BFA Fine Arts Department Chair Suzanne Anker was invited to lecture at the recent “Science, Technology and Ethics” conference at Harvard University. Her talk, on the topic of “Science, Art and Bio-Art,” can be read in its entirety below:
Questions concerning the role of technology and its impact on our lives continues its ascendency in our literally “plugged-in” world. In this wired world of coded connections, zeros and ones exert a daunting pictorial presence. From glamour glossies to public relations pictorial wars, digital images endlessly spiral, circumnavigating the globe. As “signs in action” what compelling narratives do they distinctly embed? In media-driven societies engaged in and dependent on symbolic pictorializations, how do these representations operate as part of a mutating cultural imaginary? We can consider the term cultural imaginary as an overarching term defined as “those vast networks interlinking discursive themes, images, motifs and narrative forms that are publicly available at a given culture at any one time, and articulate its its psychic and social dimensions.” So states cultural critic Graham Dawson.
Constituting a semblance of a “collective data base” the cultural imaginary traverses contested territories associated with either verifiable axioms or fanciful storytelling. These visualizing models, employed by artists, scientists, designers, corporate advisors, journalists and politicians, clarify, mislead, aggrandize, stimulate or document. In short, they are representations embedded in social structures, policy decisions, and commercial ventures. As aesthetic devices, they perform their semiotic function of activating thought and emotion through their powers of communication and circumscribed belief.
Conventional discussions with regard to the visual arts in relation to science and technology has taken a spirited turn. Set in accelerating motion by the decoding of the Human Genome in 2000, many visual art exhibitions, residencies exploring this intersections and other art/sci collaborations are active throughout the world. Current discourses in visual art are also expanding beyond the nomenclature of formal analysis, Marxist and Feminist interpretation, post-structural theory and alike. Added to this mix, art as a form of knowledge production, as it is being explored at many academic institutions, particularly in Europe.
1) Art as Speculative Research is a platform in which art practice reaches beyond the gallery or museum to develop interactive, social and biological artworks. These include sophisticated interactive technological apparatus, changes in working conditions and labor relationships which come about by changes in consumer demands for technological hardware.
2) Art as a form of Practice-based research, generating Ph.d’s in studio art. Linda Candy’s Guide to practice-based research cites the “creative artifact as the basis of a contribution to new knowledge.” Here art practice becomes a generator of epistemic objects.
3) Philosopher Nicole Karyfylis and the Bio-fact. For philosopher Karyfylis, the neologism, “bio-fact” is a hermeneutic concept, which allows one to inquire into the differences between “nature” and “technology” in the domain of the living.” Arguing that these differences do, in fact, still hold true today, as they did for Aristotle, but “the distinctions have become much more hidden than before.” For Karyfylis, a critical point becomes the invisibility or what she terms the “veil of ignorance” associated with manipulated life-forms. These transformed bodies whether in the form of GMO food or laboratory animals conceal their changes in DNA status.
I will now turn our attention to a series of projects that intersect the visual arts with scientific concepts. For the artist, as opposed to the scientist, scientific theories and iconography is repurposed into signs of cultural meaning. In the early twenty-first century, scientific images, like popular culture icons, are increasingly entering the public realm. This migratory manifestation of the visual has, for scholar W.J.T. Mitchell, created a “social field” of images, which underscores the “pictorial turn across disciplines.” If one can assume that visual representations embody world concepts, it is remarkable to compare the images from a non-technoscientific world to one embroiled in instrumentalized vision. Both images correspond to differing world views.
Correspondance of Form: Marking the Invisible
New Imaging Technologies/Reprotech
In conclusion, as the accelerating dynamic of migratory practices hybridizes existing disciplines, will new representational spaces forge alternative paradigms linking the visual with the empirical sciences? And in what ways will this assemblage provide inventive forms of inquiry?
To watch a video of a recent lecture Anker gave at UCLA, click here.
Images: Photo of Suzanne Anker by Nil Arieli (BFA 2012 Photography); Astroculture (Shelf Life) by Suzanne Anker, 2010, Inkjet print, 24×36″