Evolution of the Subject – Synthetic Biology in Fine Art Practice

Mackenzie, Louise (2017) Evolution of the Subject – Synthetic Biology in Fine Art Practice. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Abstract

Acknowledging a rise in the use of synthetic biology in art practice, this doctoral project draws from vital materialist discourse on biotechnology and biological materials in the works of Donna Haraway, Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti and Marietta Radomska to consider the liveliness of molecular biological material through art research and practice. In doing so, it reframes DNA and the micro-organism through anthropomorphic performative practice that draws on myth and metaphor to allow readings of material that account for liveliness rather than use as resource. As such it contributes to environmental and ecological art practices that question our cultural entanglement with material and performative art practice that considers the nonhuman by artists such as Eduardo Kac, Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, Špela Petrič and Maja Smrekar.

The thesis does not recount a bioart practice, but a fine art practice that uses performative strategies to think with the act of using life as material. Amid the highly technical, accelerated pace of synthetic biology, the research slowly reconsiders methods and materials over an extended timeframe where liveliness, rather than use of the organism, takes precedent. By specifically acting as performative vector situated within synthetic biology practice, the relationship between meaning and materiality is brought under close scrutiny in attempts to infectiously transmit knowledge rather than generate lively commodities. As such, the thesis questions existing histories of scientific knowledge and proposes alternative stories that reframe aspects of laboratory practice through an aesthetics of care.

The core of the research resides in artistic practice situated within the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University, where I store my thought physically within the body of the living organism, Escherichia coli. The work follows a close reading of scientific protocols whilst exploring the affect of working with laboratory life as medium. This leads to the development of anthropomorphic performative works and sculptural works that draw on myth and ritual to reframe genetic material as lively material. Further, practice-based aspects of the research sit within and contribute to the expanded field of sound and sonic art, including artists such as Alvin Lucier and Chris Watson, to develop technologically embodied approaches for listening to laboratory life (audification of Atomic Force Microscopy data, sonification of DNA through synthetic speech neural networks) and for experiencing life at the nano-scale within the context of immersive audio-visual installations.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: performative art practice, bioart, vital materialism, genetic modification, non-human
Subjects: C400 Genetics
W100 Fine Art
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Arts
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 13 Mar 2019 15:16
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2019 15:30
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/38387

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