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1 INTERFACING LIFE: THE POSTHUMANISM OF BIOART By JACOB T. RILEY A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 201 3
2 201 3 Jacob T. Riley
3 To my loving family and my good friend and mentor, Blake Hobby
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS First and foremost I would like to acknowledge Sidney I. Dobrin and Gregory L. Ulmer for all of their guidance not only for this thesis but for the encouragement and direction they have given me throughout my graduate studies. I want to thank Blake G. Hobby at University of North Carolina Asheville, who helped me exte nsively with crafting my language and clarifying my ideas throughout my academic journey, including the present work. He has been such an important influence as my mentor and friend. I express my gratitude also to Duane Davis at the University of North Car olina Asheville for his rigorous teaching of continental philosophy and theory that is the backbone of all my work. Thank you to all my professors at University of Florida, including those mentioned above and Rul Sanchez Phillip Wegner, Richard Burt, and John Leavy for their support and scholarship that has allowed me to engage at such a professional academic level. I would like to thank my colleagues, Kyle Bohinucky, Joseph Weakland, Melissa Bianchi, Jordan Youngblood, and Samuel Hamilton for their encour agement, support, and for always lending an ear to my thought process outside any official or mandatory requirements. Thank you to Christopher Hazlett, John Tinnell, and Gary Hink for taking an interest in my project and my academic career at such an early stage; thank you for putting your faith in me. Last but certainly not least, I want to thank my loving and caring family for all of their support in all its forms. I could never have accomplished this without you all encouraging and supporting my pursuit of higher education.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 6 CHAPTER 1 BIOART AS POSTHUMAN INTERFACE ................................ ................................ .. 7 Introduction ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 7 Biohacking: Disguising Transhumanism ................................ ................................ 16 Low Resolution: Bioart and Legibility ................................ ................................ ...... 19 2 CREATIVE POSTHUMANISM IN THREE BIOARTISTS ................................ ........ 23 Cultured Tissues: Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr ................................ .......................... 23 Nonhuman Subjects: Eduardo Kac ................................ ................................ ......... 34 Posthuman Evolutionary Architectures: Stelarc ................................ ...................... 42 3 CONCLUSION: THE FAILURE OF BIOART ................................ .......................... 54 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................... 56 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ ............................ 59
6 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts INTERFAC ING LIFE: THE POSTHUMANISM OF BIOART By Jacob T. Riley May 2013 Chair: Sidney I. Dobrin Major: English This thesis intervenes in the ongoing discussion of posthumanist theory in the Humanities. Posthum anism is a contested and problematic term, much like many of the with transhumanism and extropianis m and critical posthumanism, all of which draws on postructuralist and postmodernist theory and insights into animal studies in order to question assumed ontological divisions between the human and the animal. To contribute to this ongoing discussion, I e artists that use life as a medium, to interrogate the permeable boundaries between the human and the nonhuman theoretical and practical visions of BioArtists wi th various popular posthumanist texts in order to show their different strategies and goals. I propose that BioArt is a creative posthumanism, a posthumanist praxis that sustains the critique of critical p osthumanism, but also creates an interface for the public to engage with these questions in a meaningful way.
7 CHAPTER 1 BIOART AS POSTHUMAN INTERFACE Introduction Director Oron Catts, claims that he is trying to do things for which we have no cultural language. Symbio ticA allows artists to employ wet biology practices in a university science department while hosting workshops, symposiums, and exhibitions, some open to the public. Catts and his colleague Ionat Zurr head the Tissue Culture and Art Project, a subgroup of SymbioticA. They create aesthetic objects by growing and molding tissue cultures. Tissue culture art is only one specific manifestation of BioArt, a term coined by Eduardo Kac. In the most general demarcate the boundaries of BioArt, we are still left to figure out what he means by 1 subject, with the question of life inevitably intertwined with politics, ethics, and aesthetics. While all art may address or represent life, BioArt spawns as it manipulates, permeating the thin membrane between the living and the non living and blurring the boundary between human and nonhuman. Furthermore, when we speak about the us to think of the living in broader terms and to consider the responsibility we have arrogance. We need to be post 1 Kac, however, is aware of this difficulty.
8 might say that posthumanism remains problematic because it designates a range of mutually exclusive suppositions. Such assumptions raise ethical concerns about what onsible for preserving nonhuman agency. Furthermore, although posthumanism resembles other recent academic t erms such as postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism mass culture has already associated the term posthuman with particular images, such as the cyborg or the intelligent machine. This explicit association of the posthuman with futuristic figures makes it difficult to isolate and define the theoretical apparatus named by posthumanism or posthumanities. In fact, science fiction literature an d film have always portrayed figures of new embodiments, disembodiments, and enhancements of the human being as far back as Lucian in the second century. S o why does the question of the posthuman become more predominant now ? Perhaps because scientists claim to make such fictions scientific fact through biotechnological practices such as tissue engineering and genetic engineering. Rather than a medium, biological life becomes a technology to facilitate human progress. 2 Biotechnological practices are alw will be abl e to do without specifying what the plural first person pronoun means Although used to designate the human race, often it also signifies the plurality of the corporate or governmental body who will likely profit from new developments. Because the use of biotechnology is usually justified as a way to better the human race, those 2 This distinction between life as medium and life as technology is not to suggest that technology does not mediate, but rather that within biotechnology this mediation remains invisible whereas BioArt forces the medium as mediation into view.
9 who manipulate and profess biotechnologies must take precautions to assure the public that these practices are safe ethical, and, most importantly, will not fundamentally alter our conceptions of ourselves as humans This assurance is particularly important when it comes to regenerative medicine. Eugene Thacker argues that since regenerative po human beings control, limit, and regulate the use o f the se technologies rather than allow them to infiltrate, contaminate, and question our unified human position and identity. In contrast to the utilitarian goals of regenerative medicine, BioArtists express and exploit biotechnology to invent other forms of life, ultimately challenging and subverting an unproblematic narrative of human melioration through technological progress. By creating unique hybrid forms of life that destabilize easy distinctions between living and non living, human and nonhuman, natural and unnatural, BioArt brings to our attention the monstrous possibilities resulting from our manipulation of life. Most importantly, BioArtists make visible these fragile boundaries in their artistic practice. Even if bio tech companies also use hybrid forms to advance human health, according to Teresa Hefernan, they ignore the more risky theoretical implications: The biotech companies mobilize hybridity as if humans were safeguarded from it; hence nature is merely an instrument designed immortality. Critical posthumanists recognize that this violent differentiation between humans and nature paradoxically produces us as increasingly hybrid, as increasingly part of and produced by that other. (131)
10 In o human subject untainted, using stem cells (sometimes nonhuman) to grow, for example, organs or body parts, produce us as increasingly hybrid -always already posthuman. If we are alw ays already posthuman, then we have no choice but to take a position towards this inevitable condition. Jill Didur has broadly defined critical posthumanism as the position that there never was a divide between nature and culture (101 102). But critical po sthumanism goes further than this claim, particularly as we think through recent theoretical work in animal studies. In What is Posthumanism? Cary Wolfe lays out four categories of thought that lead us away from viewing the world through an anthropocentri c lens: humanist humanism, humanist posthumanism, posthumanist humanism, and posthumanist posthumanism. I use critical posthumanism to refer to the last category, which shares the anti representationalist and anti foundationalist positions found in Richard Rorty and Slavoj posthumanist posthumanism binds us to nonhuman being in general, and within that to nonhuman animals, as the very condition of 126). This second type of finitude is a radical passivity, a not being finitude we experience in our subjection to a radically ahuman technicity or mechanicity of lan between not only the human and animal but the human to itself, and with that, life to whic h finds the generative force of the nonliving at the origins of any living being, human
11 prosthesis of communication that leads ultimately to our inability to communicate. As 3 A critical posthumanism, titutive (and constitutively paradoxical) nature of its own distinctions, forms, and procedures and take account of them in ways that may be distinguished from the 122). It is my contention that bio artists participate in this discourse in their texts and put these ideas into practice in both their research and artwork. Critical posthumanism should not be confused with a critique of the posthuman. A critique of posthumanism is usually grounded in a unique, essential, and unalterable human nature, preserving assumptions of humanism. For instance, Francis Fukuyama argues in Our Posthuman Future that we need a meaningful conception of human nature in order to take a n ethical position grounded in human rights, which will protect Fukuyama argues that we need to minimize the risks (and possibilities) inherent in posthuman developments. For Fukuyama, the posthuman is an immanent threat to a relatively stable, distinctly human nature. So we have two sides that meet in their fear of the posthuman: one hiding the risks and possibilities of their work in order to maintain a narrative of utopian progress, the other exaggerating, speculating, and exhorting us to preserve a particular conception of the human in the face of the posthuman threat. Rather than critiquing 3 Communicat
12 biotechnology in the name of a unique, whole, closed, and complex (but standard) h Signs 19). Thus, BioArtists do not merely critique o ther forms of posthumanism, but produces the conditions for a multiplicity of posthumanisms; we might, then, call BioArt a creative posthumanism But what makes BioArt, art and not a form of activism or an alternative science? BioArt lies on the threshold of art and non art and as such has rarely been treated as art by the critical art community BioArt engages political, social, technological, and ethical issues, but it does not present a clearly defined position. Instead, BioArt performs and creates in or der to be experienced by an audience, leaving them with questions rather than answers and a desire for further research rather than rigid prescriptions of what uniquene (Wolfe 233). The perceptual event cannot both pose and answer this question because it requires perceiver s (Wolfe 229 has referred to as the necessary poetic or symbolic dimension of art. The poetic/symbolic dimension is meant to indicate the autonomy of an artwork, but this autonomy is relative. As Wolfe pu object, or event that does not explicitly communicate an opinion or argument to an
13 audience, but rather remains ambiguous enough so as to affect the audience in surprising new ways, irritating communication, and thus raising further questions about the meaning of the artwork a nd its (in)separation from the world. The function of art, as In this paper, I will examine how three artists subvert and exp loit biotechnologies to make visible their imaginative possibilities and their material and ethical limitations: roject, Eduardo Kac, and Stelarc. The Tissue Culture and Art Project builds, within museum space, laboratories and caresses, called meant to generate an intense, phenomenological experience as well as make visible the hidden victims of their creations, which allows for a more nuanced and material ethical encounter with other life forms. Eduardo Kac in addition to BioArt, has designed unique telepresence works, works that minimize spatial distance and that invite the audience, in real time, to not only encounter, but also to change the artwork in dialogical interaction via the internet. The dialogical relationship that exists among artist, media, and procedures, methods, and techniques, such as genetic engineering, to re write, mark, sign, and create new subjects and artwork for nonhumans. While Kac directs his attention to creating nonhuman subjects, performance/BioArtist Stelarc imagines new
14 evolutionary architectures through excessive prost heses both organic and non organic for (post) human bodies that explode our conception of individual subjectivity. For Stelarc, split subjectivity is less interesting than split bodies, a condition where a multiplicity of subjectivities may inhabit our bod ies, controlling separate limbs and even speaking from them; thus the human becomes as a node connected to a vast network of other subjectivities, neither quite merging into one unified transcendental consciousness nor maintaining individual control, auton omy, or selfhood. As Stelarc connectivity All three of these artists are also theorists in their own right. Thus, in addition to creating material artworks that defy easily distinguishable categories, they have contributed publications dedicated to analyzing their own work, texts which help them a rticulate how their art undermines the dominant rhetoric of theoretical and applied life sciences as well as the language used by other theorists and critics to describe and interpret various strands of BioArt. Catts and Zurr, for instance, are highly awar e of the terminology used to describe and interpret their work. Most notably, they are troubled by ominated between genetic and computer codes such that the biological body gains a novel e we can change and control a body through reprogramming its code. While Thacker is both
15 o note that although he discusses the problems associated with the concept of information and the concept of life, he himself, when discussing regenerative medicine feels compelled to insert it into the Decoding section of his book, but not as a technology the way for his book referred to by Catts, The Global Genome Thacker argues that generates or re framed as the end of a process that manipulates the DNA code (a kind of reverse genetic engineering) rather than an intervention in the manipulation of life at a fundamentally different level. It is these subtle differences that Catts and Zurr seek to highlight in their projects and texts. Thacker agrees that artists should play a role in the critical engagement with biomedia and biotechnology. In part icular, Thacker calls on new media art, including BioArt, to explore the cultural, scientific, and political dimensions of biotechnology. stance while maintaining the i avoids explicitly associating these artistic approaches in terms of a critical (or creative) extropian posthumanisms o f theorists such as Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec. The transformative capacities of new technologies, but on the other hand, the posthuman reserves the right for something c
16 can understand BioArt as intervening as creative posthumanist art praxis. Biohacking : Disguising Transhumanism Thacker is c orrect that biotech depends on an equivalence of genetic and 42). Although many BioArtists support do it yourself to exhibit a critical attitud e toward the biotechnologies they employ. Indeed, not all, but some biohacking and do it yourself biology groups are directly connected to the extropian, transhumanist projects that several critical posthumanists are right to critique. The Open BioHacking Project for instance, contains a direct link to extropy.org and indicates its participation in the Transhumanist Technical Roadmap. This project those who wish to be come biohackers. Furthermore, the rhetoric on the site clearly locates the practice as a utilitarian project or novelty aesthetic rather than close critical engagement: Join the fight against cancer, against all sorts of disease! Or would you rather see some glowing bacterium, get your own ecoli set up to amaze some not so cool ones*) Thus, the project strives to open access to these technologies, but for the purpose of fighting th e good fight alongside scientific engineers, or, a more mundane
17 of the page, we are led to alarmist and reactionary rhetoric: It is a real threat now and ignorin g these threats is not a solution. Indeed, the broader purpose of this project is to counter these threats via the mentioned roadmap and its developments so that we will not be harmed by script kiddies running wild [. .] People are dying and so will you, unless you try. First, we should note the conditional in the last phrase: people are dying and so will you, unless you try, which implies that death is unnecessary a questionable if not ridiculous claim. Second, and, i ronically atory term used to describe those who use scripts or programs developed by others to attack computer hacker (Lemos) We use Biohacking to describe his own project, but uses this derogatory term to describe other hackers? The answer sheer conformity to scientific research governed by market logic. Biohackers and BioArtists alike may support opening science to the public, but goals are generally uncritical B iohacker s want to contribute to the biotech industry by creating and innovating outside of dominant companies and research facilities but without questionin fundamental assumptions Furthermore, community and personal labs serve as a n indirect advertisement for applied scientific research. Neither of these goals indicates a desire for a significant change to the social, cultural, and political status quo. We can
18 Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life 4 While Biopunk is a catchy title for the book, particularly given its cu rrent status as a genre of science fiction, David Grushkin himself one of the founders of a community laboratory in NYC, vestors in the Still, even with this emendation, Grushkin leaves the term biohacker unchallenged; most likely because it sounds edgy, dangerous, and s ubversive. But, again, biohackers are hardly subversive, given their connections to transhumanism, commercial goals, and, most importantly, th e material limitations of most of the DIY community points out: The amateur activity right now is at the seventh or eighth grade level," he says. "We're making $10 microscopes and all of the discu ssion around us is about weaponized anthrax. Sure we're concerned about that just like everybody else, but I don't know what to say except 'Yeah, that sounds scary as hell. Let's be sure nobody does that. ( qtd. in Ledford ) Neither BioArtists nor Boebe and his fellow biohackers are bio terrorists but the than a more innocuous term may perpetuate this misconceived image. 5 Furthermore, although to a lesser degree, this article still uses the sam e kind of alarmist, preservationist rhetoric as The Open Biohacking project, deployed as a counter terrorist tactic. Indeed, i f most biohackers are working on a 7 th or 8 th grade level, it is an exaggeration to refer to these tinkerers and amateurs as 4 This is 5 But it is worth noting that Steve Kurcz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, was treat ed as a bioterrorist. See the film Strange Culture (2008) for the story.
19 legitimate movement of biohackers with either a reactionary posthumanism or, what amounts to basically the same thing, a utopian transhumanism, both of which are challenge d by the creative posthumanist practice and theoretical work of BioArtists. In this sense, it is important to reveal the origins of the movement as another disguised humanism that re inscribes false binaries and maintains the sense of human control over te chnology and our dominion over the nonhuman. Low Resolution: Bioart and Legibility BioArtists are accomplishing more than critiquing unproductive, conservative, they are the rhetoric of the biotechnological industry and do it yourself biohackers. If BioArt only consisted of critique, then BioArt would reproduce the same kind of agency and re insc ribe the humanist subject that their artwork seeks to undermine. As Nicole Anderson argues, And thus what this particular bio art exhibition, and much bio art in general, attempts, is to use the interactivity of the exhibits to foster affective responses that challenge the normative perception that humans, and thus human subjectivity, stand outside of, or apart from, the biological system (nature).Yet, at the same time, the exhibition also aims to increase agency in a progressive way, but in wanting to do this, the curators are stuck with a model of the critic that sounds very much like an Arnoldian view that Natalie Jeremijenko, in The Environmental Health Clinic for instance actions that work toward improving local environmental health. An individual makes an for actions: local data collection and urban interventions directed at understanding and
20 expert. Her work de mystifies the science that alienates the public from the commercial appli cations of scientific research that have profound effects on their lives. Thus, Pentecost concludes scientist. But as Richard Doyle points out, there are dangers to rhetoric s of transparency, which biologists have employed to tell narratives of resolution. life is understood in biological discourse as what he calls the C. elegans claim is true, there is no thing illegible or invisible behind or beyond what the researcher can s ee. Doyle argues that scientist s aim for high resolution in two senses. If we assume C. elegans essence as transparent, then the task is to use technologies in order to draw higher reso lution maps of the resolution the worm remains invisible until the observer achieves high er resolution, this is only in the sense that it is blocked from their view, but which is still on the register of the visible and thus is, theoretically, possible to see The second meaning of resolution for Doyle is resolve the question and story of C. elegans C. elegans then we could claim that there is nothing more to see that nothing remains
2 1 invisible, illegible, or ambiguous. Doyle argues that this marks a different kind of aesthetic from the aesthetic of the sublime; this is disbelief that, finally, there i (Doyle 20). In contrast to BioArtists, biohackers buy into this rhetoric of resolution and transparency. Biohackers assume that we have figured out how to manipulate life and that once we mak e this information and technology open source, the public can contribute to commercial technological innovations. For biohackers, science should be and can be artists, on the other ha as an informational resource to be mined for further development and progress in the commercial sphere. For example, in a recent conversation with Benjamin Bratton, Jeremijenko describes her Hudson Glow Fish project, a project that deliberately maintains low resolution images rather than high. In response, Bratton elaborates that That is, how these projects come together to effect a macropolitical change. Thus, Bratton and Jeremij enko argue that what matters is the image as an interface a function that many data visualizations lack, due to a concealing of data collection methods or even how to read the visualization, meaning that we can only stare at it in wonder: the image is a b lack box we cannot open. These visualizations presume that
22 somewhere an expert can make sense and interact with this image but we cannot. license to have an opini not the same as transparency, since the display must become a means to change the status quo. 6 While the three artists I discuss do not necessarily create the same kind of public art that Jeremijenko produces art that has a direct impact on the surrounding environment -all three artists are interested in constructing an interface with the public. Catts and Zurr, Eduardo Kac, and Stelarc avoid directly telling the audience how to (re)act to their work, but they, like Jeremijenko, want to help the public engage with the 6 playful design projects that provoke further awareness and action rather than a top dow n political (re)solution or a quick technological fix. One of these creative and imaginative actions the clinic has ire hydrants which still can serve as spaces for emergency vehicles (the vehicles will just knock a few plants down) while improving the health of the surrounding environment by reducing water run off that collects in these spaces, functioning in a way sim ilar to green
23 CHAPTER 2 CREATIVE POSTHUMANISM IN THREE BIOARTISTS Cultured Tissues: Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, the artists behind the Tissue Culture and Art Project use tissue engineering to grow what they call semi living entities. The artists call these semi Evocative Objects is a collection of essays by a variety of representatives from different disciplines, whose narratives show how objects have played a role in their emotional and intellectual lives. Turkle, in turn, draws on Claude Levi ings, for Claude Levi Strauss, were goods to think with, and [. .] good to think objects are different than tools or aesthetic works; rather, evocative objects bring biotechnologies, and could very well serve as a summary description of what the Tissue Culture and Art Project challenge the boundaries between the born and created and between humans and everything else, we will need to tell ourselves different stories Signs 232 ). That is, their project begins to tell different stories and construct d ifferent pictures. But before we delve further into specific projects, it is useful to explore the
24 that the language used to communicate information about these technolog ies to the public is not necessarily the same as language used by tissue engineers; however, the practices at hand, we must pay attention to its popular narrative and v isual presentations. As a prime example we can look at the 2011 PBS NovaScienceNow documentary, Can We Live Forever? which tells one possible story about cutting edge tissue engineering technology. First, we should inquire into why we frame tissue enginee ring in terms of the title question: can we live forever? This already plays into engineering segment is accompanied by segments about slowing the aging process and creati ng life like avatars that would continue to interact with people after we die. beings with little consideration for the nonhuman, except as a resource for growing human bod y parts and saving human lives. We will return to this issue later. The segment opens with Neil Degrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and science popularizer, fixing a car in an auto shop. Tyson draws an analogy between the car parts Live Forever? ). The video then presents images from the popula r science fiction film The Island (2005), where people grow clones and harvest organs in order to live forever. This use of SF film
25 industry determines their goals based on possibilities suggested by science fiction texts. Live Forever ). Thus, dystopian science fiction film becomes one way science can measure its progress because the biotech industry implicitly claims that we can attain the result (living forever) without the ethical a nd moral predicaments of harvesting organs from clones. For instance, Doris Taylor, a leading researcher on stem cells, speculates that from jars on the shelf. One might ask, however, about the cost of not only the individual organs themselves but also the cost of literally turning our bodies into commodities to be bought and sold. In the video, organs are metaphorically understood to function like architectural buildin Live Forever ). While some take to easily, more complex body parts, such as many human organs, cannot use this scaffold (we will return to the natural/artificial binary later). To distill this scaffold, scientists had to set up trial and error experiments to find a chemical th 1 1
26 Nature Medici ne gives us a clue to the composed of biomaterials and cells (Refer natural or man made, that comprises whole or part of a living structure or biomedical the matrix and start to dissolve it and replace it by private proteins the entirely autologous bioartificial tissue place before suggests that the he -tly terminology, we have to think through how whoever donated this organ. It is also interesting to ask: what is the status of these organs at their different stages of living or dead non living material? If so, then the only significa both are fundamentally non living. According to Taylor, seeding cells onto a scaffold is not e nough to supplies oxygen electricity, and blood pressure to the organ. However, Taylor claims that the organ is still on its own, implying that this Live Forever ).
27 the organ is already design 2 But even though the scaffold eventually dissolves, the claim that we will have the shelf organs fails to take into account that the me from somewhere a cadaver, an animal, another human being. We cover over the ethical issues by mine identical to the one that needs replacing. The bioartificial organ c reated from a n live with the knowledge I focus on the problem of individuation because the advantage of using scaffolds own preserves a sense of a unified subject, uncontaminated by parts of other beings. Thus, organ growing is deemed superior to transplants, I argue, not only because we lack sufficient dono rs, but that organ growing gives us a sense of ownership that erases the with the story of a tuberculosis patient in Spain, Claudia Castillo. Castillo was offered never reject because it was grown from her own cells on a natural Live 2 I have attempted to find other sites, a Germany.
28 Forever pers mine eventually scaffolds may not come from humans but animals. By stripping away the material engineers ease the fear not only that the body will reject the organ but that their patients are now part pig, cow, or other nonhuman animal. We are more comfortable with t he tissue engineering of living organs or other body parts because they will eventually be incorporated and owned by a human body, with little -if any -outwardly apparent modification or hybridity. However, when we grow entities that have no immediate use to human beings, but are instead semi autonomous, semi living entities whose survival depends on our care, we see these -even if tissue engineers must constantly transgress t The semi living is simultaneously related to us, but, at the same time, separate from us, demanding active ethical response rather than an unthinking assimilation into our bodies. This fact disrupts the desire to call the semi to be composed of some human cells. Not only, as Eugene Thacker puts it, does tissue biology/technology divide at the same time that this division is constantly tra nsgressed human/animal divide while necessarily transgressing these boundaries ( Global Genome 269).
29 natural/artificial, biology/technology, and human/animal, make visible the fuzziness of these categories through growing Semi living sculptures as well as their use of righteousness, and it can be used as an attempt to keep the critical aspects once it is out of the studio (or laboratory) an Semi Living Steak (2000), Disembodied Cuisine (2003), an d Victimless Leather ironically. Disembodied Cuisine for instance, appears to offer the possibility of eating muscle over biopolymer, wit h the healthy frogs living alongside at the exhibition. Thus, the steaks could mature while the animal was still alive and recovering. However, as Catts and Zurr point out, the steak is not entirely victimless since current methods of tissue culture requir e nutrients derived from animals killed solely for the production of Cuisine consume the steak. The site of the feast, judging from the pictures, is a standard, bourgeois table complete with a bottle of wine, plates, utensils, and wine glasses, but located in a clear plastic box marked by a large biohazard sign. The Semi living steaks are placed in petri dishes on the china, creating a surreal juxtaposition of a toxic area and a welcoming dinner table.
30 (13). Although Badmington refers specifically to the necessity of w orking through a humanist theoretical position, I find the metaphor also helps to consider the many between the rhetoric of their titles and the reality, when they decid ed to exhibit the remains of the semi living steaks from Disembodied C uisine presenting us with one table is taken out of the bio hazardous viewing area, but everything e lse remains on the that show a film, Pictures at an exhibition: Disembodied Cuisine by the Tissue Culture and Art Project 3 From the photographs on the website of the the video documents how the steaks were grown, even displaying images of a cow and not to become with other mortal beings to whom we are accountable, no way to Species Meet 295). For Haraway both sets of which require action and respect without resolution Species Meet 300). T he Disembodied Cuisine presents us with another possible way of incorporating engineered tissue into our bodies through consumption rather than transplantation, 3 The video is directed by Jens Hauser, a leading theorist of Bio Art and artists.
31 phenomenologica l. Rather than emphasizing what tissue engineering can do, this exhibition asks us to think about what it cannot yet do: allow us to escape from the necessity of killing in order to eat. By confronting the other from the perspective of common taste, we con sider the many different ways the body can react, reject, or accept other beings that differ from ourselves. 4 imagine, feel, build point us to their work Pig Wings (2000 2001), made by growing pig cells over a biodegradable polymer shaped li ke three different types of wings: bird wings (angelic), bat wings (satanic War pigs?), and Pterosaurs wings. Taste is just one way Catts and Zurr have allowed the audience to view the semi living. Mere touch by humans or the environment outside of its su staining bioreactor can living. Actually, they must kill the artwork since they cannot transfer the entities across the border and no one wants to take up the care for the sculptures, given what materials are necessary to keep them (semi) a live. This so itual involves the audience on a visceral level, as the artists remove the sculptures from their artificial environment (bioreactor) Semi good or s emi 6). Ironically, a human caress kills the Semi Living, highlighting one significant difference between us and another living 4 It should be noted that the artists have been contacted by the president of PETA concerning the possibility of taking a biopsy from her own body in order to grow a semi living steak that she will then consume as an act of (self)cannibalism to highlight th at, from her perspective, any consumption of meat
32 system. The artists have, however, expressed the interest to develop a good or semi 7). Catts has recently said that one of the reasons they must publically display the semi living entities is because he wants to facilitate the most unmediated, viscera l experience possible, since we are exposed to 5 However, as Jens Hauser reminds us, many can only access BioArt through ainly presented via and judged upon Furthermore, the art exhibit already mediates our experience with the semi living. Confronting the semi living in a laboratory as part of a Symb ioticA workshop is different in which they have recreated most of their work, includes both the regrown tissues and large photographs of the work, some of which are reproductions of photographs from past exhibitions that are also displayed on their website But Catts and Zurr already tried to get their point across through representation in their early works and prefer the presentation of the semi living entities with in an art gallery or in the lab during a workshop. Ultimately, I would argue that their insistence on experience, but rather, to illustrate that the semi living have a k ind of agency of their own. Eugene Thacker claims that the semi living entities are good examples of what 5
33 subjects) nor objects acted upon (in the sense of instruments Global Genome characteristics, including its DNA. Rather, the tissue culture produces a co agency with its surrounding environment. The Semi grow and change allow for unpredictable results, so that not only the audience, but also the artists, are never in complete control of the artwork. For instance, in a recent interview with Stephanie Kramer of the Urban Times Catts tells the story of the MOMA Victimless Leather : Throughout the first couple of weeks on the show some of the cells sheared off the cells started to travel along the system and started to clog the tubes so about 4 5 weeks into the show, the curator decided to turn it off. There was this whole discussion that generated some kind of media sensation with NY Times having a headline of Murder in MOMA Thus, although the audience does not directly interact and change the work, with f ully dialogical art, as defined by Eduardo Kac, as art that changes through a recursive interaction and connection with an audience. Even though it may not be the audience that provides particular inputs, all the parts of the Victimless Leather function a s a networked ecology, with the cells as only one of the actants that direct its growth and development as a living artwork. I turn now to the works of Eduardo Kac.
34 Nonhuman Subjects: Eduardo Kac If Catts and Zurr argue that mediation is an obstacle to be overcome as much as possible in their artwork, despite their reliance on several forms of mediations including academic texts, photographs, interviews, and videos, for Kac, these same mediations form an essential supplement to his artwork. Each of his tra nsgenic creations are including watercolors, lithographs, and sculpture. Kac, to a certain extent, is the most d in this paper. Although, in the of the communication itself, rather considering that he uses relatively traditional artistic media, in addition to the novel telepresence mediations, which pro voke an affective as well as intellectual response. experience of confronting the Semi living, of which the photographs and videos are seen as only an approximation -a pale s imulacra of the entities themselves -supplemental works that completes whatever series he is working on, I argue, further disrupt an easy communication of the both the created biological subject and the theoretical and interpretive texts written by K ac, creating an artistic as well as theoretical and discursive response to the creation of transgenic life. Let us first take as an GFP Bunny is a project centered on a transgenic albino rabbit genetically mo
35 except when placed under certain light conditions; only then does Alba glow bright, neon green, visually distinguishing herself as a unique creature. However, the creation of the rabbit is only one aspect of the work, which includes the public dialogue and the social integration of Alba, where Alba and the artist are only two of the participants in the ecology of the artwork. While Alba was supposed to eventually come home with Kac to be incorporated as part of his family, the institute that helped in her birth would not let this happen, sparking a public debate and the Rabbit Remix series. This is just one way Remain[s] truly open to the part substantial portion of control over the experience of the work, to accept the experience as it happens as a transformative field of possibilities, to learn from it, to grow with it, to be transformed along the way. (Telepresence 272) But some critics, such as Claire Pentecost, have argued that the GFP Bunny reasons Alba was kept from his care, choosing instead to post a mess age board on his website, The Alba Guestbook (2000 2004), where the public could debate the issue, he to demystify science and instead re instates the artist as creator and sole owner of Alba. But this is precisely why we must look at the entire ecology of his work. Indeed, the discourse produced in The Alba Guestbook may reduce the complexity of the situation to individual vs. corporate ownership, but there are some hey Eduardo, why not set yourself free from the expectation that family living is som ehow liberating? for who? and from what? you offer Alba patriarchal domination, assimilation into nuclear culture, eventual throwaway in consumer society otherwise why would you need her to
36 be not simply a laboratory freak but also female and a membe r of a species living on the pet/meat line? While the point is well taken, it is not nearly as interesting as a post from two Dear Dogirl, I think you're mistaken. Who are YOU to s ay that this or that family ir [sic] more or less liberating? Where did you get this idea from, anyway? Nobody here ever said so. Don't you appreciate the companionship of those who you love? Eduardo does not offer me patriarchal domination, assimilation i nto nuclear culture, or eventua l throwaway in consumer society The poor guy is just trying to get me home! Do you have a home, dogirl? I don't. Instead, here I'm, in a cold cage, alone, wasting my time responding to these silly neo marxistoid emails. Wher Alba The writer surely is not Kac himself, as he makes as we negotiate our relationship with our lagomorph companions, it is necessary to think rabbit agency without anthropomorphizing it" ( Telepresence 273 ). T he author signed Alba here, however, produces stereotypical humanistic assumptions that we impose on animals The writer also gives us a humorous, anthropomorphized image of a rabbit responding on a computer to these by referring to the human th eoretical construct of Marxism, only further distances us from confronting the being in the world of Alba. While one could argue that Kac the Alba Flag (2001) or Free Alba (2001 2002) photographs, we could also understand planned for Alba to live with him at home that this is also not an unproblematic outcome. My point is that in his writing Kac does not highlight the idea that he should own Alba or that the point of his subsequent work is merely to retrieve Alba. Rather, if
37 we look at the Free Alba photographs, for instance, they display people holding papers with articles about narrative that Pentecost finds reductive, using the media as medium as Simone Osthoff argues (122). Cary Wolfe even arg ues that Kac uses the theatrical spectacle meaning of Alba by looking at her even when meaning of the work is everywhere but Dead Meat 106). Wolfe thus and resolve the meaning of a given phenomenon; indeed, not even Kac can fully Kac further emphasizes the inadequacy of the exclusively human sensorium by cr eates other artistic works, such as Lagoglyphs: The Bunny Variations (2007), a series visual language that alludes to mea ning but resists interpretation the l agoglyphs series stands as the counterpoint to the barrage of discours unny This is an imaginative and symbolic rabbitographic form of writing rather than the actual address ed to human viewers. But the meaning of the writing what it communicates remains translucent at best to human vision. The writing should be seen as an attempt to at once connect us with Alba as a fellow communicating/writing being as well as inviting u
38 how the rabbit sees the world is certainly not enough to appreciate its consciousness, but it allows us to gain insights about its behavior, which leads us to adapt our own to ma Telepresence 274) taken the hybridity of human/nonhuman to even greater lengths. Kac calls his creation First the part of the organism that consists of a plant, which frequently serves as a artificial Furthermore, because of its outward shape, we still think of it as, essentially, a petunia. incorporates into itself as part of itself. But the gene selected by Kac is the gen e in his t one that takes the visual form of a plant; it is not the plant slowly integrated or assimilated into the human, but the human infused into the plant in a non anthropomorphic form. The resulting nd Petunia, a name which also evokes in my mind eudemonia the Greek word for well being. Edunia, I think, can be read as a continuation of another hybrid artwork that used A positive (1997), where Kac created a symbiotic exchange betw een
39 himself and a robot. In this work, he donated blood to the robot which extracted oxygen rculating human blood and an apparent will of its own, it speculated on the future properties of Telepresence 225). As in Edunia, the artificial life created is non ign of life. He does with robots what he does with plant life, which is to indicate that far from plants and robots functioning as beings for our consumption and use, they possess an agency in our complex ecosystem of technological and biological existence The main difference between Edunia and A positive is that the latter was mostly a symbolic, one time event, whereas Edunias can in theory be distributed and planted everywhere as unique beings : Kac emphasizes that each plant grown is entirely singular. K ac even made limited edition Edunia seed packs, which contains seeds to grow your own Edunias. The seed packs are formed in the general shape of a bat winged butterfly but which vary in exact shape. These open to reveal text that explains how one would car e for this special plant. The seed packs both mimic typical commodity form while also disrupting it. The A prolific bloomer, the Edunia is free flowering in the garden and weather tol erant. It is an annual that will grow ten to fourteen inches (25 30 cm) high with 4 inch red veined wavy edged blossoms. Good timing and uni formity in flowering guaranteed This rhetoric is familiar to anyone who has bought mass distri buted seeds for growth,
40 contained in the pack lack the unique and uncanny beauty of the plant itself; the seeds, then, are essentially taken out of context: without fertile envi ronment and care they appear nothing more than ordinary seeds. However, the packs vary in shape as well as the external lithograph decoration, indicating that each plant is not a mere copy, but a unique being within itself. In addition to the seed packs, the plantimal is also accompanied by the sculpture Singularis derived from the creation of Edunia. Specifically, it has the form of the invented protein composed of both human and plant larger than life statue displayed outside a gallery is unique and also permanent since ndividual Edunia must be cared for and, even given this care, its singular being is sure to pass away. Kac may be indicating by the sculpture that Edunia is just as artificially constructed as Singularis ; alternately, we could see Singularis as indicating that without its context, including the environment that allows it to flourish, the protein itself is useless. 6 Finally, as in the GFP Bunny series, Edunia is accompanied by an ambiguous signifying system, except instead of lithographs, Kac has used waterc oscillate between evoking biomorphic patterns and sign systems The watercolors employ a lot of red, linking them to the blood red color of the veins of the Edunia as well as suggesting ideographic forms of writing. The title of the 6 I r ead both of these as serving a similar purpose to the work Transcription Jewels (2001), which followed Genesis (1999) Genesis protein, paralleling Singularis Telepresence d allow humans to finally master and possess nature.
41 Genesis In Genesis Kac translated the passage sentence into genetic code and made into a gene, which Kac placed into bacteria. Kac allows anyone in the world that has access to the internet, at any time, to shine a UV light onto the bacteria, which disrupts and mutates the genes. If the viewer clicks, it and that Telepresence 251 52). The clicking of a mouse is at once a real ethical decision (should I mutate bacteria?) and a symbolic gesture (do I accept the word of God as law?).In this sense, we can read the Once we engineer a truly part human, part plant entity, how could we refer back to this decree? As part human being, we cannot dominate it, and yet to a certain exte nt it is even closer to a mere plant than an animal. What responsibility do we have to such a being? Although Eduardo Kac has told me personally that he does not use the label tarting boundaries fits into the discourse of critical posthumanism and the practice of creative
42 posthumanism. He disrupts the humanistic assumption that vision will al low us to resolve the enigma of life because the enigma continues to change as we interact with the world and it interacts with us. Posthuman Evolutionary Architectures: Stelarc Up to this point, I have discussed artists who manipulate bodily material tha t cannot be mistaken for human. These works offer visions of other forms of life beyond the human, even incorporating human material, while still visibly lacking anthropomorphic form. What happens, then, when a bio artist takes himself, or at least, as Ste other artists I have discussed, such manipulations of the human body figures into decisions concerning potential posthuman states: new evolutionary architectures for the always al ready becoming body. been subsumed. Andy Clark, for instance, in his Natural Born Cyborgs tells us that Third Hand, a prosthetic hand that Stelarc learns to contr ol by moving other muscles connected to its performance, s Third Hand is not essentially different from the way a normal brain might control a bodily member (Clark conception of the human self. Drawing on the work of Daniel Denne tt, Clark argues that not be thought of as rendering us in any way post cause humans are
43 guarantee that we will still ultimately control these extended capacities as sovereign human subjects. as extending our capacities while work, which on its most literal level, this interpretation. But this limited understanding of his work risks incorporating it into a knife and implants technology subdermally. In a 2010 article in Wired herself with the transhumanism of Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec, stating [t] he qtd. in Borland). While she may be correct in her assessment instantiation of bo go beyond ourselves is rhetoric, Anonym is incredibly modest about her practices. As Borland puts it, she is
44 at the 27 th Ch aos Communication Congress is that anyone can do what she does without money or special equipment. In the video of the lecture, the viewer may notice that she has tattoos and piercings, but the sensory extension modifications remain invisible. The invisibi lity of the modification suggests that while many body not aspire to such a status. perform modified sensory extensions link their projects. Just as Anonym is dissatisfied with the current ticated but exercising her open curiosity. If transhumanism brings too much theoretical p rojects, in contrast, are intimately tied to theoretical concepts. In fact, Brian Massumi sensible concept nce. These embodied ideas produce an effect in the audience, an effect that requires extensive collaboration and planning. For example, Stomach Sculpture a work in which Stelarc constructed a camera that travelled through his esophagus into his stomach,
45 in order to solve a particular problem. This latter possibility worries Eugene Thacker, who is concerned that BioArt may offer technical solutions to social and cultur al problems. On the contrary, Massumi argues that if anything, the problem posed by exhausted Massumi calls operative reason, reason concerned with effects rather than causes. order to pr [w] hat is important is not the fantastic solution cases themselves but the new and compelling p roblem their speculation poses [. .] Can humanity tweak itself into a new existence? ( 173) or not we take u p these possibilities of transformation will come from a collective desire rather than individual will. 7 Massumi argues that the tilization, becoming body as subject for us and object for others, the fractilization of the body implies that the body is both subject and object for itself : the body becom es a self network of multiple 7
46 node in the network of matter. But far from further separating us f rom the rest of the matter of the world, it intimately connects us with it. Massumi writes, The extension into the posthuman is thus a bringing to full expression of a prehumanity of the human. It is the limit expression of what the human shares with everything that it is not: a bringing out of his inclusion in matter, its belonging in the same self referential material world in which every being unfolds. Ear on Arm Stelarc writes that identity, but its connectivity; not its mobility or location but its interface Stel arc is in the process of inserting an ear on his left arm, an ear that he hopes will not only listen but also tran sm it sound through the insertion of a microphone. The surgery was a success to an infection. The next step is to reinsert the microphone with the goal of functioning as a re mote listening device for people in different locations. Stelarc also raises the Ear on Arm an website) Such a system would allow him to talk to people through his ear and receive
47 then becomes a node in a complex network of linked beings rather than a discrete, definable identity. But even though this project has not yet succeeded, and even though the posthuman evolutionary architectures that Stelarc has invented remain in the aesthet ic desire is to affirm the conversion, not to denigrate the importance of the human justice issues that it incontestably raises but rather to enable them to be reposed a nd operated parsing of theoretical terminology, Massumi leaves us with a rather reductive either/or too human moralism s always already obsolete, has been obsolete an infinity of times, and will be obsolete countless more as many times as there are adaptations and inventions. obsolesc However, as Amelia Jones points out, we have to confront the seemingly we admit that far from his rhetoric of the hard, dry, and hollow body, his performances reaffirm our wet, vulnerab le flesh. Despite her constant hedging of her argument, argues that, from an identity politics point of view, we must confront his rhetoric of masculine desire and trans cendence. She may read Stelarc against his rhetorical grain,
48 with other artists mo re explicitly addressing gender issues, which may or may not concern Stelarc. Nicholas Zurrbrugg, for instance, cites a 1994 interview where Stelarc why gender issu es irritate me because they represent social and political agendas that a working class black lesbian who would perpetrate such violence on her body is particularity and specificity of bodies as problematic, she still finds empowering hope in Stelarc for articulating new desires, new ways to integrate and interface with the world performances tend to force us to question the rhetoric is conf Is it too much to insist on a reading of these performances without that strategy of categorization? Can one evaluate that action beginning with the performance rather tha n ending with the performances make the mistake of reading the performances through his rhetoric rather than vice versa (167). Stelarc is frequently forced to clarify hi s rhetoric in interviews and literal empty body without organs, nor a kind of existential anxiety as Jones interprets it:
49 understands that the Hollow Body performance itself reveals the hollowness of the rhetoric, she replaces this rhetoric even though he has explicitly stated that he is not interested in psychology. 8 She ace the anatomical female body in sex and procreation. While cell from a female body can now be engineered into a sperm cell. So, males are out of once the body is malfunctioning parts, then TECHNICALLY THERE WOULD BE NO REASON FOR proclamations are really, then, abo would be the point of conscious 117). Stelarc is not denying the necessity of embodiment but rather the necessity that this particular embodiment is always already obsolete, as Massumi suggests. Thus far 8 14).
50 from showing that Stelarc us to an essentially humanist framework with her insistence that, indeed, death is what authenticates human existence. 9 The issue of life and death returns us to a core issue at the heart of tr anshumanism, if not posthumanism: Can we Live Forever ? I place the question in italics because I want to return to the NovaScienceNow video discussed in the previous Prosthetic Head seems eerily similar to the avatar p roject in the video, ProjectLifelike, headed by Jason Leigh and colleagues. The video its into the virtual avatar; once dead, people will be able to interact with the person as if he or she historical figures and celebrities, which suggests potential educati onal use. The goal would be to mimic and thus represent the behaviors and thoughts of the particular human being. As in the segment in artificial organs, this desire is also framed by science fiction references, not for a convenient analogy, but because Le video, were motivated by Star Trek and Superman Leigh even draws an analogy 9 would be no reason for death, not that there would be (or will be) no death. Stelarc is clearly talking abou t life with death. But birth and death might be the outmoded means for shuffling genetic material and for relationship with death as such critiqued this notion of death as such in Aporias arguing that we do not have any privileged relationshi p elimination of death based on the fear of dying. Whatever state we end up in if life ceases to be anist escape into the ether nor the traditional human subject, but as a kind of machine/human hybrid, a cyborg.
51 between what he is doing and the spirit knowledge tree in the recent film Avatar most interesting notion about it was when these people passed on, their knowledge is Live Forever ). While he makes this sound like a new and profound goal, he does not realize that we already do precisely this through writi ng and other archiving mechanisms. The only argument one can make for the superiority of the creation of an opinions, thoughts, and answers of this particular perso n. True, the avatar would be able to interact with us using nonverbal cues in ways that books or films cannot, but if account of our collective knowledge, then very li ttle is added. -constructing an interface, experiencing it directly, and thereby able to mean ingfully with profoundly different motivations, the Prosthetic Head University of Warwick, the work was motivated by t Genealogy of Morals locality where thinking takes place we have a r ight to say that this locality is the paper
52 idea that the head corresponds to a self behind the avatar or, alternately, that Stelarc is hoping that his uniqueness is embe dded into the head would be a misinterpretation. not which is to mimic and represent himself in such a way that he can identify with his intelligent, there are decisions that the artist either made or was forced to make due to realm of the posthuman may not be in the realm of bodies and machines, but rather in the realm of autonomous and intelligent images [. .] im ages are immortal. Avatars have observation should give us pause given the comment that the artist may not be able to take responsibility for what the head says. If we are to take Stelarc seriously when he says that his projects do not give up embodiment then we have to think about the limits of these avatar projects. 10 For one, the prosthetic head is just a hea d and thus is already marked as different from 10 Prosthetic Head is massively embodied with all the technology that is required to present and o
53 ethereal and perform smoothly at the speed o this is just a video of the head, the h fired or got Third Arm or Exoskeleton is, a prosthesis at least partially out of his control. It is a split body itself as Stelarc says to those in attendance at his lecture, 11 11 And furthermore, we should note, that despite the promissory, prophetic, and hyperbolic rhetoric of Can we Live Forever th emotional Turing test for their avatar. The goal stated here, as opposed to the PBS video, is not as a repository of the self, but rather an accurate sim
54 CHAPTER 3 CONCLUSION: THE FAILURE OF BIOART To suggest that BioArt is a failure is not equivalent to suggesting that these that if biotechnological discourse is characterized by utopian visions of mastering nature to such an exte nt that we can live in a peaceful, non violent relationship with other humans and nonhumans, then Bio art is not a dystopian, luddite reaction to biotechnology, but a critical engagement with its limitations and its long term goals and a practice that imag ines alternative uses for biotechnology that construct contestable futures. BioArt succeeds because it fails only as a result of the unpredictability of life, a point of supreme interest for all BioArtists. Indeed, both Stelarc and Oron Catts have referred to their works as failures in a positive light. In a recent interview Stelarc says, out of being a failure. None of the projects and performances can be said to have been successfully realized Urban Times celebrates the MOMA instantiation of Victimless Leather es are the most important part of the work because we are never going to engage with life and GFP Bunny that was be released in the future, that she will remain there until she dies, or that she is already dead.
55 It is the relinquishment of absolute control and the af firmation of unpredictable consequences that makes BioArt interesting as a practice and a worthwhile object of ambivalence and uncertainty that destabilizes our comfortable it will not be interesting or have value as art. Despite all of our attempts to resolve the question of life, to make it absolutely visible and transparent, so as to control its outcome through genetic engineering, tissue engineeri ng, prosthetics, disembodied avatars, etc., these artists resist this arrogance, and implicitly argue that we have to encounter, interact with, and adapt to our environment, including other forms of life. al and creative commitment to questioning the human and the nonhuman, the natural and the artificial, the living and the semi living. It fails succeeds in its inability to resolve life into easily fit categories that we can appropriate and dominate. Al ong with Catts, we should celebrate this failure as an attempt to imagine new posthuman terms that takes seriously the complex ecology of life.
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59 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Jacob T. Riley is from Chelsea, Michigan. He received his BA in English Literature from University of North Carolina Asheville in Asheville NC in Ma y 2010. He was awarded the Manley E. Wright Award, the most prestigious academic award given at the University. He is currently pursuing his PhD at the University of Florida.