Blesok no. 80-81, September-December, 2011
SEAFair ’11 - Energy, Biopolitics, Strategies of Resistance and Cultural Subversion
The current events in the field of Biopolitics directly refer to the great social changes through which we progress as a society and individuals. SEAFair 2011 contextualizes the artistic and theoretical discourses developing around Bio-politics, aiming at re-evaluating its meaning today, as well as address the possibilities for resisting the dominant international discourses through emancipation and cultural subversion. The artists and critics have looked into the physical and biological systems which interact with each other and addressed issues as varied as sources and forms of energy (natural and artificial); entropy; causes and consequences of global environmental change; the sustaining of the environment; macro and micro ecology; the choice of fuel materials; alternative energy sources; nuclear energy, current topics in applications of microbiology in biotechnology; and genetically modified foods.
The ability to code life into symbols, and being able to interpret these symbols, has changed the very notions of what we understand as life.
Today “coded life”, positioned in global communication networks, and certainly allows for attributing a qualitatively different set of meanings to life in general, as well as to the concepts of the management of life. The merged IT with Bio-technologies seem capable of changing the core of global relations by proliferation of international intellectual property policies, as well as by the developing of ever growing genomic databases. Numerous ontological questions about the nature of Biotechnology come into being. We can deduce in a phenomenological fashion that Biotechnology structures society, but equally, society forms Biotechnology. The characteristics of these interactive processes are engrained into the general modus operandi in regard to standard processes and practices in Biotechnology, as well as in accepted modes of thinking about Biotechnology. Heidegger’s concept of Enframing
can be deciphered today by using Eugene Thacker’s trinity of ‘encoding, recoding, decoding ‘, representing the primary activities of Bio-technology today, as the disseminating of the biological through information networks upon demand, or upon necessity, creates a new situation where we witness it upon digital perception, as a digitally packaged commodity. “The simultaneous notions of the biological stock being property and information, having the traits of materiality and immateriality, existing as deployments of life which are being shifted from body to body, body to code, and code to body”. Thacker sees this tripartite division as a political-economic one as well. “In a sense, encoding is synonymous with production, for it is in the process of encoding the biological that the Biotech industry is able to accrue profits (as intellectual property, as a proprietary database or software). Recoding is then synonymous with distribution (and its related term circulation), for the practices of bioinformatics, database management, and computer networking are predicated on the ability of biological information to be widely distributed and circulated. Finally, decoding is synonymous with consumption in that, in a medical sense at least, it is in the final output or re-materialisation of biology that biological information is used, consumed, or incorporated into the body” (in The Global Genome: Bio-technology, Politics, and Culture).
The research in responding to the above stated positions is almost certain to impact our opinion about the social and ethical implications of Bio-technological developments, in view of the Bio-political concerns about various uses of Biotechnology in economy, government, education, culture and art. The development of Bio-technology, its programmability, and its manifold increased potential for genetic and other manipulation possesses the potential of altering society up to the point of creating of challenging Bio-Capitalism, or even of altering it into a Bio-Society which can potentially surpass its contradictions of Bio-Capitalism, and therefore succeed it as a political and economic system.
Genetic engineering remains a contested subject with the development of gene therapies, stem cell research, cloning, and genetically modified food. The last several decades have made us more aware of the complex structures and processes involved in Bio-technology, addressing issues as diverse as the social and political context surrounding Bio-technology; the relationship between ethics and Bio-technology (e.g. the ethical implications of genetic engineering); the background to scientific processes, their essence, and their spectacular nature; the complex relationships between science and culture; and the politics of the discipline of Bio-technology. It has become very obvious that the Bio-political Apparatus set in motion will claim and use any advances in Biotechnology. The project supports the production and presentation of artworks, which refer to the above-mentioned theme.
SEAFair 2011 additionally enables a direct approach to biotechnological tools via various DIY DNA and DIWO techniques, as it is evident that on another level current developments in Biotechnology include a segment of revolutionary change by the very fact that general access to Bio-technological tools is enabled through various DNA DIY Kits. Niki Sperou’s DIY DNA Art workshop presents such a reality, where the artists are able to create actual Biotech Art with-in the confines of the Museum’s white box.
In fact we are witnesses of a certain DIY & DIWO subculture, being developed with-in the wider processes in genetics and biotechnology. These types of informal collaboration fundamentally alter numerous social relationships. DNA data has become a mutual source for research and discussions. Novel models of exchange appear via the networks, including various forms of consumers’ genetic networks. DIY DNA is made available by various foundations such as The KlaasKids Foundation and the State of California DNA Laboratory, who have created a Do-It-Yourself DNA Collection Kit using common household items, where you can sample and store your children’s DNA with total confidence, but without the unnecessary expense of purchasing DNA Kits which cost between $5.00 and $20.00. Other DNA DIY Kits include ones offered by chemists allowing families to establish the paternity of children without the usual recourse to the legal system. The Internet also proves useful in regard to promoting DNA Ancestry Projects, Social Networking web sites such as 23 and Me, as well as offers professional sites for the more advanced in DNA research, such as: GenBank®, which is the NIH genetic sequence database; BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) which finds regions of local similarity between sequences comparing nucleotide or protein sequences to sequence databases and calculates the statistical significance of matches.
The group exhibition SEAFair ’11 - Energy, Biopolitics, Strategies of Resistance and Cultural Subversion conveys the story of artists presented through various approaches regarding our reflection upon power relations (biopolitical conflicts in the real and virtual worlds increasingly involve governments, NGOs and corporations), energy control, the choice of fuel materials; alternative energy sources; nuclear energy, the control of the biological, the inheritance and programmability of life, entropy; causes and consequences of global environmental change; the sustaining of the environment; macro and micro ecology; current topics in applications of microbiology in biotechnology; the dimensions of live matter; the relation to the relation to life, genetically modified foods, death, and appearance.
SEAFair ’11 - Energy, Biopolitics, Strategies of Resistance and Cultural Subversion also includes a one-day symposium that brings together the artists critics and theorists participating in the project, along with others involved in the discourses surrounding art/science collaborations. The symposium offers a chance for the participants and the audience to consider the changes in the biopolitical and cultural landscape, where the increases globalised market generates a new form of biopolitics with enhanced processes of bioeconomic competition.
The speakers will present their most recent research around areas as broad and opaque as the methods and manners of the permeation of biotechnology into facets of ordinary life; the economic and political ambition and struggle of governments with domestic and international political structures in order to achieve successful global dominance; the ethical relationships to artificial life; the endless limitations and opportunities for artists and scientists to collaborate and yet to misunderstand the others disciplines.
Published by the Visual and Cultural Research Centre in October 2011. “SEAFAir 2010 - The Apparatus of Life&Death” is a comprehensive compilation of theories and practices surrounding issues of Biopolitics, Biotechnology and Art. The main aim of the book was to present to the wide readership, as well as the specialist audiences, the implications of the interaction of Biopolitics with Biotechnology, as well as a wide array of artistic and cultural answers to contemporary, technologically driven, Bio-political doctrines. The book reflects on the burning cultural, ethical, technological and political issues which were introduced by the appearing of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering.