Sunday, May 18, 2008

InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies

InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies
Jennifer Willet

InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies is a course of research and creative production centering around the notion of a 'laboratory ecology' that will result in a series of performances, installations, art objects, and critical writings. This work is based on my experiences as an artist and non-specialist working in a variety of bioscience and biomedical laboratories. Essentially, I am interested in intervening in the 'laboratory ecology,' as I perceive it. The carefully balanced relationship between all organisms (and parts of organisms) inhabiting the lab – animal and human research subjects - cells, bacteria, enzymes, plants – the scientists themselves, and even unwanted contaminants. What interests me about this ecology is the closed relationship it possesses with external ecologies. Ideally within a lab – specimens and samples either originate in the laboratory vacuum, or enter from the external world (screened and sanitized) never to leave again. Additionally, elements of external ecologies (i.e. bacteria in the researcher's fingernails, hair, and mouth) are presumably prevented from 'infecting' the environment and organisms within the lab. I wish to produce a series of works that purposefully breaks with this convention – reconnecting the closed laboratory ecology with external ecologies – revealing the 'bodies in biotechnology' to viewers and participants as interconnected orders of life on this planet. Specifically, I am interested in pursuing representational, performative, and installation strategies for revealing the bodies in biotechnology – and thus laboratory ecologies – to viewers and participants. I am proposing several courses of action that will mobilize this strategy successfully.


In collaboration with attendees of the BioArt: Contemporary Art and the Life Sciences class hosted bye The Art and Genomics Centre at The University of Leiden I propose to conduct the first incarnation of this project. I wish to bring the lab itself outside of its specialized environment as well, into public display – and further into natural environments. I see InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies culminating in an outdoor installation building a small portable lab in a natural environment. We will pitch a tent in a park in or around Leiden, and conduct ongoing laboratory research, performances and workshops begun in the classroom – bringing the laboratory ecology in direct contact with external or 'natural' ecologies.

InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies Outdoor Installation Plan

We will pitch a 12' x 12' gazebo tent in an area selected for it's abundance of intersecting life forms (plants, bugs, dogs, people, fungi – and possibly agricultural animals.) The tent will be draped in plastic, with sides drawn open to the public. Inside: tables and chairs, a microscope, petri dishes, plants, and small animal enclosures – a functional but unruly site. Stacks of books, ledgers, and research materials, art supplies, a black board. The artists will perform their work within the lab, all the while performing alternative representations of the biological sciences for passing audiences, and documentary purposes. We will draw the laboratory performance aesthetic from a variety of art and historical sources including: A Zed and Two Naughts (Peter Greenaway), Luncheon on the Grass (Manet), and references to colonial natural science and archeology expeditions from the turn of the century – suits, and parasols, and lab coats – and with permission – a nude woman picnicking in the grass.
A variety of harmless biotechnological protocols and laboratory life forms coexist.

Possible examples:

(1) Bacterial cultures growing in agar under a lamp.
(swabs taken from 'clean' laboratory surfaces are cultured)

(2) Plant tissue cultures growing in test tubes under a florescent lamp.
Older specimens growing in pots.

(3) DNA Electrophoresis (Discovery DNA Explorer Kit - children's toy)
(4) Fruit Fly Hotel (educational toy)

Final Student BioArt Projects.

May 16, 2008

Hello all! I just want to thank you all for the excellent presentations you made on Friday. The final projects were diverse, exciting - even some perverse! I always think of group critique days as a little like Christmas - with lots of presents and surprises for me, as a viewer - rather then the director of the days events. Really, all in all excellent individual and collaborative projects!

DNA Extraction Images

Zaretsky DNA Extraction

On May 09, 2008 US artist Adam Zaretsky visited our class giving an artist presentation and a Mutagenic DNA Extraction Lab. The emphasis was on utilizing kitchen grade materials to extract DNA from an un-nameable mix of ingredients containing DNA. Student's brought in a variety of samples including: liver, beets, corn, peas, and others. Through a series of simple protocols, the mutagenic DNA was extracted and collected by the group.

Congratulations! You have just completed a DNA extraction!

"DNA is a long, stringy molecule that likes to clump together. I should look similar to stale tapioca, fresh sperm or loose phlegm. In this form, DNA is considered by most educated biologists to be a protein (as in an organic chemical) totally inert and completely safe when it is not inside a cell’s ‘machinery.’ Do you believe that these Hybrid DNA samples are isolated and purified? Even if they are, does that make them safe? Do you think our samples are safe enough to lick? Why or why not?"

(excerpt from Zartesky Mutagenic DNA extraction protocol.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Historical Continuity

Le Grimoire d'Hypocrate / The Alchemist
P.F. Basan (1723-1797)
301 x 403 mm
Etching and engraving
Printroom, Universiteit Leiden

I was in the Prentenkabinet in the Libary, when I came across this 18th century French print. To me it represents a sort of historical precedent of BioArt, the alchemist/scientist/artist who in his/her laboratory seeks to transform base matter into something higher. Perhaps the spiritual component of medieval alchemy, where the transformation of base matter into gold simultaneously signified the cleansing of the soul, is also very much present in BioArt (although this is of course a factor significantly determined by the artist' own conception of spirituality).

Nevertheless, as spirituality can be -broadly- considered the individual's reception of and reaction to values of their respective community/communities, Bioart produced by an artist is inherently engaging in a debate that forms very much part of the public sphere, i.e. cloning, genetics, but also more profoundly: what is life and what do we do with it? The production and incorporation of scientific protocols as evident in most of the work we have encountered so far in the course represents however a significant departure from the medieval alchemist's methodology. Whereas before such recipes/protocols would have been closely guarded secrets of controversial (i.e. the Church, and the Inquisition in the 16th century formed significant obstacles in the secularistion of scientific knowledge) the increased literacy and education of our age means that protocols can be read and understood by all.

Questions that interest me are: is the democratisation of such knowledge favourable to artists?
How does the understanding of the scientific process impact the reception of the artwork, and vice versa?

Monday, May 5, 2008

GFP Results Images

I took these images at the lab yesterday. Unfortunately, I did not bring my good camera, and the low light levels are apparent -
but good documentation, none the less. Jennifer