Sunday, July 17, 2016

Week 4: BioTech + Art

Bio art is a topic that could easily be interpreted as unethical. Scientists’ ability to create lifeforms that do not naturally occur gives the impression that they can assume the roles of God and produce whatever they like with no negative consequences. It is possible that there are reasons why these life forms do not exist and the decision to bring them into existence should be highly questioned. Bio art often fluctuates on the line between science and absurdity. Its main intentions are to catch the viewer's attention and make a social or political statement, however it can be harmful to the animals involved. Failure to consider the quality of life of these animals is not entirely ethical, which is why many people are opposed to the practice.

In Ellen Levy’s article titled “Defining Life: Artists Challenge Conventional Classifications”, she poses the question, “Should living materials be used for artistic ends?” The answer to this question I cannot surely say, however, it should be noted that all animals other than humans are not able to consent. For example, cosmetic surgery could be considered Bio art, however the receiver choices whether or not to undergo the procedure. The opposite is true with Marta De Menezes’ experiment involving altering the coloration patterns on butterflies. Similarly, Eduardo Kac created Alba, a fluorescent rabbit, only to experiment on the transferability of DNA between species. I cannot say with certainty that these experiments have been more helpful or more hurtful in the long run.
The wings of a butterfly tested on by Marta De Menezes

A picture of Eduardo Kac and his bunny Alba

Some studies, such as growing ears on mice, have been beneficial for people suffering from disfigurement as well as the advancement of scientific knowledge. In many bio art creations the functionality is lost along the way. There is a great deal of art that doesn’t have a functional purpose other than to raise awareness, but the creation of art that is potentially harmful requires substantial ethical debate.
An ear grown on a mouse

People may argue that Bio art is a necessary form of research, but it should be noted that the subjects cannot elect their participation and the effects of these biological changes are uncertain. Therefore, although hazy, the line between scientific Bio art and provocative Bio art should be regarded with more hesitation when moving forward.


 Levy, Ellen K. Defining Life: Artists Challenge Conventional Classification. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.

Uconlineprogram. "5 Bioart Pt1 1280x720." YouTube. YouTube, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 17 July 2016.

Uconlineprogram. "5 BioArt Pt3." YouTube. YouTube, 17 May 2012. Web. 17 July 2016.

Cook, Gareth. "Cross Hare: Hop and Glow." Cross Hare: Hop and Glow. The Boston Globe Online, 17 Sept. 2000. Web. 17 July 2016.

Menezes, Marta De. "Nature?" Marta De Menezes. N.p., 2012. Web. 17 July 2016. 


Alba Fluorescent Bunny. N.d. Genomenewsnetwork. Web. 17 July 2016.

Human Ear Grown on Mice. N.d. Wikipedia. Web. 17 July 2016.

Butterfly Wings. N.d. Genomenewsnetwork. Web. 17 July 2016.


  1. Hi Kaelyn,
    I agree with you on that bioethics is an important issue to take into consideration when creating something purely for the sake of expression rather than functionality. This again brings up the idea of two cultures - if scientists are able to reap medical benefits from working with animals, should artists too be conditioned to make sure that the project does more good than harm? I definitely agree that all animals except humans are unable to consent, however it is questionable whether the philosophy of ethics would be of matter to them at all - they would most likely just prefer to live!

  2. Hi Kaelyn:
    I strongly agree with your opinion that there should be stricter guidelines overseeing bio art's progression. It is obvious that with the powerful tools humans possess in hands, we essentially have the ability to play God. However, our "creations"(like the transgenic animals created for the purpose of art) do not have a say in this process. I think the question is that it is very hard to define a value for art. As for science, animal research has a great value; it potentially saves million lives and improving the well being of the human race. Therefore people may be more accepting and understanding to the cause, thinking the animals sacrificed for a good cause. It is harder for people to feel this way towards art. It is a question that everyone, both scientists and artists, should consider.