Networked_Performance

[Synapse elist]: Bioart

hcv_final.jpg[Image: “Sentimental Objects In Attempt to befriend a Virus” by Caitlin Berrigan] ” … I have been in the midst of a serious battle with my university over a censorship case and issues of freedom of speech (not “bioart” related). An exhibition, “Virutal Jihadi,” by an Iraqi / U.S. artist Wafaa Bilal was closed because the university did not think the content was appropriate. Then this same exhibition was moved to a non-profit art space in the city of Troy, and the day after the exhibition opened the city closed that art space down claiming their building had code violations. So needless to say it is all a mess and has been taking up much of my time. The university is now proposing to set up a committee to review all exhibition proposals. For further details please go to www.wafaabilal.com.

I mention all of these events not just as an excuse for my slow response, but also to give you all a sense of my current framework / mindset and to contextualize something that I have witnessed in the U.S. Over time, there have been more restrictions put into place, an erosion of freedoms, and citizens in this country take fewer risks particularly apt when thinking about new art practices such as “bioart”. Akos just mentioned issues of fear and doubt around exhibition of bioart and I think that this is real here, because it is also being conflated with things such as “bioterrorism” and “biowarfare” which of course Steve Kurtz and CAE speak to so well. I know many exhibiting venues that have had a difficult time raising funding for this area. So I think we are living in a particular moment of caution that makes this kind of practice even more difficult to show.

I am currently working with some colleagues, Rich Pell and Daniela Kostova, on a project we call the Bioart Initiative at my university. The name came about because of the collaboration between the Arts Dept and the Biotech Center so it was used as a simple identification of the collaborating parties. (I would love to see other terms used as I, too, am frustrated with this too broad nomenclature.) This is a multi-pronged project that has been funded for 15 months to bring in speakers, have exhibitions and sponsor residencies of artists working in the laboratory. The goals are to encourage more exchange between artists and the scientists who work in the building, the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS).

truffles.jpgOne of the recent projects was “Sentimental Objects In Attempt to befriend a Virus” by Caitlin Berrigan. Berrigan occupied the lobby area at CBIS with her geodesic domes resembling the hepatitis C virus, and held a series of “tea parties” offering dandelion tea and viral shaped chocolates to discuss the basis for the work. Berrigan has Hep C and uses this work to explore her relationship to the virus, build public awareness about transmission and more. One sculptural object almost closed the show down: along with the geodesic viral domes on exhibit were three potted dandelions. Berrigan claimed that she had fed her own blood to the dandelions and had a poster to this effect on the wall. This fact was picked up by the biosafety people on campus, and they freaked. Exposed blood, particularly infected blood was not allowed in the lobby of the building and was a grave bio-hazard. Besides the fact that this artist did not in fact feed the plants her blood, this potential risk was potentially enough to have the entire program shut down.

After we calmed them down, we did get to have some valuable discussions about the transmission potential – or not – for four day old blood, and the actual realities about Hep C transmission. http://www.metroland.net/back_issues/vol30_no45/art.html

And while I do not consider myself an expert in bioart exhibition, I am concerned with curation and exhibition and issues such as the caretaking needs of live things in the gallery or museum. When I exhibited “Embracing Animal“, a 10 month exhibition with live transgenic rats, I was amazed with the response of the museum staff. They not only gave public tours and lecture about the work, but the night-watchman also adopted the rats and would tend to them and play with them all night. They become the “keepers” and observers of these small lives, a role very different from their usual curatorial duties. They had to not only feed, water, change litter, but also watch and smell the rats to make sure they didn’t get ill; oversee the public and make sure they weren’t harassing the rats; and also make time to play with the rats. This was a complete reversal of their usual schedule. And while I am not advocating turning galleries / museums into zoos, this is a shift in the approach to exhibition that involves a different kind of different attention and care. I think we need some of these encounters in these spaces to broaden how we see ourselves to science / research subjects and what was once “nature”.

I will sign off now and add more later, thanks, Kathy High

Posted on Synapse Discussion List


Mar 24, 14:48
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