New CalArts Course Cluster Explores Connections between Biology and Art

In the simplest of terms for a complex practice, bio-art incorporates organic matter into works of art. For example, Philip Ross built a teahouse out of fungus, and composer David Dunn took three trumpet players into the Grand Canyon and recorded the canyon’s reverberations.

But one of the more famous–and controversial–works is by artist Eduardo Kac who commissioned a French laboratory to create Alba, a rabbit implanted with a green fluorescent protein gene from a type of jellyfish. George Gessert, another pioneering bioartist who is known for breeding plants into art, writes about Kac’s rabbit piece:

The aesthetic novelty of a rabbit that fluoresces is enough to make GFP Bunny a sensation, but that novelty is not the most important aspect of the project. Kac is most interested in how we perceive genetically engineered organisms, and how we integrate them into our lives. When he exhibits Alba, he does so in a living-room-like setting that he inhabits along with the rabbit. The setting draws attention to the social networks in which she exists. These networks include her interactions with other rabbits, her interactions with human beings, and human interactions with one another in response to her. Kac’s longterm plan for Alba is to make her a member of his household. Questions about the definition of nature fall away before questions of the well-being of animals, and of connections between species.

To examine this burgeoning field, CalArts is offering an interdisciplinary course cluster on bio-art this fall, with five classes focusing on topics at the intersection of biology, art and technology.

“Bio-art is a one of the most exciting fields of creative practice and critical inquiry today, and this selection of courses aims to provide an enhanced understanding of bio-art through radically interdisciplinary work” said Arne De Boever, School of Critical Studies faculty member and one of the instructors who helped design the course cluster.

The classes incorporated into the cluster tackle different angles on the theme–from the biology of life and death to “acoustic ecology” to the interplay among biopolitics, aesthetics and philosophy. Students who register for one (or more) of these classes will also participate in related events throughout the semester, including guest artist lectures at CalArts, and an academic mini-conference featuring artists such as Philip Ross and David Dunn at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles. Students will also have a chance to exhibit their own bio-art in a year-end art show.

The Fall 10 offerings of Bio-Art classes:

Sex and Death: Biology from Beginning to End | Reg: CSSM265
Instructor: Michael Bryant

Conversations on Technology, Culture and Practice | Reg: IM1006
Instructor: Tom Leeser and visiting speakers

Take Care of Yourself (On Biotechnics) | Reg: CSHM440-MA
Instructor: Arne De Boever

Contemporary Aesthetic Theory | Reg: CS721
Instructor: James Wiltgen (Open to MA in Aesthetics and Politics students only)

Critical Reading: The Soundscape, Acoustic Ecology, and the Field | Reg: MC412/MT412
Instructor: Michael Pisaro

For more information:
Read the Bio-Art course cluster blog
Download the On Bio-Art flier

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