DIYBio Art & Design

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[EN] On saturday 23 june 2013, in the Waag society of the Netherlands (as a part of the Dutch DIYBio Meeting), several bio-artists, bio-hackers and bio-designers gathered together to discuss the similarities between the fine and applied arts and biohacking, and how each domain could influence one another. Here is an abstract of the mains topics that were developed during the conversation.

Participants on the discussion: Jennifer Willet (Incubator, Canada), Urs Gaudenz (Hackteria, international), Günter Seyfried (pavillon35, Austria) Ariel Martín Pérez (La Paillasse, France), Martin Malthe Borch (Biologigaragen, Denmark). This is a collaborative text, ideas come from all sources. This article is published under a CC-BY DIYBio.Eu unported license.


1 – What bioart, biodesign and biohack have in common:

1.1 – Opposition from formal rules – or rejecting the constraints of initial structures.

The world of science and the art market are regulated by formal rules that are often unknown to the general public. Both biohackers and bioartists frequently rise up against this rigid systems, as they need to fight conventions about what is art (or how it should be), how science is done and what to expect from both of them.

Bio-art is linked to performance art in the sense that it’s a continuous moment, instead of depending on one single strong  point of attention as many artistic presentations. Bio-art is also about working with living beings, which connects directly with reality (versus representations), experience and temporality, we can say it has its own embodied time. Time is also needed to keep the living structures healthy.

1.2 – Research documentation

Part of contemporary creation and science have in common the documentation of all that comprise the realization of a project. Of course, documentation takes so much time, that’s why some artists and biohackers tend to under-document their projects, favoring results. However, documentation should be encouraged as a mean to reproduce biohack experiments and techniques all over the world as well as presenting what bio-art and bio-design can do, all in an open-source philosophy.

2 – What can bioart/biodesign bring to the biohack community?

2.1 – Context and content.

Biohack is very technical, the general public may have many difficulties to  understand it. Art and design can make biohacking more aesthetically pleasing and organize information to make it more attractive. Art can provide a context and geopolitical and historical content to biohack projects (that they may be lacking).

2.2 – Conceptualization.

Art is not about “how you did it” but “why you did it” (Jennifer Willet). Artists can help question scientists this way to help them additional levels of meaning to their research. They can also give a different interpretation of scientific research and they can enliven hack meetings. “30% of participants to a meeting should be artists” (Urs Gaudenz). Art can bring a certain freedom to science, and science to art, if we challenge the expectations about each one of them.

For instance, bio-artists and biohackers  are asked by art festival organizations to present their work as an “individual” or a “collective”, while they are actually more of a “network” (such as Hackteria), because genius is supposed to only arise in individuals or small groups. Galleries and festivals also just frame one person or piece. This is very different from open-source software projects, for instance, where hundreds of collaborators contribute to an ever-evolving work.

3 – What can the biohack community bring to bioart / biodesign?

3.1 – Biological knowledge.

Usually bio-artists work with living beings, but they don’t always have a deep scientific knowledge of the species they work with. They should not necessarily need to have it, but collaborations with “experts” from the life sciences have the capability to improve the outcomes of their artwork. Scientists can also carry research in the atelier in an alternative way and help artists tinker with technology.

3.2 – Ethics.

Should bio-art follow the same ethic rules as the ones we’re trying to establish in biohack laboratories? Many artists are used to working without constraints and to be regulated by themselves, taking personal risks on their own. But working in the lab is very different, as science is under a more direct scrutiny from the public, and ethical questions can arise when manipulating or even growing living beings. This question is still open.

4 – Conclusions

Bio-art relies heavily on scientific concepts, while the aesthetical values of it may sometimes be deemed as secondary due to the complexity of making bio-art projects work. Nevertheless, making beautiful bio-art would instead make it more accessible to the public.

On the other hand, artists and graphic designers can also help biohackers to present their projects in a more effective and attractive way, with the goal of catching the attention of the general public and of institutions and administrations. There is still much work to be done to improve the visual appeal of biohack labs. They can also know how to search for funds from alternative sources for biohack projects.

In conclusion, bio-artists, bio-designers and scientists should hang out together more often. Scientists should get invited in the atelier to carry scientific research and artists should go more often to hackatons and laboratories to do art. Only this way we can get the best of both worlds and enrich our community.

Bioart organizations and groups

Waag society, Amsterdam

Symbiotica. Australia

Ectopia, Portugal

Incubator, Windsor, Canada

Fluxmedia, Concordia University, Canada

Artistsinlabs, Switzerland

Art and Genomics Centre, Leiden, Netherlands

Honf, Indonesia

Arts Catalyst, London, England

Hortus Paris, Paris, France

Center for PostNaturalHistory

Rensselaer Polytechnic University Arts, United States

BioTehna / Kapelica Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Biodesigners and biodesign groups

Alive Exhibition

Biohack and design by Raphael Kim

Burton Nitta

Dunne and Raby – Foragers

Le Laboratoire, Paris, France

External link lists

scroll aaaaaalll the way down on the hackteria wiki:

c-lab got a comprehensive list:

* Artists are encouraged to post questions and their work on & lists.

Avant/Antes/Previously: AmsterdAm.


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