Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Art as a Creation of Contexts--An "Environmental Writing"

Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr argue that the term BioArt is a large, vague, and ultimately reductive term to describe the range of art i purports to cover. Catts and Zurr claim that any kind of BioArt is affected the the "genohype" that connects BioArt with information theory and code. Art historians have lumped the Tissue Culture and Art Project under the inexact term "transgenic art," even though Catts and Zurr do not manipulate the genetic code. For literary critics and theorists, thinking of genetic code as the new "writing," perhaps causes us to focus on the specific transgenic works where the artist "writes" life into being. The question of for me is can tissue culture artists or "representational artists" (as Edwina Bartlem refers to them) be used to think "writing" in a broad sense? I want to tentatively suggest (to be elaborated on further) that perhaps these artists create a 'scene' of writing--maybe we could call them "transgeneric" artists, referring to how they construct or play with particular expectations of various genres of art. Eduardo Kac, for instance, argues that artists "create contexts," a kind of space for writing to take place. Indeed, the artworks "themselves" (although again, because it is a context or a particular communication) are not "objects" to simply be observed; rather, the artwork requires writing to take place, in the form of photographs, video, recording, or written essays (by the artists and others). The artwork is a "performance," but a performance where, as Simone Ostoff suggests where he employs the "media as medium" (122). The artwork is not necessarily in the visible aspects of the work or the spectacle, the 'visual', but the entire 'environmental' 'contextual' context.

In a similar way, Catts and Zurr argue that tissue culture engineers, who work with cells, can understand the cells behavior as receiving "(almost) the same type of agency as the individual cell of a social organism" (138). In other words, the engineers cannot just write/inscribe a program into a semi-living system (what TC&AP call the entities they create), they have to pay attention to the environment necessary for the entity to survive and flourish as well as the social and ethical aspects that TCAP raise into our environment of academic discourse. At current time, the Semi-Living has to live in a kind of artificial womb/environment in order to survive. Indeed, a human caress/touch, what we generally think of as a paradigmatic gesture of care and love, ironically kills the other beings, these beings that do not have a "skin" that is at once what makes possible interiority and exteriority (as some recent theorists have explored).

To quickly offer a reductive summary, when we look at writing from the perspective of a genetic code, its as if we do not think about how the environment around it will interact with it--we do not think the genetic code in context. The power of TCAP's project, I think, is to show that our control and mastery of code/genes/DNA have limits once whatever is coded has to live (or semi-live) in an environment. A posthumanist writing will have to take into account the nonhuman elements of writing, including the "environment," surrounding a living or semi-living entity, just as Verbeek (see previous post) argues that objects in themselves do not have a "script," but only exist in contexts, which may undergo significant change and thus take on a new meaning.

I'm not sure any of this really made sense, but I need to start writing out some of my own thoughts about this stuff. . .I apologize for lack of clarity, poor writing, and half-baked (and expressed) ideas.

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