Sunday, March 04, 2007

Inhuman Art

Since art and its relation to the human is an ongoing concern here:

Bio-artists bridge art-science divide

EmbracingAnimal.com (with its Rat Love Manifesto/The Politics of Empathy)

Critical Art Ensemble.

10 comments:

meg said...

And then there are Varela & Maturana's autopoeisis, and Steven Potter's Rat Brain...

What I can't figure out is why it always seems to be Wordsworth scholars (Marjorie Levinson, Alan Liu) who become entranced with these possibilities.

Michael O'Rourke said...

As well as Stelarc's various inhuman projects there's the art of semi-living, a term developed by the Tissue Culture and Art Project to refer to partial life, tissue engineered entities that "can be sustained, grown, function and..'live' outside its original body" (www.tca.uwa.edu.au/atGlance/pubMainFrames.html).The two artists involved in the TC&A project of using tissue technologies and growing semi-living entities as a medium for artistic expression, Oran Catts and Ionat Zurr (often in collaboration with Stelarc or SymbioticA) have other semi-living art works too: "pig wings" uses pig bone marrow stem cell tissue; "worry dolls" from mouse endothelial cells; "meart" from rat cortex neural cell tissue that transfers electrical activity to a computer program driving a robotic arm and manipulating a musical score (www.tca.uwa.edu.au and www.tca.uwa.edu.au/biofeel/installation.html).

michael uebel said...

Click here-->I dare ya

RaeRae said...

dare done... and I have to say... ick... how does that even constitute artistic expression? Honestly that strikes me more as being sick for the joy of being sick.

Then again, you could look at it as an experiment in desensitization. Our world has become so entrenched in the horrific that it takes something really well for lake of a better word at this time gross to invoke feelings of shock and horror within our minds. Images of the Iraq war... Afghanistan... infomercials for starving children in Africa, we see those every day they don't shock us anymore. They provide us with feelings of pity and saddness but these feelings are detached. We are desensitized. A pig as a motorboat or rats as balloons... that's shocking. We don't see that everyday it's not something that was have defenses against.

Eileen Joy said...

Maybe it's just me, but the "art" projects created by the Tissue Culture and Art project strike me as inhumane and sick [seriously--so I guess I agree with raerae, up to a point]. Oh sure, I can see someone telling me to lighten up--it's *only* some cell tissue extracted from a pig's bones [who may have already been dead], but I guess I'm a spiritualist when it comes to this kind of thing. It just disgusts me. Then again, I was intrigued by EmbracingAnimal.com's "Rat Love Manifesto" and their project in general, mainly because they are scooping up rats who have been genetically altered *after* the fact and then trying to care for/understand them [although there is a hint there of the original malevolent scientific experiment still continuing somehow in their observational aims: what kind of a *thing* is this, anyway? is a question they are asking of the rat while also "caring" for it]. One could also perhaps argue that prolonging the lives of these rats might also be inhumane--I don't know, but I think it's worth pondering.

Some might recall, from earlier blog posts last fall, that my sister, who is a genetic scientist, gave a paper at one of our BABEL panels where she reported on a working group that had been convened to look into the possible ethical problems with grafting human neural cells onto primate brains. The chief question to be tackled, in the working group's collective mind, was not, is this cruel?, but rather, have we crossed a species boundary [is the experiment "unnatural" and therefore ethically malignant]? The final decision was that there were no serious ethical problems since primates are not a different species from us [they are relatives on an evolutionary tree] and therefore the neural grafting does not constitute species boundary crossing. However, and here's the really cool [yet, in a way, almost idiotic twist], the working group did express concern that if the primate brains became more "human" by virtue of the grafting, they might attain a "higher moral status" which would affect how we are or are not allowed to treat them [and some members of the group argued that the grafting might help the primates to achieve, through this higher moral status, a better life--huh?]. I don't even know where to begin with this one.

I am not naive, so please don't tell me all of the ways in which cross-pollination and cross-hybridizing occur all the time in nature, and also how we sometimes force certain genetic "crosses" for the benefit of ourselves and the planet--to make food, fight disease, create beautiful flowers and trees, etc. I know all that. But I also think some of these projects JJC has shown us under the tag of "Inhuman Art," while very smart and creative on one level, also tarry dangerously closely to either outright cruelty or a type of experimentation that does not believe anything is sacred in an of itself.

Eileen Joy said...

One other quick comment here about the idea that living entities are "sacred" in and of themselves--something that, yes, I believe, although it would take too long, this morning anyway, for me to explicate that more fully so everyone could understand I do not invoke the term lightly or naively--whether or not you count yourself a spiritualist [of any stripe or variety] or even a post-secular, weak theologist, or simply don't believe in the existence of anything beyond the visibly material--as regards the question of what *might* be cruel, what *might* be "unnatural, what *might* constitute the invasion and rending of the sacred in something that is or once was "alive," wouldn't it be better to err on the side of not harming? Isn't it better to tread more lightly, regardless of what you believe, to treat all living entities *as if* they had inviolable properties, and without which, the world is incomplete?

Eileen Joy said...

And yet another clarification in case anyone misreads my earlier comments: yes, I believe in the right to choose [women's right to abortion], I believe in stem cell research, I believe in porcine heart valves, etc. I just thing that, when messing around with living [or recently living] matter, one must have very good reasons for that "messing around."

J J Cohen said...

It is very difficult to draw the line, isn't it? Especially because one artist's art is another person's barbarism.

But as you can surmise I don't condone the links by offering them. And you make some very good points Eileen. When Meret Oppenheim wrapped a tea cup in fur (Le Déjeuner en Fourrure), she wasn't hurting the tea cup. I assume she didn't skin the mammal herself, either. But I guess it'd be different if she genetically altered a mink to assume the form of a cup as it matured, then offered the cup-mammal as a surrealist art installation, instead of making critical forms from its lifeless, preserved skin.

J J Cohen said...

Eileen, I wonder. If nature (that is, random environmental variables plus sporadic gene mutation) enable the birth, viability, and maybe even the flourishing of a bioluminescent fish or rabbit, that's one thing -- even if the newfound glow has no adaptative value (i.e. is either pure surplus, or could lead to the creature more easily becoming prey). If an artist (oh, say, Eduardo Kac) creates through "transgenic art" a glow in the dark bunny, or an entire biosphere of self illuminating creatures, that's a work of another order. Right?

Can nature be an artist? Or are both Kac and nature (whatever the heck nature is) not artists considering that their medium is living flesh and their modus potentially inhumane?

Eileen Joy said...

Okay; I'm trying to absorb Kac's transgenic art [specifically, his green glowing bunny] in light of the fact that he has obviously thought about the ethics of his project [which seem to boil down to: you have to love and care for the transgenic living entities you create], so, um, more on this tomorrow? But, I swear, I'm still disturbed.