As STS theorist Hannah Landecker has observed, at the cusp of the body and the world, metabolisms are ubiquitous but may be most noticeable in states of dysfunction (see note 1). These dysfunctions are the basis of medical sciences, the source of new ways of conceiving of ecological relations in a climate-changed world, and are a longstanding way of diagnosing philosophical indigestions, but they might also provide new modes of intervention by the arts. Ever-changing metabolism can be the constant that brings methodological tendencies to the fore as a shared subject, and yet the variable understandings of metabolism give rise to novel metabolic unfoldings so that our studies need not be bounded by the current state of metabolic science and indeed, as Art, Science, and Technology Studies scholars would argue, this is best understood in its social, political, philosophical, and historical contexts.
Metabolism serves many possible needs for scholars by providing metaphors, models, puzzles, solutions and balances, but what art might do with metabolism needs further exploration. While we want to encourage studies which keep close to the bodily, medical, scientific, environmental, agricultural, and technical modes of the concept, to avoid, for example, metaphors which take leave of the subject in favor of using the idea of metabolism interchangeable with a concept like change or process, what metabolic science is today is built on a stack of ever-modified metaphors, including the metabolism as an engine or motor (fast/slow and often an emphasis on the notion of fuel/energy sources), furnace (hot/cold), “chain reactions,” “chemical cascades,” the “chemical carnival,” and many others. Art-science has made much of science as implicated in metaphor thinking, as even the classic experiment asks us to make correspondence between the specific findings on the bench and the broader world, a mode we find often in the arts. This extends out to our public understandings of science and of art, often with further analogies which both simplify and make more culturally complex these concepts.
Metabolic Studies are increasingly drawing links between disciplines which have worked on notions of metabolism in the individual towers and now seeing the possibilities of exchange are seeking alliances to compare and contrast the modes of disciplinary thought on these issues and ton collectively encounter the gardner challenges related to metabolism, including metabolic dysfunctions on a bodily, social, and earth-wide scale. As John Bellamy Foster (1999) explains, Marx conceived this metabolic rift as a separation “between humanity and the soil, reflected in the antagonism of town and country.” (see note 2). In the last fifteen years or so, an increasing number of scholars have begun to formulate approaches from political science to poetics, and most recently the Metabolic Arts, which may overlap with bioart, critical design, biodesign, ecoart, climate and environmental arts, and more.
From the vantage point of the Medical Museum, it is clear that there is an aesthetics of metabolism drawn from the visual aids which have been part of the development of metabolic sciences and constitute an important part of the public understanding of metabolism. But there also exists a lively debate underway in contemporary art about the stuff and processes of life which is of critical value to Metabolic Studies relation to publics and critical modes of thought about metabolic science and metabolisms in society. Following an ASTS approach which insists on treating the power dynamics of art and science as crucial to the context of the production of such works, we solicit a conversation with artists already engaged and ready to engage in conversations about metabolism in and out of bodies, across history, in and between cultures, and individual and social worlds, theorized and embodied.