Dixon’s residency was part of a broader project that set out to investigate the emergence, working practices and underlying philosophies of what has become known as ‘critical BioArt’.
Deborah Dixon graduated with an undergraduate degree in Geography from Cambridge University before gaining an MSc from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a PhD from the University of Kentucky. Dixon was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography, East Carolina University, before moving to Aberystwyth University in 2000. She has been Book Review Editor for the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers and Area, is on the editorial boards of Dialogues in Human Geography and Aether: The Journal of Media Geography, and is Editor of Gender, Place and Culture.
She has served on the boards of the Geographic Perspectives on Women group of the AAG, and the Women and Geography Study group of the RGS-IBG. Currently Deborah's research is concerned with the geographic deployment of post-structural and feminist theories, particularly as they relate to a range of 'monstrous' topics such as Bioart, touch and the anomalous.
Though all manner of works may be labelled BioArt in the sense that their subject is biotechnology, a categorical distinction has been asserted between Art that seeks to represent life, or use it as metaphor, and “Art that uses the matter and energy of life itself as a point of departure” (Zaretsky 2005).
Critical BioArt, then, is a very new, loosely held collaborative endeavour between Artists and Scientists wherein biological materials, developed and nurtured within the laboratory, are used as material for Art installations. Cell and tissue cultures, neuro-physiology, bio-robotics and bio-informatics, artificially produced DNA sequences, Mendelian cross-bred organisms, xeno-transplants, homo-grafts, and medical self-experimentation have all come under the banner of a critical BioArt (Hauser, 2005).
Though Art and Science have never been self-sufficient categories -- rather, they revolve within a shared history, locked in an awkward embrace -- this particular form of collaboration moves beyond the usual semantics of synthesis and antithesis, into the more complex terrain of negotiations, mutualities and symbioses.
It is this rendering of critical BioArt as a ‘breach’ of both artistic and scientific protocols that allows it a distinctive contribution to the many debates concerning biotechnology. For the most part, commentators have looked to the way in which biotechnology exacerbates existent processes and tendencies.
Rifkin (1999), Stock (2002) and Fukuyama (2002), for example, dwell on: the degree to which biotechnology will ameliorate or aggravate current, global-scale economic divides; the appropriate extent of national and supra-national regulation of such practices; and the contributory role of biotechnology in augmenting, or erasing, specifically ‘human’ capacities. Academics across a range of disciplines have pointed out the rapid proliferation of biotechnology in a number of economic, political and cultural contexts, and the many tensions and anxieties wrought in its wake (eg., Bostrom 2005; Brown et al 2006; Davies 2006).
Critical BioArt, by contrast, aspires to provide a way of thinking about the future that lies outside of these established horizons, positioning itself as a fulcrum around which alternative visions of the future have been formulated. Within critical BioArt a radical re-ordering of the living organism, as well as nature/society relations more generally, has come to be regarded as a realisable outcome of biotechnological advances; what is more, these possibilities are presented to the public, alongside business and government, in a new language that, it is argued, is constituted from all manner of laboratory-created ‘partial lives,’ each contributing its own, distinctive, visceral aesthetic (Kac 2005; Zurr and Catts 2006).
Though critical BioArt is a very recent development there is no doubting its relevance not only to broad-scale debates on the appropriate role of technology in reworking what we consider to be ‘nature,’ and especially ‘human nature,’ but also to our understanding of how the history of artistic and scientific practice allows for such a collaboration to be envisioned and realised. Accordingly, this visit will focus on one of the world’s leading centers for the creation of critical BioArt – the SymbioticA laboratory cum gallery housed within The University of Western Australia’s (UWA) School of Anatomy and Human Biology – in order to gain insight into:
For a month in Perth a number of methodologies will be used to explore the above questions including: archival research into the formation and development of SymbioticA, using the media and university-based materials collected by the UWA library; in-depth interviews with resident and visiting BioArtists regarding their background, their views on the broader role of biotechnology in transforming society/nature relations and their vision of BioArt and its associated projects as a particular form of commentary; and, hopefully, observation of the working practices of BioArtists, noting the technological means through which biological materials are accessed, re-worked and prepared for exhibition, but also the day-to-day negotiations (face to face as well astechnologically-mediated) through which these collaborative projects are brought into being.
April – May 2008