VivoArts: Art and Biology Studio has been
taught for the past four years. Having designed the course I hope to convey
the joys and contentions of this type of class for the students, the teacher
and the institution where the class is held. It is my hope that this report
could aid in similar courses for art teachers and beckon breadth for living
What is VivoArts?
The goal of this course is to create an open ended interface between life
and the arts. To keep all expressive options dilated, the focus of the
class is not on the logic of the biologic. Instead, our cultural relationships
to the world of life are exposed in their contradictory and slippery illogics.
The interfaces between human society and the ecosphere are identified,
rethought and collaged together to form signs of definitional breakdown.
Some initial categories for treating to artistic xenophilia: Food, Nature,
Laboratory, Our Bodies and Pets. By defining where and how we interface
with these lifeforms and by mixing these logics we arrive at unusual conceptual
Most people have quite a lot of generic experience with nature, pets,
food and human bodies. By collageing generic cultural response patterns
we declassify and complexity preconceptions of nature in our funny world.
Most pets come from a long and tawdry history of selective breeding for
use-value or aesthetic pleasure. Food and human bodies are more often
explored in the arts. Synchronized denial and celebration of implicit
sex and death is a standard target for artists interested in unveiling
cultural hypocrisy. The contrast between the flesh of our food preparation
and the flesh our self performed can be made more explicit.
Why Biotechnology and the Arts?
For artists (and the public in general), laboratories are the most intimidating
and foreign sites of bio-interface. We are also in the center of a wave
of biological fetishism, which is likely to unfold into spurts of unbelievable
difference in the coming years. Assuming we have not annihilated ourselves
in aggressive tech-war maneuvers, there is a good chance that our kindred
ten to twenty generations from now will be appear to be of non-human origin.
For this reason, these places and the headspaces of their inhabitants
need to be anthropologically explored before intelligent commentary can
VivoArts studies focus on recent advances in the Life Sciences, both in
theory and practice. We focus on molecular biology, tissue culture, genomics,
and developmental biology. We visit laboratories. We also discuss the
social implications and prophesize the future applications of these new
potentials. Readings and discussions are directed to cultural issues such
as gene patenting, population diversity, new reproductive technologies,
nature/culture boundaries and more. In particular, the ethics of living
art and/or science production are debated.
How does this translate into Art?
Although we have readings and discussions, the class is a studio class.
It is a workshop for biological art projects. There are no papers due.
The exploration of the issues and techniques of the study of life aid
and inform expressive productions. We may learn techniques for microbial
and tissue culturing, video microscopy and other biological lab techniques.
But, we gain access to laboratory technologies for art production alone.
The incorporation of living material/organisms into final projects is
the most important part of VivoArts actively promoted.
A great diversity of commentary is encouraged. Artists from all mediums,
students of science and students of the social sciences are all encouraged
to attend. Futurists, Deep Ecologists and Absurdists are equally invited
to exhibit their living politics. Creative bioresearch is a personal expression
of explorative experience. Experimental food preparations, interspecies
performances, mad science, even silly pet tricks will be considered valid
art projects. The combination of in-depth study and living art commentary
should make this an intriguing class for anyone who is generally curious
about life in particular.
Emphasis is on the wide range of expressible options in the practic of
living arts. Any art piece that has a living component as a part of it
during its exhibition falls under the umbrella of VivoArts.
The first course was held at San Francisco State University, 2001. I have
to thank Steve Wilson of the Conceptual Information Arts program for giving
me a chance to experiment with this novel course. The second class was
held in Perth, Australia as a part of The University of Western Australia’s
Art and Architecture department, 2002. The course was co-taught by Oron
Catts of The Tissue Culture & Art Project. It was held in SymbioticA,
The Art & Science Collaborative lab. SymbioticA is also a novel organization,
mixing art with scientific processes from within the Department of Anatomy
& Human Biology, UWA. It is my sincere hope that this course will
continue to be held at UWA. In 2003-2004, VivoArts moved to Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute (RPI) I/EAR and a new course, Animal Enrichment
Arts was taught.
Wilson, CIA, SFSU