Liveblog Workshop June 2012
|Revision as of 13:37, 13 Jun 2012
18.104.22.168 (Talk | contribs)
← Go to previous diff
|Revision as of 13:38, 13 Jun 2012
22.214.171.124 (Talk | contribs)
Go to next diff →
|Line 11:||Line 11:|
|-||== Robert Zwijnenberg | BioArt: Contemporary art & the life sciences ==||+||== Guest lecture by Robert Zwijnenberg | BioArt: Contemporary art & the life sciences ==|
|Robert introduces his talk on the role of the arts in the public debate. He will discuss how art can shape citizenship in relation to the life sciences.||Robert introduces his talk on the role of the arts in the public debate. He will discuss how art can shape citizenship in relation to the life sciences.|
Revision as of 13:38, 13 Jun 2012
Opening and introduction
Maud Radstake introduces the topic of the workshop. Subject is "science in society", science as it enters the public domain. This fits with recent concerns expressed over the authority of science (i.e. climate change, vaccination) and the relevance / value of science. It raises the question how the public does and should relate to science and vice versa. This is also a theme in STS research, looking for example at how publics mobilize around issues or the role of science in democracy and its relation with citizenship.
The workshop will discuss perceptions of, and relations between, citizens and scientists. A basic question that will return: What do 'we' mean by science, public, citizens? And reflexively: How to practice what we preach, as researchers ourselves?
After a brief introduction round, questions of the participants were collected.
It resulted in a mix of practical (i.e. how-to communicate), conceptual (i.e. what is 'science'? how to distinguish different types of knowledge?) and reflexive (i.e. what is the problem here and whose problem is it?) questions.
Guest lecture by Robert Zwijnenberg | BioArt: Contemporary art & the life sciences
Robert introduces his talk on the role of the arts in the public debate. He will discuss how art can shape citizenship in relation to the life sciences.
His talk has four starting points:
1. The life sciences are needed
2. Dilemma arising from the clash between scientific integrity and societal anxiety.
3. The rift between the sciences and society is real and urgent
4. Arts can help t shape modern society by encouraging the ability to debate.
The focus is on artists who go into the labs of life sciences and work with living materials. Importantly, such engaged works may help to i) thematize the ethical, political and cultural implications of life science, ii) disclose what is happening in the life sciences and iii) raise awareness about the commodification of living material via life sciences.
An example is Adam Zaretsky, a bio-artist who worked with pheasant embryos. The latter work may trigger moral responses, but is still within the legal limits (by which 'life' is defined as something which can reproduce and sustain itself). Responses of students working on this project indicate that there may be difference between the ethics of the life science and ethics that we use in our daily lives (Zaretsky, 2009).
Another example is the GFP Bunny project by Eduardo Kac. This is about the relocation of a technological product (the rabbit) into the public domain, as almost all innovation develop into household applications. This raises the question of who is responsible for what happens in the life sciences. Kac' contested art-work aims to inject ambiguity into the public debate.
Robert continues by discussing the 'Tissue Culture & Art Project' which runs in cooperation with biotechnology scientists. Artist organized a disembodied cuisine by taking, growing and preparing tissue from a living frog. It may trigger enthusiastic reactions about the possibility of serving 'vegetarian meat'. But the artists pointed to a risk as well: a new class of objects/being was created, the Semi-Living, which was immediately exploited for eating purposes. The artwork raises questions about this dynamic.
The last example that Robert presents is 'Bio Jewellery'. Wisdom teeth are technologically transformed into rings that partners can exchange. Again, a common practice in biomedical technology (tissue engineering) is relocated into the public domain and applied to particular social practices and cultural customs. As a result, the debate on responsibility is recast and potentially revived (for example when it comes to legal ownership on extracted body parts).
In reflection, Robert argues that an important aspect of bio-art has to do with the commodification of life, referring to the transformation of living things into marketable materials (see also Koepsel 2009; Dickinson 2009). Think also of the debate on GM seeds and 'designer babies', linking to questions like: who owns life?
Robert concludes with the issue of why is art needed for critical debate about the life sciences. What can art really add? The work of Adam Zaretsky ('Initial Attempts at Embryonic Transplant Surgery') may be illustrative, where the artist tried to manipulate a zebrafish embryo. The project is within legal limits and is about a quest for new ethics and aesthetics for biotechnology. Zaretsky stresses the importance of mimicking/mastering, comprehending and participating within the scientific practices if one wants to become a transformative force within the scientific network. Robert stresses that this involved attitude gives bio-art an important role in the public debate. Direct involvement allows for a hands-on form of bio-ethics.
Q: Role of bio-arts, you focused on ethics and aesthetics and argued that it creates understanding. To what extent does it create acceptance andis it a form of PR? In addition, I'm missing the political aspect (Agamben - Bare life) in your talk. By presenting bio-art in the way that you did, you may loose sight of the political edge to life sciences.
A: Critique on bio-art is that they are repeating was it already happening in the lab. I agree, but they also re-contextualize. You can hardly say that Zaretsky is against the biomedical practice, because he practices it himself. It is more about trying to expose the hidden agenda, dreams, expectations, fears that underpin the practice of the life sciences.
About the politics: I think that is what all the projects are about. The artist, working mostly on the internet, are all politically engaged, but they do not want to take a specific position. Rather, their aim is to inject ambiguity into the public debate. In that sense it is very much politically charged.
Q: You claim that this form of art demystifies science. could you substantiate this? I would argue the opposite, as it reinforces the scientific authority in these kind of fields.
Criticism has been voiced before and sometimes even by myself with regard to certain projects. There is a 'fetishm' involved in working with the material. And the artists are sometimes mystifying themselves too (e.g the debate over the existince of Kac' bunny). But still think that bringing this science in different domains demystifies science as it re-appropriates the ownership question with artists claiming the write to work with living materials too.
Q: Often, bio-art is primarily a response on art itself. It often involves in-crowd responses and jokes. If you state that arts can change social life, I wonder: how? Are we in daily life confronted with this? It seems to evolve around small 'geeky' communities. Another question about methods: You said that bio-art stands out for its participatory approach. But that's not new. So could you explain again what is special about it?
There are indeed trends within bio-arts and the target group of it is very limited.
That's also why I took bio-art into the classroom. I think that hands-on engagement of bio-art is important, as it the way that they re-appropriate scientific practices in their art practices. Students will be the policy-makers of the future, so you can introduce it within the context of the university even though the general exposure is limited.
Q: You said at the beginning that art can encourage critical debate and that it should be a transformative force. Isn't that a bit circular? You also mentioned ambiguity. But what is the ambiguity in the rabbit case (Kac)? To pick up on this example: It seems that not the bunny is at the centre of attention, but rather the artist and his feelings. Is that what bio-arts should be about?
The article argues that art should be about communication and about relations between different groups of people. I think Kac achieved that, in the sense that it triggered a huge public debate on GM animals and on the role and function of arts.
Q: I argue that we talked 'semi-ethics', because you seem to touch upon ethics but keep it at bay by saying that it was legal. I think that ethics are very much involved: If the artist in the case of pheasant embryos would consciously think that it is wrong what he/she is doing, he/she couldn't repeat it.
I emphasized the legality, because as an biotechnology scientist it seems like you don't have to think about ethics because there in 'Ethical Committee', while we as outsiders immediately experience some ethical hesitations about whether we're allowed to this. The fact that the artist is repeating this question is important: you can legally do this, but have ethical hesitations about it. Some students for example refuse to participate because they are vegetarians. But those that participate somehow go along with the procedures, after getting their white coats on.
Q: Part of the function is making bio-technology public. Who is the target group in your view?
Why I'm so involved in this bio-art practice, is that I feel that the humanities are lacking behind the development of and implications of the life sciences. We, philosophers and ethicists, reflect at the end of the pipeline. Bio-artists are involved from the beginning of the developments. They provide me with an entrance to this complex biotechnological practice by pointing to the ethical and aesthetic issues involved.
Q: Saying that artists are 'inside' the science, but they are also 'outside' being artist. So science-art hybrid, exploring the boundaries. I imagine that some problems arise regarding boundary work. Could this be harmful for the credibility of science too and for the democratization of science?
Life scientists are just like normal human beings worried about what happens in the world and acknowledge that it is important to bridge the rift between science and the public. So I recognize the fear of scientists (some of which have accused me of 'nihilstic Spielerei'), but their willingness to cooperate is an indication that they are open to it.
Q: Demystification of science. Artists are taking the methods of the 'hard' sciences out in the public and are reviewing ethical issues by re-contextualization. I'm wondering: Is it not relocalizing the mystification (as now the artist knows about the work that is involved in scientific practices, but the public looking at the art work still does not know).
I kind of agree with that. There is a form of mystification present in these art works and the fact that they are presented as art, as something different. But this underlines that science is culture and that we need various entrances to understand the sciences. The works that I like most of those where the beholders are involved as participants.
Q: Want to return to the issue of: What is new about bio-technology? We raise ethical issues because we think that there is something new on stage. But for me the important issue is how this makes is think about the body, which goes back to Roman times and beyond. So why not take a step back and first ask this more conceptual question about 'what is the body'. Think of the frog and the dis-embodied cuisines; why is this dis-embodied?
Agree that the issue of bio-technology is really about 'what is nature'? We have always been breeding animals and changing our body. But I think that the current technological possibilities can lead to much more radical changes than ever before. And that a lot of these artworks are dealing with this issue.
Q: You told us about bio-art project. Did you ever do such projects with scientists themselves or politicians? And did it change their ways of behaving in labs or in politics? Could it also be used to educate scientists instead of the broader public?
Life science students and scientists are involved as well. I've been doing it in Leiden for six years and it seems that some scientists are now convinced that it is important to involve arts in their projects.
Q: The ethical practices that I know (i.e. Ethical Committees or Ethical Rules) seem to be geared towards resolving ambiguity. Arts seems to do the opposite. Isn't there a tension between art and ethics in that respect?
Yes, but seems productive to me.