NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Tense-disciplinary Collaborations with Frontier technologies

2020 spectacularly demonstrated how more than ever humanity is required to work collaboratively to face the wicked problems we created and try and imagine shared futures. Working in the area of Art and the Frontier technologies of the Life Sciences, we are acutely aware to the entanglement of biology with culture and how both disciplines … effect and affect the way we live.

By Dr Ionat Zurr and Professor Oron Catts

2020 spectacularly demonstrated how more than ever humanity is required to work collaboratively to face the wicked problems we created and try and imagine shared futures. Working in the area of Art and the Frontier technologies of the Life Sciences, we are acutely aware to the entanglement of biology with culture and how both disciplines – techno-scientific and cultural/artistic – effect and affect the way we live in a time of worldwide pandemic; even more importantly, how we perceive ourselves and our place within that world. But we also recognise the tensions in ways of knowing, doing and making sense of the observations and the knowledge that these epistemologies present.

In the context of artists working with new knowledge and IT applications … the arts can, and often should, play the role of the disruptor and contester, rather than promoter.

Barry et al, (2008) offer three logics or rationales which governing interdisciplinary research; (1) Accountability: the ways in which scientific research is increasingly expected to be accountable to society. In other words, the so called “creatives” will act as those who poses the ethical and ontological conundrums techno-scientific developments may create. (2) The most problematic one – Innovation: the ways in which scientific research can be expected to contribute to industrial innovation and economic growth and how artists can ‘inject’ creativity to such endeavour. (3) The most interesting and on which we would like to put emphasis in this short piece of writing is – Ontology: effecting ontological transformation in the objects and relations of research.

In the context of artists working with new knowledge and IT applications (also referred to as frontier technologies) the arts can, and often should, play the role of the disruptor and contester, rather than promoter. Furthermore, the arts can act as a force of contestability and as a way of reconfiguring our understanding of frontier technologies.

For artists working in the interface of art and frontier technologies, there is the acute realisation that our society and its sciences are still following the notion that the world is there to serve the human … This mindset not only skews new knowledge gained, but also in the light of our environmental crisis, becomes a matter of ideological concern.

Collaboration between or among disciplines which acknowledge and accept the inherent differences and their manifestations – tense-disciplinary collaboration – have the potential to liberate knowledge and knowhow from epistemological silos and present these in new and unexpected ways. It can be done through adversarial collaboration, as a positive force to unpack and share expertise while maintaining a level of discipline integrity in terms of aims, methodologies and manifestations.

Artists continue their social contract to push goal posts. Artists are not engineers, not scientists, not social scientists, not propagandists. They have a different and unique role in their relation with society.

Art does its best to present both mirrors and windows into a “world under construction”. It also allows for attempts to see the world “through different eyes”. Therefore, it makes sense that a growing number of artistic pursuits are engaging in post-humanistic and post-anthropocentric attempts to create meanings by exploring new knowledge and its impact. Much of this art seems to come with a sense of urgency that derives from the conflicting sense of new-gained power over external systems and an inability to stop what seems to be a slow suicide on a planetary scale. One artistic and broader scholarly strategy is to give voice to the non/other/more than human; many of which are borderline entities that seem to be on the brink of appearance and disappearance.

Art as a discipline allows for non-human, non-living perspectives; an escape from the hegemonic patriarchal, colonialist and anthropocentric view of the world. This aspect of artistic expression becomes vital in current world eco-politics. For artists working in the interface of art and frontier technologies, there is the acute realisation that our society and its sciences are still following the notion that the world is there to serve the human; that human dominance is either God-given or just “natural” spoils of being on the top of the food chain. This mindset not only skews new knowledge gained, but also in the light of our environmental crisis, becomes a matter of ideological concern.

In the context of art and the life sciences, especially in current times, we call on artist practitioners to be true to their evolving social contract and embrace the role of the contester and fearlessly engage in tense-disciplinary collaborations with frontier technologies.

 

Award winning artists, researchers and curators, Zurr and Catts formed the internationally renowned Tissue Culture & Art Project in 1996.

https://tcaproject.net

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


Professor Oron Catts is the Co-Founder and Director of SymbioticA: the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, School of Human Sciences at the University of Western Australia (UWA) and was a Professor of Contestable Design at the Royal College for the Arts UK.

Dr Ionat Zurr is the Chair of the Fine Arts Discipline at the School of Design UWA and SymbioticA’s academic co-ordinator. Both are Visiting Professor at Biofilia – Based for Biological Arts, Aalto University, Finland (2015-2020). They have been visiting scholars at The Centre of Arts and Art History at Stanford University (2007) and Research Fellows at The Tissue Engineering & Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Harvard Medical School (2000-2001).

Catts & Zurr’s interest is Life, more specifically the shifting relations and perceptions of life in the light of new knowledge and its applications. Often working in collaboration with other artists and scientists, they have developed a body of work that speaks volumes about the need for new cultural articulations of evolving concepts of life.  They are considered pioneers in the field of Biological Arts; they publish widely and exhibit internationally. Their work was exhibited and collected by museums such as Pompidou Centre in Paris, MoMA NY, Mori art Museum, NGV, GoMA, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, Ars Electronica, National Art Museum of China and more. Their research was covered by The NY Times, Washington Post, Wired, New Scientist, Time, Newsweek, Nature, Science, and  other TV, radio, print and online media.  Catts & Zurr ideas and projects reach beyond the confines of art; their work is often cited as inspiration to diverse areas such as new materials, textiles, design, architecture, ethics, fiction, and food.

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