This Friday March 14th at 7:30pm, Régine DeBatty of We Make Money Not Art will moderate a panel at the New Museum entitled Media Art in the Age of Transgenics, Cloning and Genomics. The latest installment in Rhizome's monthly New Silent Series, the panel will look at what is known, in short, as 'bio-art' or, in a more elaborate form, art that responds to the increasingly powerful role that biology has come to play in our lives. Artists who will present and be in conversation with DeBatty are Caitlin Berrigan, Brandon Ballengee, Kathy High and Adam Zaretsky. As a teaser to this panel -- and also as a bit of context for the uninitiated -- we conducted a one-question interview with Debatty (see here for interview-format inspiration) on why she has honed in on this art form.
RHIZOME: Régine, you are covering so many practices that are at the intersection of art and technology, but bio-art seems to have been a preoccupation lately. What is that draws you to this field and what do you hope to bring out in this talk?
RD: What makes me particularly attracted to biotechnology is that although it is already pervading our lives (think of what awaits you on the shelves of the supermarket) we can still pretend that it's not there, that it's science-fiction. The brash headlines of magazines (our entrance gate to the labs) cultivate the confusion. Every week, scientists seem to come up with a new breed of 'fearless' mice, rice with human genes in it, super-carrots that will make your bones invincible and skimmed milk directly from the cow. The researchers who are interviewed on TV look like well-mannered guys in a pristine white coats but the reality of their work is far messier than that and the ethical, cultural or even political implications of their work is not much discussed.
Biotech art is a real eye-opener. Artists made me realize that biotechnology is a topic worth discussing, being enthusiastic about, and being concerned about. Just like digital technology is. Who finances the biotech laboratories and with what aim in mind? What will be the long term impacts of these researches? Can we afford to be a passive audience and let technology "happen" to us one day?
I think that each speaker in the panel, whether they use the amazing beauty of their photographic work or the shock tactic of an anus lollipop, will bring some meaningful elements to the discussion. After all, nothing less should be expected from artists whose material is life itself.