“Artwork in the Age of Biotechnology” presents the interaction of science and art
Bombed by flashing pop-ups and glowing word art, viewers see an endless plethora of products from the Estroworld, which alludes to the materialist consumerist culture.
Artist Mary Maggic combined their interests in body and gender politics, biohacking and environmental activism to create “Estroworld”, an interactive website featured at the online exhibition of “The work of art in the age of biotechnology.The exhibition showcases the work of 10 artists from around the world, focusing on the roles that artists and scientists can play in shaping our genetic future.
With programming scheduled until Wednesday, organizers invite the Pitt community to explore not only the digital pieces, but also to interact with the artists behind them. Hannah Rogers, curator of the exhibition and visiting scholar at Pitt, said the exhibition aimed to introduce a new way of thinking about biotechnology.
Biotechnology is any technology based on biology. Scientists use biotechnology in different contexts, such as the genetic manipulation of microorganisms to produce drugs and devices. While biotechnology has seemingly inevitable consequences – from the exploitation of intellectual property to the loss of biodiversity – Rogers said the exhibition approaches the term in a more open way.
“A lot of times when we think about what biotechnology is, we think about it in a deterministic way – you know, that’s what’s going to happen and you don’t really have a choice,” Rogers said. “There are digital things in this world that suggest we are all trapped inside. But this is not really true.
Rogers said that just as we can choose the works of art we want to see in our daily lives, we can also choose the science we want to interact with.
“[Biotechnologies are] available to individuals and our society, but we can make choices about them, ”said Rogers. “And so these [pieces] are works that really aim to suggest to people what those possibilities are and alternate paths we might be able to take if we don’t like how things are.
But Rogers encourages viewers to also criticize how technologies develop, who develops them, and who has access to them. While looking for artists to feature, Rogers said she was looking for people already active in biotech and art.
“You need considerable time and experience to understand life sciences before you can really create this kind of work,” Rogers said. “We’re not just interested in a representation that someone doing digital work might be able to create an audio or visual piece for us. We really wanted someone who cares about biotechnology issues and is critical of what’s possible.
The Genomic Gastronomy Center is a collaborative research hub that has played with the idea of food crops and biotechnology over the past decade. While there may not be a physical seat, his piece in the exhibit, titled Biotechnology crops, brings the Center to life.
Producer Emma Conley worked on the script and communicated with the programmer on how their ideas should be displayed.
“It’s like building in this very imaginative way, where the building has this big terraced roof with a lot of different food carts that we actually made,” Conley said. “We figured we were going to put them all together in one place where you could explore and eat from 15 different food carts that all tell different stories about the food system.”
The Center has criticized what is possible over the past decade – as molecular gastronomy was in vogue as a new way of preparing food, the Center decided to form a collaborative research hub to overthrow molecular gastronomy.
“Molecular gastronomy is all about bringing ingredients down to their most basic levels, dealing with a lot of chemistry, and reconstructing them to create new taste texture experiences,” said Conley. “With genomic gastronomy, we kind of wanted to ask the opposite question: What is it like trying to put an entire food system on a plate? “
Conley and his team study the genes of an organism and its environment and how these two relate to each other, looking at an entire food system, figuring out how to put it on a plate and serve it as a dish.
Their piece, titled “Cultures of Biotech”, is conceived from a second person perspective. Choosing between three characters, visitors enter the Center and experience a digital dinner. This mimics an actual series that the Center holds twice a year called the “Planetary Sculpture Supper Club”.
“The promise is that as eaters, we select foods not only to eat but also to raise,” Conley said. “In turn, this kind of sculpts the planet. Each part of your placemat tells a little bit about the story of each of the classes that you will discover.
Marie maggie is another artist who works at the intersection of biotechnology and art. An alumnus of Carnegie Mellon University, they were introduced to the world of bioart and biohacking by Professor Rich Pell, who also runs the Postnatural History Center at CMU.
In 2015, Maggic co-initiated “Open Source Estrogen», A project that combined their interests in body and gender politics, environmental activism and biohacking. Maggic said their goal has always been to “open the ‘black box'”.
“With all of my work, there has always been a need to uncover or excavate – opening the ‘black box’ as they say in hacker communities,” said Maggic. “With hormones, it’s the same thing – I’m trying to understand how the binary gender has become codified by molecules, and how the same molecules, often intentionally hidden by capitalist interests, modify these same definitions of the binary gender. “
Maggic said they saw the virtual exhibit as an opportunity to create an online piece of art that they wanted to create but didn’t necessarily have the coding skills to execute it.
“Users are bombarded with a ton of flashing pop-ups that show products sold and depicted in Estroworld – a disturbing and imperceptible hyperobject of industrial pollution that is our inescapable harsh reality,” Maggic said. “Pop-ups just seem like a must-have, even when users dismiss pop-ups or try to close them, more pops up in seconds. “
According to Maggic, the constant flow of must-have pop-ups is similar to how no one – not even non-humans – can avoid exposure to “the residue of industrial capitalism.”