What is BioArt? BioArt as an art practice has been around since the end of the 20th century. Artists like Joe Davis, Eduardo Kac, Stelarc and many more have put this genre on the map for over a decade so I was of the opinion that most people would have a general idea what BioArt would be. But actually I get this question almost every single day now.
“What is BioArt?”
The short and easy answer would be wikipedia’s “BioArt is an art practice where artists work with live tissues, bacteria, living organisms, and life processes.” This sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? But I can think of many examples that would confuse you and still even confuse me in some cases. The website “is this BioArt” exists for a reason.
We as a people like to label every thing we see, preferably in black and white categories. But categories overlap each other; you’d need a pretty complex venn diagram in order to depict BioArt. For example the project “2.6g 329m/s” could be labelled Transgenic Art, which would be a sub category of Genetic Art. Genetic Art is one of the possible art labels you might find in the Biotech Art-bubble. Which in turn is a sub category of BioArt. But not all Genetic Art can be found in this Biotech Art-bubble. For example Genetic Art that represents life, or computer simulations of life. This picture gets complicated really fast; I once saw a diagram by Pier Luigi Capucci who tried to depict this but only partly succeeded.
A big area of BioArt in this venn diagram would be used by Biotech Art. As is the case with every new medium, from oil painting to photography, from television to computers, the tools and processes of biotechnology opened up unprecedented possibilities for art. This is the main reason we see BioArt emerge at the end of the 20th century, but this doesn’t restrict BioArt to be solely a product of biotechnology. There are plenty of examples of artists who work with living organism for example bees; my “The Essence of Beeing” or Jef Faes’ bees don’t use biotechnologies, but these works would still be labelled BioArt.
This is somewhat cheating, as of course, in this example, beekeeping is a 19th century biotechnology, just not a modern one. It does not have the power to enhance society’s awareness of this biotechnology because it has already long been normalised. But combine this with modern-day biotechnology, for example Monsanto’s genetically modified crops, which might turn out a disaster for bees and it is a totally different story.
The global trend is that BioArt uses modern biotechnology and that it is confronting. Yet the question if you consider something to be confronting or worthy of the term ‘modern biotechnology’ differs from person to person. For me, I am not of the opinion that BioArt should be either, as long as it uses a living medium to draw the attention to the beautiful or grotesque details of nature and/or its manipulation that we otherwise might never see it is BioArt.