a considerable section of Subtle Technologies was dedicated to the work taking place at SymbioticA. As part of the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Austrialia, SymbioticA offers residencies to artists and other individuals who wish to conduct research and engage in wet biology practices.
Important to notice is the particular mandate of this institution. in fact, as both artistic director Oron Catts and scientific director Stuart Bunt pointed out in several occasions, the lab strives to engage with, while maintaining a critical eye, on the scientific procedures and the activities with which the participants are engaging.
Communicating the above scientific practices is also part of the mandate of Symbiotica. For Subtle Technologies they organized a hands on workshop where local artists from Toronto were given the opportunity to test some of the practices conducted at the lab.
Artist, researcher, curator and founder of the Tissue Culture and Art Project
(2000), Oron Catts introduced the work he has been doing since 1996 at the School of Anatomy (at UWA) by explaining how biology has changed, both conceptually and in terms of its public perception, in the course of the years. Broadly speaking, the practice of biology does no longer consists in mere observation and collection of material and specimens but has veered towards the manipulation and the engineering of living material.
Tissue culture, developed in the 50ies and dealing with Semi-Living material (see definition here http://www.tca.uwa.edu.au/atGlance/galnceMainFrames.html) fits this notion of engineering. In addition, it generates a number of reflections about the meaning of life itself, and the relation between human beings and other surrounding organisms.
However, Given the sensational news regarding human cloning, the dangerous misunderstandings regarding disciplinary scientific differences and the infamous popularity of the notion of eugenics, the meaning of “engineering” and “manipulatiion” of the living are always colored with controversy and suspicion. The meaning of tissue culture itself, then, has produced a number of misconceptions, such as the perception that its advancements have been able to produce, for example, victimless steaks.
Thus, attempts to address the meaning of life without necessarily addressing the above misconceptions and without focusing on “human life” might be a hard task, as the above issues come back on a regular basis.
finally, questions are raised around the role and the pressure that corporations and commercial industries impart on scientific activity.