The visual depiction of natural forms has been utilised in an educative and explanatory manner for centuries, particularly through medical drawings and photograms. In recent years, this ‘supporting role’ of art in science has come to involve a number of things.

Beyond the democratisation and demystification of complex scientific concepts, art has come to deal with the technologised world in an increasingly inquisitive manner. Art has become a method for the exploration of future potentialities by highlighting areas of science that suffers from an impasse in social and academic debate, while providing explorations into the implications of technological advance. Artistic endeavours can confront these issues in an embodied manner and draw upon the ethical ambiguities that may arise from scientific discovery and application.

Often considered to be two opposing disciplines – science rooted in method, fact and objectivity, whilst art is subjective, speculative and more concerned with representing knowledge rather than finding knowledge, Dr. Marius Kwint argues that the visual aspects may help structure scientist’ way of thinking, and particularly that of the general public. Artists, particularly those working with living material, or ‘moist media’, have come to play with the essence of the scientific approach and its potential pitfalls. Artworks by bioartists offer an alternative investigation into the consequences and potential outcomes, socially and politically, of a discipline that is so intertwined with ethics. The sculptural works by artist Patricia Piccinini for example (see Fig. 1), tug at the possibly jarring realities of genetic modification and the ethical considerations that must be made.

[Fig. 1.] Patricia Piccinini, The Long Awaited, 2008.

Perhaps surprising to some, many of the technological breakthroughs today have gone unchecked or relatively unquestioned in terms of policy. Projects such as non-invasive prenatal diagnosis (NIPD) which can – based on gene selection and modification procedures – essentially detect Down’s syndrome evokes many questions regarding the use of science and what it may mean for human progress. Where is the line drawn between what is ethical and what is not? Should we encourage or even allow the ‘eradication’ of genetic mutations such as Down’s or even blindness?

Bioartists make use of these disjunctures and their works can be powerful tools in the exploration of the larger philosophical and epistemological questions that are attached to science and technology. Values that were once moral and ethical code are changing, many proven to be unacceptable today. Identities are ever-changing in the technological scape of contemporary society, and it is imperative to consider the impact many of our advances may have. By creating narratives through art in various conceptualisations, artists explore these potential implications and identities as we attempt to create a network of understanding. I believe an emphasis on interdisciplinarity and a growing relationship between the fields of science/tech and art will grow exponentially as we come closer to the realisation of Artificial Intelligence. Understanding the bigger picture and identifying potential ‘blind spots’ in our rush towards total technologisation will be increasingly important.

Inspired by several lectures/talks given by Professors Marius Kwint & Robert Zwijnenberg.

Kwint, M. (2012). Exhibiting the brain. Kwint, M. and Wingate R.(eds.), 8-21.

Piccinini, Patricia. “PATRICIA PICCININI”. N.p., 2016. Web. 12 May 2016.

Zwijnenberg, R. (2011). Brains, Art and the Humanities. Francisco Ortega and Fernando Vidal, Neurocultures: Glimpses into an Expanding Universe, 293-310.

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