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Subtle Technologies: BIOART - Art from the Laboratory Laura Cinti divider 27 May 12, 07:56 divider Comments (1) divider

We were apprehensive about the Canadian Premiere of BioArt - Art from the laboratory described as "a documentary about the BioArt movement, its technical aspects, new visions and a new approach to mankind’s great philosophical questions coupled with insights into the amazing work of progressive bio-artists."  

Whilst positively surprised compared to our reaction to the screening of Momentum - Rachel Armstrong, this was an unsettling take on bio art.

It was interesting to note that the director, Robert Styblo, originally proposed to make a documentary about retired circus artists, however, was asked by his network to come up with something more contemporary, which led him to discover bio art. The featured artists selected to represent the field were situated more in the context of body art than bio art, not surprising if the focus is on personas rather than works and the critical history that surrounds the field.

As a commercial documentary for Red Bull TV, those selected to represent bio art included Joe Davis, Paul Vanouse, Stelarc, Orlan, Jens Hauser, Art Oriente objet, Jun Takita, Sonja Baeumel, Nicole C. Karafyllis and Ingeborg Reichle.

We were slightly outraged at the scene where Joe Davis has a young girl prancing around in underwear with printed DNA sequences. The irritation was perhaps more towards the liberal arts that have invested so much in liberal ideas (e.g. race, sexuality, gender, etc.) only to flip these same values on its head by celebrating subjugation and validating this by introvertly pointing to art traditions (of always generating speculative drama).

In any case, the movie's interest was more on the side of the transgressive shock and awe - in line with the director's network. It was therefore not surprising that the video introducing the debate on bio art and had left out key practitioners.

The panel setup after the movie was perplexing as there seemed to be more experts in the audience - in terms of bio artists  - than the amongst panel, prompting us to ask how serious we should take this debate. Despite this, some interesting points emerged, like the question of his particular selection of artists being more on the side of body artists rather than bio artists and as a whole, a generation still focused on the human side of engaging with bio art, prompting the medical scientist on the panel, Dr Dolores Steinman, to describe a schism between the old and new generation of bio artists: while the the previous generation focused on the human, the new bio artists are looking at completely different aspects situated away from anthropomorphism.
Subtle Technologies: Henrietta Lacks in Text and Context Laura Cinti divider 27 May 12, 09:45 divider Write Comment divider

The final day of Subtle Technologies Festival, curated by Zulfikar Hirji, themed The Immortal Body included a keynote talk by Alondra Nelson providing insights into the racialised medical discrimination of Henrietta Lacks: a story about a young black woman whose cells were extracted and cultured from her cancerous tumour without her permission (a standard practice at the time) to create the immortal cell line found in laboratories throughout the world and known as HeLa cells.

Henrietta Lacks' "immortal" cells were the first to proliferate outside the body enabling medical breakthroughs that included testing polio vaccine in the 50s to research into cancer, cloning, in vitro fertilisation and Aids. 

In Henrietta Lacks' case, her cells helped launch a multibillion-dollar industry while herself dying without medical assistance. Her children became informed of her immortal cells only decades later as scientists carried out research on them. Still today, her family battle to afford health insurance. The success of the best-selling publication The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010) by Rebecca Skloot has opened up a public dialogue on bioethics to a broader audience.    

Its link to the historical context of research conducted on African Americans and the fight against medical discrimination were explored in Nelson's book the Black Panther Party and the fight against Medical Discrimination (2011).  In addition to depriving treatment and assistance, medical discrimination included subjecting patients into experimental properties - i.e. unconsented exploitations (i.e. Tuskegee syphilis experiment).
Subtle Technologies: A conversation with Alondra Nelson, Heidi McKenzie and Jeff Thomas Laura Cinti divider 27 May 12, 09:47 divider Write Comment divider

After Alondra Nelson's keynote - Henrietta Lacks in Text and Context - which provided a fascinating insight, and reminder, into racial biases that exists within medical settings, local artists were invited to respond to Nelson's presentation.    
The ceramic artist, Heidi McKenzie, gave a personalised account of her traumatic experience of enduring two decades of chronic pain as a result of fibromyalgia. She spoke of the extent her pain, or rather the invisibility of it, and how her racial hybridity have informed her practice. 

Jeff Thomas spoke of his upsetting experience of discrimination at the hospital where he was being treated (or lack of) after a serious car accident due to negative stereotypical view of "Indian" (First Peoples) in the United States.  The experience served as a catalyst to personally, and artistically, confront stereotypes of aboriginals by showing current perspectives of what he calls "urban Iroquoian" person through his photographs.
Subtle Technologies: Workshop - The Physarum Experiments Laura Cinti divider 27 May 12, 19:12 divider Comments (1) divider

Heather Barnett, who a few days earlier introduced us to Broad Vision - an interdisciplinary programme being conducted at the University of Westminster, began the workshop by giving a background to her art practice involving slime moulds (physarum polycephalum) where she elicits growth patterns using food and obstacles to produce fascinating visual outputs.

This fun and practical workshop allowed participants to create our own conditions to manipulate growth patterns in slime moulds.  

Instruction manual and information for  growing our own "pet slime mould". 

Heather discussing slime mould....

Slime mould detail...on a large agar plate

Taking a cut of the agar slab, Laura sets up an environment for her mould surrounded with lots of oats and water.

Instead Howard opted for a more challenging route for his slime mould.
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