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Affiliation: Dr Sue Broadhurst, Reader in Drama and Technology, Subject Leader, Drama Studies, School of Arts Brunel University, West London, UB8 3PH, UK Direct Line: 01895 266588 Extension: 66588 Fax: 01895 269780 Email: email@example.com. Abstract Bioart: Transgenic art, recombinant theatre, butterflies, FISH and functional portraits Bioart centres on the artistic investigation of biotechnology and raises complex ethical issues, such as, those relating to the patenting and sale of genes. At the same time genetic engineering is transforming forever our notions of and relationships to life forms including our own. Moreover, the discipline of biological studies is increasingly changing from a life science into an information science. For instance, ‘biosemiotics’ is an interdisciplinary science that studies communication and signification in living systems. Contemporary artists have responded to these changes by working with transgenics, cloning, inter and intraspecies communication, reproductive technologies, genotype and phenotype reprogramming, tissue culture engineering and hybridization techniques that reconfigure the borders of artwork and life. One such artwork is Alba the GFP (green fluorescent protein) Bunny (2000), a genetically engineered rabbit that glows green when illuminated with the correct light. For Eduardo Kac, ‘transgenic art … is a new art form based on the use of genetic engineering techniques to transfer synthetic genes to an organism or to transfer natural genetic material from one species into another, to create unique living beings’ (1998). Kac concentrates on exploring the ‘fluidity of subject positions in the post-digital age’, by means of a combination of ‘robotics and networking’, ‘telepresence’, ‘biotelematics’ and ‘transgenics’ (Kac 2005). Critical Art Ensemble (C.A.E.) are bioartists, who through their ‘recombinant theatre’, have made technology, wetware,1 and transgenics,2 the focus of their work. Originally they worked with multi-media but since 1996, they have concentrated on responding to the debates surrounding biotechnology. As tactical mediaists the group have presented various interactive performance projects. These projects are underpinned by their concerns with the representation, development and deployment of social policies regarding this technology. One of their works, Flesh Machine (1997-8) focuses on eugenics in the discourse and practice of current reproductive technologies, featuring the genetic screening of audience members and the diary of a couple going through in vitro fertilization. Another work, Society for Reproductive Anachronisms (1999), engages the audience in dialogue about the problems of medical intervention in reproduction. Their more recent performances, GenTerra (2001- 5) and Free Grain Rice (2004) have attempted to critically evaluate and respond to concerns regarding genetic engineering and the creation and release of new life forms into the ecosystem. Another artist who works with biotechnology is Marta de Menezes who has for her project Nature? (1999) reprogrammed patterns on butterfly wings by injecting the pupa in development. These pattern transformations relate only to the phenotype and not genotype, thus disappearing at the end of the life cycle. In her work Functional Portraits (2002), she utilizes Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to visualize in real time the operation of the brain. In doing so de Menezes attempts to demonstrate the correlation between neuronal activity and the related sensation, thought or action. As with all digital artworks, bioart both reflects and is an experimental extension of our contemporary culture and times. As De Menezes claims, ‘people need to react to artworks that represent what they hope or fear … The great danger, as with any other technology, comes from people that are not informed: these are the ones more prone to misuse technology or ban altogether some harmless and beneficial uses.’ 1 A term relating to the interface of digital technology and living biological systems. The origins of the term are unclear but gained widespread usage following Rudy Rucker’s novel of the same name (1989). 2 A transgenic is a person, plant or animal whose genetic structure has been altered through introducing other-specie DNA into its genome.
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