Lecture: Imagining Bio(techno)logy: What ethicists could learn from bio art.


In the past decades artists and designers have discovered the life sciences. They have become a voice in the public debate on biotechnology. By presenting a fluorescent rabbit or by exhibiting semi-living sculptures made of tissue culture, bio artists like Adam Zaretksy, Eduardo Kac and the Tissue Culture and Arts project introduced tangible images of biotechnology into the public domain. These works are the living proof of a bio art revolution that is taking place right now. And, as can be concluded from their thought provoking critiques on 21th century biopolitics, to fuel the public debate is what bio artists are after.

The ‘birth’ of this critical bio art movement takes place in a time where the traditional bioethics is going through a crisis. A much heard complaint is that bioethics is suffering from an imagination deficit. As a reflective discipline, bioethics is not as dynamic and lively as its object of reflection. It does not share its explosive creativity. Or maybe biotechnology is simply evolving too fast for bioethics to keep up with it. An additional problem for (bio)ethicists is that they are outsiders to the practices of which they have to reflect upon. They usually do not have hands on experience with biotechnology. 

Bio artists, in contrast, are operating from within the laboratories. They work with biomaterials, they do the real thing. But, does this make them better equipped to do bioethics than philosophers? In this lecture, I talk about the value of bio art to bioethical debates. I do this from the perspective of a bioethicist. What new questions do bio artists raise about biotechnology? What can bioethics learn form bio art about real science? And what can the public learn from bio art?