25.01.13 - 25.01.13

Taking responsibility for life: bioethics and bioart
Joanna Zylinska, Goldsmiths, University of London

Bioart, a genre of art in which artists use biomaterial such as live tissue, blood, genes, bacteria or viruses as their ‘canvas,’ opens up an interesting set of possibilities. These possibilities are not just visual but also material, and hence ontological: they concern the very nature of existence in time, and of what we understand by seemingly self-evident concepts such as duration, emergence, reproduction and being alive. In works such as those by Tissue Culture & Art Project, Stelarc or Eduardo Kac life is being re-created, pushed to the limit, remoulded, remediated, cut and spliced back again. Bioartists can thus be said to take art’s creative imperative to a different level, echoing what the philosopher Henri Bergson termed ‘creative evolution’—a form of life’s unfolding which does not proceed in straight vertical lines according to a pre-designed formula. In this way, bioartistic experiments not only undermine the metaphysical understanding of life but also challenge the traditional humanist value-based ethics, whereby this nebulous entity called ‘human life’ is posited in advance as a value, something to be protected at all cost. In posing this challenge, bioartists do not just perform life differently but also enact a different ethics of life, taking responsibility for various life forms: humans, animals, organs, cells, bacteria. The protection of life’s unfolding constitutes the first condition of this ethics. Critical reflection on the emergence of these different life forms, and on the relations between them, forms its core injunction.

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