the arrogance of (bio-) artists

I listened to art historian Danielle Hofmans’ lecture at the Victorian Circus IV event at De Brakke Grond on Thursday, and I was really astonished at the level of arrogance and god-like posturing of established bio-artists referenced in the lecture, and of which Danielle herself is very critical.

As you can read below, my first reaction is quite emotionally charged…

For a start, Eduardo Kac says in his Book Signs of Life: “[artists] invent new entities and new relationships never seen before.” I wonder, since when is it the artist who is not reflecting on his surroundings, but shaping it? When was it ever that an artist has ever invented anything new that is beyond the realm of art itself? I wonder if Eduardo Kac can claim any invention his own, even considering his fluorescent Bunny – as he has only used technology what was available for about 8 years at that time already. I wonder about similar claims of novelty on SymbioticA‘s tissue culture projects – after all, the technology of tissue culturing was invented in the XIX. century, and became a routine lab technique in the 1950’s already. One can’t really claim he has done anything new using a technology invented and perfected long before he was even born, can he?

What these artists can claim is that they have brought the above results into the public limelight. And this is a nice achievement in its own – but it seems that this is just not enough for them.

What was even more disturbing for me was Eduard Kac’s position on the importance of cooperation in evolution, and framing it so that cooperation and competition are antagonists. He seems to associate competition with a rightist / corporate / evil ideology, while cooperation is the nice leftist concept that is obviously close to his heart. His stance obviously shows that he does not understand evolution theory. But then again, I’ve seen articles earlier where people were trying to mix their political views with hard scientific facts and universal truth about nature itself – and these were quotes in Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science by Sokal and Bricmont. It’s sad to see that even over 10 years after the useless nature of such reasoning was pointed out so elegantly, the style still thrives on.

It seems that established bio-artists develop a god-like stance, positioning themselves as ‘grand creators of beings’. Eduardo Kac says that “[bio-artists are part of] the global network known as evolution”, while Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr refer to their cell cultures as ‘semi-living’, and demand that these are regarded as a new form of being. I wonder how these claims relate to the general criticism against scientists, especially genetic engineers, which states that they are ‘interfering with life’, and that is too dangerous and ‘man should not play god’. It seems to me again that artists want to put themselves in a special position, the only ones authorized to play these roles – all on ideological grounds. I think that especially their mistaken and politically charged ideology and apparent lack of knowledge and humbleness with regards to this field makes them unqualified for the position they are so dearly aiming for.

As you can see above – my reaction is an emotional one at first indeed to the above claims. Maybe I should be much cooler and provide rational criticism instead. I guess nobody is perfect…

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.