Seminar at Medical Museion

March 8th: The Puzzle of Neolifism, the Strange Materiality of Regenerative and Synthetically Biological Things

In 1906 Jacques Loeb suggested making a living system from dead matter as a way to debunk the vitalists’ ideas and claimed to have demonstrated ‘abiogenesis’. In 2010 Craig Venter announced that he created “the first self-replicating cell we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer” the “Mycoplasma laboratorium” which is commonly known as Synthia.  In a sense Venter claimed to bring Loeb’s dream closer to reality. What’s relevant to our story is that one of the main images Venter (or his marketing team) chose for the outing of Synthia was of two round cultures that looked like a blue eyed gaze; a metaphysical image representing the missing eyes of the Golem. These are the first bits of a jigsaw puzzle that will be laid in this talk. Through the notion of Neolifism, this puzzle will explore and Re/De-Contextualise the strange materiality of things and assertions of regenerative and synthetic biology. Other parts of the puzzle include a World War II crash site of a Junkers 88 bomber at the far north of Lapland, the first lab where the Tissue Culture & Art Project started to grow semi-living sculptures, frozen arks and de-extinctions, Alexis Carrel, industrial farms, Charles Lindbergh, worry dolls, rabbits’ eyes, ear-mouse, gas chambers, active biomaterials, in-vitro meat and leather, incubators, freak-shows, museums, ghost organs, drones, crude matter, mud and a small piece of Plexiglas that holds this puzzle together…

Oron Catts

Oron Catts is an artist, researcher and curator whose pioneering work with the Tissue Culture and Art Project, which he established in 1996, is considered a leading biological art undertaking. In 2000, Oron founded SymbioticA, an artistic research centre in the School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology at The University of Western Australia. SymbioticA won the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in Hybrid Art in 2007 and a year later became a Centre for Excellence. In 2009, Oron was listed in Thames & Hudson’s ‘60 Innovators Shaping our Creative Future’ and named by Icon Magazine (UK) as one of the ‘Top 20 designers making the future and transforming the way we work’. Oron’s interest is life itself or, more specifically, the shifting relations and perceptions of life in the light of new knowledge and its application. Often developed in collaboration with scientists and other artists, his body of work speaks volumes about the need for a new cultural articulation of evolving concepts of life. Oron has been a Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School and a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University. He is currently the Director of SymbioticA, a Visiting Professor of Design Interaction at the Royal College of Arts, London, and a Visiting Professor at Aalto University’s Biofilia- base for Biological Arts, Helsinki. Oron’s work reaches beyond the confines of art, often being cited as an inspiration in areas as diverse as new materials, textiles, design, architecture, ethics, fiction and food.
 
Image credit – Crude Matter (2012) by The Tissue Culture & Art Project (Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr), installation detail from “SOFT CONTROL: Art, Science and the Technological Unconscious”, Koroška galerija likovnih umetnosti (KGLU), Slovenj Gradec.