (ed.) The Aesthetic of Care? The artistic, social and scientific implications of the use of biological/medical technologies for artistic purposes (University of Western Australia: SymbioticA, 2002), p.33.




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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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