Week 3 Response / What is Considered BioArt?

BioArt /ˈbīōärt/ noun

an art practice where humans work with live tissues, bacteria, living organisms, and life processes. Using scientific processes such as biotechnology (including technologies such as genetic engineering, tissue culture, and cloning) the artworks are produced in laboratories, galleries, or artists’ studios. Issues include…

“Materials may be hard to access or risky to work with, sometimes subject to federal regulations and restrictions”

When I first skimmed through this issue, I thought of Barton Benes’s Lethal Weapon series that I heard about on Radiolab. Barton Benes was a New York artist that collected many weird things that deals with people’s fear. He would have spiders, human ashes, old poop, fat from liposuction, but there’s one that that he could never make art about, AIDs. He lost many friends to HIV, and he, himself, was HIV positive. One day he was cutting parsley and he cut off a chunk of his finger, his initial thought one “OMG, I’m going to get AIDS” then the next second he realizes that he already has AIDS and he cannot be infected. He started thinking about how fearful blood can be and produced Lethal Weapons, where he would fill his HIV infected blood into things like child’s squirt gun, or perfume atomizers, things that appear so seemingly harmless but could become so deadly with his blood. His exhibit traveled to Sweden and there; even in display cases, authorities would not allow him to display or sell the pieces until they heated them to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and killed off all the infection. Here are a couple of his pieces from the series:

BartonBenes-Essence BartonBenes-Pacifier BartonBenes-VenemousRose Estate#BLBLW01,Desk,"Silencer BLB 1993", 14"x12"x1.75",Framed

…though this exhibition was risky to work with and was subjected to federal regulations, I am not entirely sure if this is considered BioArt because it does not quite compare with Alba, the transgenic bunny or Joe Davis’s Microvenus. Benes used HIV infected blood as a medium but instead of going through a scientific process to producing something entirely new, he used the dangerous connotation it carries and created a frightening object. The examples shown in class of BioArt seem to gravitate towards experimentation of science and creating something nonconventional and toys with scientific methods and aesthetics. However, they are both kind of controversial in terms of whether or not they ethical or safe. I do feel that, in a way, his way of using blood as a weapon is de-familiarizing the definition of weapon just because they are carried in such naïve looking things and still wields so much fear, just like how rabbits are de-familiarized with Eduardo Kac’s project. I feel like it is hard to draw a line with BioArt because it tries to create cringing thoughts and crosses unfamiliar boundaries. Perhaps Barton’s work wouldn’t be considered BioArt unless he somehow transfused his blood into a living thing and let it run its course, but I think it at least served as a precursor of BioArt.

-Kelly Kwok

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