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)

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