Biological Arts

Dr. Ionat Zurr – Researcher & Academic Coordinator, SymbioticA, School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia. Visiting Researcher/Consultant, Aalto University, Future Art Base, School of art and Design. Helsinki Finland.

Oron Catts – Co-Founder and Director SymbioticA, School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia. Visiting Researcher/Consultant, Aalto University, Future Art Base, School of art and Design. Helsinki Finland.

Current trends in the life sciences and their related technological and engineering disciplines have a potential to fundamentally and radically change the way humans relate and treat life. This requires a cross-disciplinary effort to deal with the emerging cultural, epistemological, ontological and ethical issues of the new approaches to life. There is a need to culturally scrutinise the transformative power of the life sciences and engineering, to better understand and articulate a situation that seems to lack a cultural language. This paper will follow the developments of two examples of artistically driven cross-disciplinary initiative to engage, hands-on, with the life sciences and its related technological and engineering disciplines. The first is one of the earliest attempts to get artists to research and develop life science projects from within a biological school at a research university- SymbioticA- The Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, School of Anatomy, physiology and Human Biology at The University of Western Australia and the second is one of newest initiatives in this area – the Art & Biology Lab (working title), at the Future Art Base, School of art and Design, Aalto University, Helsinki.

Case study one- SymbioticA

http://www.symbiotica.uwa.edu.au/

SymbioticA was established in 2000, as the first research laboratory of its kind, enabling artists and researchers to engage in wet biology practices in a biological science department. SymbioticA is an artistic laboratory dedicated to research, learning and critique of the life sciences. It is the first research laboratory of its kind, in that it enables artists to engage in wet biology practices in a biological science department. With an emphasis on experiential practice, SymbioticA facilitates research and actions which constitute cultural scrutiny regarding shifting perceptions of life, through better understanding and articulation of artistic ideas around scientific knowledge and informed critique of the ethical and cultural issues of life manipulation. The focus on experiential engagement with life led SymbioticA to develop programs that would allow artists, designers and other humanities and social science researchers access to labs and techniques usually reserved only to scientists and engineers. SymbioticA offers the only Science based Masters of Biological Arts, as well as undergraduate units and higher degrees (Masters, PhD) by research.

With more than twelve years history, around eighty residents’ researchers and scores of research projects, SymbioticA can offer a range of case studies concerning models of art and science/engineering collaborations and mentorships. SymbioticA’s bottom up formation and ongoing activities can also suggest lessons concerning STEAM.

Using SymbioticA as a case study will cover areas such as:

  • Location- physical and disciplinary.
  • Academic – learning, teaching and research.
  • Core principals.
  • Collaboration vs. mentorship.
  • Research vs. production
  • Funding.

Case Study Two – Art and Biology Lab, Future Art Base, School of art and Design at Aalto University:

The Art and Biology Lab in the Future Art Base, School of Art, Design and Architecture at Aalto University, will be opened in October 2012. This lab, differently to SymbioticA, will be established as part of the School of Art, Design and Architecture, and will be physically located at the School of Electrical Engineering, at Aalto University.

This initiative is a top down approach. One of the roles of the lab will be to link Aalto School of Arts, Design and Architecture with other Schools under the umbrella of Aalto University, which is the result of three universities merging in 2010: The Helsinki School of Economics, Helsinki University of Technology and The University of Art and Design Helsinki.

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