Philosophy and Ethics of Bioart

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‘aitiai’ concerning Genetic art by Andre Brodyk/ Butterfly Wings of Pythagoras by Joanna Hoffmann/ Meta-Medium (The expanded Alan Kay) by Helder Miguel Dias/ The Art of Living Systems by Marta Mikolajewska/ Mutate or Die: a William S. Burroughs Biotechnological Bestiary by Tony Allard/ Colonization and science networks between peripheries and the center: the case of the naturalist Fritz Müller by Yara Rondon Guasque Araujo
Friday, 16 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:45
Chair Person: 
Peter Anders
Andre Brodyk
Joanna Hoffmann
Helder Dias
Marta Heberle
Tony Allard
Yara Guasque

‘aitiai’ concerning Genetic art

by Andre Brodyk

This paper translates elements of an ancient theory of causation and explanation namely, Aristotle’s concept of ‘aitiai’ to illustrate a novel interpretation in new media Genetic art and theory. I argue that the causal properties underlying the concept of aitiai are characteristically pending action requisites and are therefore analogous to the causal properties of proto‐animation. My underlying concept of proto‐animation developed previously as a new ideology of Genetic art theory without this classic referent is explained in this new context.

This particular form of biotech art and this ideology emanating from it involves
an intersection of art, genetic science and technologies located specifically at the genetic level. The peculiar condition explicated by art modelled on genetics involves so‐called ‘non‐coding’ molecular material in a predicament, which I argue is essentially a proto‐animated material‐form‐space within genomes.

In his concept of aitiai, Aristotle advocated that there are four factors, which can be used to explain matter and form relationships more completely. He gave each a performative role by designating them specific causes. The composite condition of these four causes is collectively called aitiai. Aristotle’s account of matter and form interrelationships, which he referred to as ‘Hylomorphism’, is developed as part of this overarching context and this is also intrinsic to the nature of the proto‐animate expressed here.

Furthermore, Aristotle advocated that the aitiai causes apply to and operate
between the components of all generated compounds, natural or artificial. It is as a consequence of this atomistic or molecular disposition that it is arguably an apt frame of reference for a molecular and genomic art context. That is one involving what are both natural and artifactual bio‐molecular compounds considered in a contemporary genetic technology mediated environment.

Conceptually the work draws upon an interpretation of the ancient philosopher’s cause theory to advocate a novel pending condition of matter/ form understanding. From this perspective, the aitiai is perceived in a pending, proto-animated causal state.

This idea is translated across to the novel concept of a recondite proto‐animate condition operating inside the genomic matter/form matrix of living organisms. It can be expressed tangibly as Genetic art materiality.

Butterfly Wings of Pythagoras

by Joanna Hoffmann

“Space is  the way of existence of life, and life is the way of existence of space” /S.Semotiuk/

Pythagorean idea of Harmony was the first model of this integrity. The discovery of the hidden order of the Universe expressed in numbers and proportions was not only a top achievement of pre-Socratic search for the essence of Nature but also the most influential and beautiful concept born by the human mind. His “Mathematic Song above Songs” for the first time linked the human inside with the cosmic space and inspired the development of science and art.

In the XIX century Charles Darwin changed our perception of the world: what was static and eternal became constantly evolving. Then, the theory of deterministic chaos replaced the everlasting harmony by temporal synchronizations of complex and vulnerable systems and living matter was reduced to the DNA, making the rest of organism a part of genes’ much larger, interdependent habitat.

These changes in our perception have altered but not erased the essence of Pythagorean concept. In the depth of micro and macro realities, in the slits of everyday life we seek for scattered fragments of the “ Grand Theme”; its phrases and cadences to order the chaos of our ignorance, and to find one’s own, ephemeral place within the dream of the non-human Harmony. About this search is my talk based on 2 my artistic projects:

“Tones and Whispers” (multimedia installation realized with the support of Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London and awarded by the first prize in Europlanet contest by Space Research Center Polish Academy of Science 2007),

“Proteios” – series of video and interactive installations (i.e. Secret Life,  Molecule, Hidden Dimension) inspired by the structure and dynamics of protein molecule, initiated at  the residency at Khoj & International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi (2007) followed by the residency at CEMA/Srishti College of Art Design and Technology & National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India (2009).

Meta-Medium (The expanded Alan Kay)

by Helder Miguel Dias

In the domain of biology and more specifically in the theory of evolution, we can define the extended field of conception as the totality of viable virtual paths that a certain evolutive stage can follow. As a classic example (Borges), all the books that can be written using the total possible combinations of the alphabet that produce words and sentences which make sense. One of the actualizations of this extended field of conception is, for example, the tale where the author describes this process.

This brief introduction allows us to place this problem. Nowadays, deep scientific explanations that present the biologic and the psychological as the result of algorithmic systems. As an example, we can refer the evolution as a blind Darwinian algorithm (Dennet), its cultural memetic extension, the computational theory of the mind or the investigations around AI.     

An extremely interesting fact and not always explored is that also computers are algorithmic machines by excellence. The general knowledge of the outside  world as a manifestation of the algorithmic system, associated to powerful computational iteractive manipulators, allow to delineate a space of research whose crossings generates new Human definitions of the so-called Human (Kittler).     

Considering this brief description of the informational lines that cross Human and machinic, it becomes imperious to redelineate  the theory of new media around these facts. It´s not enough to analyse the remediation (Bolter & Grusin) or to consider cinema as privileged precursor (Manovich). The theoretical work shall be placed to a more general level and implies that the notion of mediation is understood in all its aceptions. The nature, body and mind, are today seen as spaces of mediation, so a theory of new media is forcibly a theory of the meta-processes that allow, feed and confer dynamic to the manifestations of design out of chaos. With or without the help of the mind! With or without the help of the computer.

The Art of Living Systems

by Marta Mikolajewska

In my paper I would like to turn to a fundamental yet still only partially answered question: what is life? The answer depends to a large degree on the definition we adopt. This ambiguity and indeterminacy is problematic and raises doubts, whereas crucial decisions often have to be made by means of precedent. Where paralogy is the best methodology available, questions still remain to linger: on what level of cell/ tissue complexity can we speak of life? What do we perceive as an entity? Can life be reduced to numbers, codes, or algorithms? Having these issues in mind, I would like to reflect upon a group of chosen art works, which literally utilize ephemeral cases of life. In the structure of each composition tiny bits of what is ‘living’ or ‘alive’ cooperate together forming a complex system. These particular cases vary from life in the form of tissue culture (O. Catts, I. Zurr - Disembodied Cuisine), to artificial life (Ch. Sommerer, L. Mignonneau - A-Volve), from living architecture (Z. Oksiuta - Cosmic garden) to predatory biobots which feed upon real life (J. Auger, J. Loizeau, A. Zivanovic - Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots,) to a simulation of digestive system where millions of bacteria animate a network of a higher order (W. Delvoye - Cloaca). In my paper I will focus upon characteristic features that bring these seemingly different artworks together. I shall also propose a term “the art of living systems”, which serves as a common denominator.

Mutate or Die: a William S. Burroughs Biotechnological Bestiary

by Tony Allard

In this paper, I propose to address key aesthetic, artistic, bioethical, and scientific issues raised in the creation of bioart works. I will be addressing these issues via a discussion about my current collaborative, bioart project, “Mutate or Die”.

Mutate or Die: a William S. Burroughs Biotechnological Bestiary
An installation at the Grand Arts Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri

When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.”
             --from the Brion Gysin/W.S. Burroughs Third Mind

My collaborative partner, Adam Zaretsky, and I will be venturing into some of the mystified representations and knowledge bases being generated by the life sciences. With this bioart project, we will address the life sciences’ enormous investment in the illusion of objective control over the biological world, and the tag team efforts of “pan-capitalism” and the bio tech industry’s privatizing genetic research and patenting life forms. This project will also chronicle my failed attempt in 1996 to get the writer William Burroughs' DNA sequenced, and our current attempt to once again engage Burroughs' genetic material in an artistic endeavor--this time in a speculative experiment that will involve the creation of a transgenic mutation. The public will be invited to participate in the process, specifically within the portable lab we will create in the art gallery at Grand Arts in Kansas City.

Bioart tends to use cutting edge biotechnology as an art making device and specializes in presenting living organisms as art. In this project, a DNA sample from William S. Burroughs will be isolated, amplified and shot into the nuclei of some cells. At the core of the project will be the gene gun blast that will biolistically combine tiny pieces of William S. Burroughs’ gut flora / script/ gene text with another organism’s genetic script / gene text, to produce a transgenic mutation, or put in another way, an “intentional-genetic modification orgiastic”, or “i-GMO”. After the gene gun blast sets the mutations in motion, we will invite the audience into the process as readers / interpreters of the stories embedded within the old beat writer’s gut.

Colonization and science networks between peripheries and the center: the case of the naturalist Fritz Müller

by Yara Rondon Guasque Araujo

The construction of scientific knowledge takes place far away from the periphery where data are collected. The peripheries with their ecosystems are the ones that, through the “transformation networks”, feed the centers with data collected in the midst of a diversity of phenomena. The correspondence and the exchange of specimens between Fritz Müller (1822-1897) and Charles Darwin characterize what Bruno Latour called transformation networks. Fritz Müller, who lived in Vale do Itajaí, southern Brazil, from 1852 to 1897, established a link with Charles Darwin and with other European researchers. As naturalist and researcher with the National Museum and as a Primary School teacher in the cities of Florianópolis and Blumenau Fritz Müller faces difficulties in adapting to the southern hemisphere and in the colonist life. The paper focuses on the science network between the German colony in the south of Brazil and the center with the European scientists and naturalists with whom Fritz Müller exchanged letters, and tries to map the plant specimens that he sent to Europe. Initially published in his paper entitled “Einige Worte über Leptalis” (1876), circular mimesis, or Müllerian Mimicry, as it became known, is a concept attributed to Fritz Müller’s discovery. The naturalist, in his observation of the flora and fauna, emphasized that when some species undergo a transformation process, they end up resembling one another. Mimesis and plagiarism have always been the conductors of new formulations and possible collaborations even in the essence of science. The concept is employed in the paper to refer to the naturalist’s procedure in his observation of the phenomena in loco in the forest and also to highlight that his observations could only be legitimized as science after the screening of the “transformation networks”. Transformation networks is the movement of the observation  carried out in the periphery that is legitimized as an abstract data in the calculation centers that promote an accumulation of knowledge, the surplus value of information. It is in the transformation network that intellectual control is exercised, and through it the centers are capable of representing phenomena that were previously out of their reach.