BioArt: Drawing Attention to Biotech

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a great Leonardo Art-Science Evening Rendezvous (LASER) at UC Berkeley. These events feature 4 20-minute presentations by 4 different artists and/or scientists. At the UCB event, one of the presenters talked about bioart. That’s art that is made from living tissues or one-celled organisms. The artists literally grow the art, shaping it as it develops. Sorta like landscaping, but with bacteria. Very tiny landscaping. Anyway, SymbioticA in Australia does some very funky work in this area, like these worry dolls:

SymbioticA's Worry Dolls made from living tissue
SymbioticA’s Worry Dolls made from living tissue

Why create objects from living tissue or organisms? Artists have always drawn attention to various aspects of society and culture. Bioart draws attention to where the biological sciences are going. Bioart uses genetic engineering, cloning and tissue culture, which are common biotechnology practices today. For example, with respect to tissue generation, Popular Science just featured a terrific story on the development of 3D printing for human organs. Yes, we can grow a human heart, using just a scaffold seeded with heart cells.

Heart pic aug 20 2013

It is the role of artists to reflect on society; why not the sciences too? Art draws attention to things of which general public may not be aware. Art then allows us to engage in the conversation about these things, including relevant ethical issues.

In this day and age, science needs art to help it engage this conversation, among scientists and with society. Besides, making art using bacteria or living tissues? That just seems cool.

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