N.B. Click on pictures on the left for bios

Adam Zaretsky - I am of the opinion that Scientific Methods are extreme libidinal trophy hunting.

I am aware of the gains made in the past hundred years to prolong and spruce up human life, but I still think the urge to research the 'unknown' is predicated on a domineering desire.

Are we just variety show primates, scoping and poking 'anyspace in everyway' for brain chemistry rewards?

If we are a species capable of altruism, mutualism, humanism and/or love, how are these charismatic myths super-imposable on the history of command and control gore that we seem to be permanently immersed in?

Ellen K. Levy - I see no reason to attribute people's drive to explore the unknown to an urge to dominate rather than out of curiosity or love.

Dopamine-driven responses (I assume that is what you mean by 'brain chemistry rewards') seem to be a part of our emotional make-up. As I understand from my reading of Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux, research in neuroscience suggests that our 'gut feelings' derive from feedback from somatic responses like facial expression and that our emotions must always take place in a context. LeDoux's response to his question, "Do Fish Have Feelings Too," is that human consciousness is a result of the expansion of the cortex, something lacking in animals other than mammals. But animals may be conscious in a way consistent with the capabilities of their brain structures. My own and others' experience with animals certainly suggests that many share emotional characteristics with us.

Shannon Bell - Scientific Methods are a discursive attempt to document and comprehend new life forms and death; documentation and discovery often equal control. The desire to contain the unknown is a desire premised on fear - the most common reaction to fear is an attempt to dominate, as we all know.

Altruism, mutualism, humanism are the soft and slimy virtues that underpin liberal capitalism. Humanism has always been integrated into discourses of exploitation: colonialism, imperialism, neoimperialism, democracy, and of course, American democratization.

One of the serious flaws in Transhumanism is the importation of liberal-human values to the biotechno enhancement of the human. Posthumanism has a much stronger critical edge attempting to develop through enactment new understandings of the self and other, essence, consciousness, intelligence, reason, agency, intimacy, life, embodiment, identity and the body.

Kathy High - While I agree that there is lots of cavalier-conquering-the-Wild-West mentality in much of scientific discovery, and the star system is embedded in the politics of the business, I also think that there is much of science that is reactive and maybe doesn't fall into this category. Much of research is in reaction to a disease, an epidemic, a plague. While I still think there is some heroics being practiced in this arena as well, often I find the impulse of this kind of research human, humane and reasonable in scope. This is the problem solving side of science… the pragmatic "fix-it" side. The Mother Theresa Do Good impulse, but in the end is not so misdirected. But this may only be in the branch of medicine and only with certain doctors. Yes, I have been used as a statistic for doctors who want to use my problem for THEIR drug trial. And they don't listen to me as I attempt alternative methods of treatment, won't hear about other kinds of cures. I know I know…

But I think that it is too easy to dismiss scientific methods in this way. Much of what we read and know about would come from the star hitters. But there are teams of other researchers behind them who have very different motives most likely. It just seems like bad Liberal politics to write all scientific methods off as motivated for gain. I think scientific explorations are motivated by a variety of diverse factors that have changed throughout history and will continue to change: what really motivated Madame Curie, Stephen Hawkings, Craig Venters - all working from very different motivations and for very different goals. Enough said…

Ionat Zurr & Oron Catts - The question reflects more on a limited binary way of viewing the world rather than a more complex view which relay on messy continuum and many different shades of grey: We do not think that one (altruism, mutualism etc.) preclude the other (control, competition, etc.). Rather these different modes of coping with the environment within a social group are intermingled and many times it is not clear what the intentions were and how they were perceived by the other members of the group. The reductionist view of brain chemistry rewards also works perfectly well with altruism and mutualism (not sure about the term humanism), as there are evolutionary benefits for a social beings to behave in these ways. You seem to focus in this question on two strong (but not exclusive) traits of evolution and human history - competition and desire to control (and in both cases you claim that they are sexually driven). You seem to play down cooperation on both grounds. We would argue that our urge to manipulate our surrounding (which is not necessarily of sexual nature) had an evolutionary advantage beyond merely libidinal trophy hunting. With all due respect this question seems to enhance the prevailing capitalist/competition based ideology.

Sam Bower - Curiosity is a fine thing with proven evolutionary advantages. It can help us boil water but can also end up changing our climate. Any impulse to do anything can be seen in a positive or negative light. Even the urge to celebrate beauty and art can be destructive. In the 1890's, Eugene Schieffelin, decided to release into the United States all of the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare, including the European starling which has subsequently spread from a few nesting pairs in New York City to become a threat to native species from Alaska to Mexico. The old debate of whether we're born sinners or "noble savages" doesn't really help with the work we have to do. With information comes the opportunity to choose how to act. I believe we can strive to be altruistic and compassionate and apply scientific methods toward understanding the world to help us live more sustainably. There has been a long history of science for science's sake which has distracted our species from more urgent priorities in favor of short-term gains. Unless we believe that it's possible to use our abilities to create a sustainable relationship with the Earth we're doomed to wallow in the unconscious drives which currently dominate our culture.

Dmitry Bulatov - I guess these remarkable in themselves human characteristics have never been typical of man. At best they could be among virtues of a particular outstanding person. For human beings as a biological species, altruism, mutualism, humanism and other have always been rather a systemic demand, conditions of self-preservation laid down by nature itself. From the moment Homo Sapiens mountaineered to the top of the trophy pyramid and made the surrounding ecosystem his food resource he had already turned from "daylight predator" into "absolute predator". Such a type of predator (for instance zooplankton, dragonflies, archeosaurs, etc) is known for its ability to "eat" the surrounding ecosystem "trough". Later on, when man fell out from the trophy pyramid, i.e. stopped being both hunter and food, he turned into "total predator". This means that since that time until now he has been consuming all organic and inorganic nature for his development and maintenance. He has been doing it as "total predator". Therefore all the principles of man's existence including his way of thinking and interaction with the world can be characterized as "predatory". I don't think there are any reasons that could change that aggressive nature of human being.

George Gessert - I can't speak for scientists. In art trophy hunting is not a very interesting part of the picture, but libido is. Certain kinds of living things delight and fascinate me, so I work with them. Since live art breaks with several tens of thousands of years of tradition, it matches the extremity of our times. (I doubt that that will change soon.) Beyond exploring genetic art I don't know how I as an artist can counter the destructive capabilities of humankind today.

Jennifer Willet - Scientific discovery as institutionalized control measures:

Last week I was listening to a CBC radio program called Ideas. They were interviewing a historian (who's name is lost as I was washing dishes). She was trying to explain the horror evoked by an evolutionary model when presented to a society that believed in the divine nature of man. How it would be deeply antithetical to a person's sense of self and being in the universe to imagine a biological genealogy that linked man with all species on the planet - when all other sources (mother, priest, teacher, and possibly the inner voice) had attested to the distinct and divine otherness of the Homo Sapiens from all animals - toiling in their own shit and sex. (my language - not hers) She continued to link this 'paradigm shift' with the one we are undergoing today in the biological sciences, and more specifically, the repercussions of contemporary research in the public conception of human existence and its place in the biological world. She argues, that with the mass adoption of evolutionary models, human civilization (western civilization) had adopted a model where man is the fullest extent of the evolutionary chain. Although we do not see ourselves as divine creatures - we do see ourselves as at the top of the heap. She says with current genetic and biotechnological investigations - this model too will fail - and it will be a catastrophic revelation for the contemporary ego.

In other words. Yes. I see science as a self-reinforcing system of understanding (and control through understanding). But sometimes this drive works against itself - providing data that only confirms our relative insignificance and lack of control - see also astronomy.

Adam Zaretsky - You all know that I am obsessed by the prospects (and perils) of Transgenic Humanity. My rather dirty mania for this rather painful process in no way stops me from critiquing the probable and potential uses or misuses of molecular biology as applied to the Human Genome. With a firm understanding of how our shared global history of Eugenic Aesthetics has been applied in the past and present… do you think that there is any path towards human enhancement that can be considered anything other than a piss in the genepool? Is there an application of the conceptually 'new and improved' human that you could find valid? What is 'better' when applied to techno-adjusted human offspring?

Kathy High - I think about this question all the time. I know with my personal autoimmune diseases that if scientists locate the associated genes they will want to eliminate these particular illnesses for future generations. But autoimmune diseases are systemic problems and complexly linked to our psyche. So I suspect they cannot be eliminated without introducing something in their place. This is most likely the way with many diseases work as well. So some of the "fixes" may backfire in the end - as I don't really trust that doctors understand the nature of many illnesses.

But I also think that much of our development is wrapped up in variations and the constant adaptation to change. And since our environment is changing irreversibly - i.e. more pollution, less available water, faster paced cultures, more GMO foods - perhaps transgenic alternatives will provide ways to cope with these changes. Maybe we will be able to live on less oxygen, absorb more nutrients from less nutritional foods, etc. Of course, in the end where does that leave us?? Will we become more efficient processing machines - able to eliminate more and more by-product and dirt to stay alive? Can we introduce bacteria to defend from ravenous bacteria? Can we mutate with the other mutations?? Maybe we can become cockroaches? And bottom line is all I really want is a tail or wings…

Jennifer Willet - From the universal to the specific:

The universal answer is: no. Any changes in the human gene pool, only constitutes difference, not better or worse in my mind. Thomas Lynch reminds us in his work The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade of the most important statistic. 100% of us will die. I can't imagine a transgenic alteration that could change this fundamental flaw (if it even is a flaw). And if it were possible to circumnavigate death - this would only contribute to the growing problem of over population. Nope. Absolutely not. No.

The specific answer is: yes. Every day, there are real people in the world - just like you and me - who are suffering on a very personal level from horrific diseases and deformities. All the statistics in the world are of no comfort to the afflicted individual, and their loved ones, be they upper class American citizens receiving the best care that private insurance has to offer, or an impoverished individual in Africa with no health care or assistance. Crippling disease sucks, and if there is anything we can do to lessen the pain, avoid infection, and prolong life - then the more the better. And if you want to throw in a glow in the dark belly-button or a permanent fur coat - whatever turns your crank.

Shannon Bell - As long as the new human is conceptualized inside capitalist innovations paradigms the baggage of the old human will accompany and prevail, albeit perhaps in new forms.

Ionat Zurr & Oron Catts - This extremely anthropocentric question has no real relevance to life in general. In the grand scheme of life we are acting only as an accelerated random mutagenic agent. There is no doubt that we will see some interesting experimentation with transgenic humanity. This is the main area that we feel comfortable with the inequality in access to health care related services. We hope that this will be one of the very few instances in which the rich will act as guinea-pigs for the rest of us.

Sam Bower - While it's a fascinating field and worth exploring, I believe that unless we uncover some preexisting culturally transmittable enlightenment gene which would help catalyze a global effort to work together to solve the urgent problems we face as a species, Transgenic Humanity is unlikely to be more than a geological footnote. Genetic improvements are likely to be only a small part of the overall context of being human, blessed with unpredictable side-effects, limited in availability and more likely to be of limited utility (better digestion, resistance to anthrax, etc.) than a complete remodel. If somehow an improved Homo Sapiens 2.0 emerged from genetic tinkering would it find regular humans a threat? I think we have more urgent things to attend to than rearranging the deck chairs by the gene pool or adding Eugenic fears and chaos to the mix. I doubt we can stop people from tinkering out of ambition, curiosity or greed, though, while they have the chance. Perhaps when the oil runs out and plagues scour the Earth a few herds of super humans will find ways to prosper amid the recovering landscapes. At that point, more power to them, we had our chance.

Ellen K. Levy - Let me repeat Daniel Kevles's comment about eugenics that, "to design an angel it remained necessary to know the specifications of heaven." It still holds true.

Dmitry Bulatov - I don't understand at all why we, when talking about "improvement of (bio)instrumental characteristics, always bind them up with enhancement of human nature. At least there is a basis to talk about improvement of functional characteristics of "prosthesis", about perfection of technical aspects of mechanisms, after all about endowing these mechanisms with metabolic characteristics. But why and how can a new version of inner "bioprosthesis" lead to inner perfection of human being? It's evident that the rhetorical notions of adherents of techno-evolution are being substituted: making biological characteristics of Homo Sapiens body more flexible we improve his inner Nature in no way. Above all, now it's not about "improvement" of human nature but about resistance to his instincts of techno-biological self-destruction. Because the "artificial" is always dependent, and free will is impossible without inner perfection.

George Gessert - In my opinion, germ line manipulation to eradicate hereditary diseases such as diabetes is extremely desirable. Of course questions immediately arise. What about genes that can cause sickness, but sometimes have benefits, like the sickle cell gene? What about bipolar syndrome? Where to draw lines? But the key thing is that when significant physical suffering can be alleviated, we are on perilous ethical grounds to advocate withholding help.

Lee Silver may be right that medical interventions will open the doors for nonpathological interventions. When it comes to such things as height, weight, eye color, intelligence, and musical ability he recommends a laisser faire approach, which would mean that in the foreseeable future the rich and their offspring would disproportionately receive germline treatments for socially desirable attributes. But social success is not synonymous with biological success, so the longterm advantages of such things as genetically engineered slimness are much more uncertain than may appear on first glance.

I am grateful to those who have worked and are working from the inside of science and industry to develop reasonable regulations. Still, regulation in itself is only a holding action because whenever money is to be made foxes will try to take over the chicken coop. In the long term, diversity may be our best bet. The more competing biotechnological interests and goals the better off we are likely to be. We need biotechnology with built-in checks and balances, a social, political, and economic ecology extending far beyond the reach of industry and science into every corner of society and the world. In the meantime we need informed and sustained discussion. Discussion should reach out to everyone, because everyone is likely to be effected by biotechnology. Art can play a major role in this.

Adam Zaretsky - Is the WWW a more potent mutagenic force than GMOs? Do linguistic tropes and memic mimicry have more effect on future life (even inherited traits) than any 'tailored' applications of developmental manipulation? Let me slow down and lay this out. We are all speakers/writers and, in some way or another, biotechnological practitioners of live art. Though the commonalities might end there, I am asking for a comparison of these two processes, in terms of the evolutionary effect: Germline Engineering of Life Forms and Interpersonal Communication. I'm asking in an evolutionary sense and I am sincere in my own indecision on this point. It is rather important, as technology and verbiage both have their roles in a process that decides, sometimes rather abruptly: Which organisms live and which die? Who selects which mate for whom? Who decides not to or is not allowed to reproduce and why? Who is 'assisted' with a Mutagenic New Reproductive Technology and what are they to whom? What differences are considered of real worth and what is delegated as pestilence? Although I am quite dubious of the Homo Sapiens ability to fully grasp the river of life and direct it in any causal way, I really believe that both recombinant splicing of DNA and expressed ideation are processes that have a decisive effect on which of terra's organisms survive the future, what shape they may become (anatomically and as beings) and how stupid life on Earth may be if we play too hard. When it comes to life's futures, is the pen mightier than the insertational mutagenesis or vice versa and why?

Dmitry Bulatov - Your comparison of Germline Engineering and Interpersonal Communication is not accidental and not surprising, because both have language in their basis. Functioning and development of language refracted through our minds make our technology feasible. If technology and information [information: from Latin "creation"] make physical forcing more effective, it's first of all an evidence of repressive functions of language itself. Because language is a true fascist, for the essence of fascism is not in forbidding but in forcing one to say something. That is why the process of writing, technological development in general and insertational mutagenesis in particular are phenomena all of a kind generated by the prescribing, directive nature of language. Therefore non-freedom and compulsion always appear through them.

Jennifer Willet - BOTH.

Generally, I think that North American Society has been watching too much CSI. Somehow, based on this fictitious representation of forensics - amongst so many other gross media misrepresentations of both the biological and computational sciences - we have completely misconstrued the qualities and traits of both technologies, and the nature of the overlap and relationship between the two. Programming a website, and sprinkling dna over a petri dish are two completely different actions. Both have great significance in evolving outcomes on very different levels.

Are you asking me Huxley or Orwell? The answer is both.

Ionat Zurr & Oron Catts - As you mentioned and argued so eloquently they both work together…however you cannot resist putting things in a binary opposition again while attaching comparative value to them (why is it so popular in the US rhetoric lately?). What we see throughout human history is the gradual merging of both biological and cultural/technological evolutions. To use Dawkins term: memes and genes are coming together. Trying to determine which is more important is nonsensical. An obvious example: if a huge asteroid will hit earth in 120 years there is a good chance that we will be back to pure biological evolution. But if technology (developed through what can be referred to as a product of memetic evolution) will find a way to divert it - you could say that the pen mightier than the biological mutagenesis. So?

Sam Bower - We've tried cultural extinction before and it works pretty well. Australopithecines and their fuzzier ilk had their day and created genetic ideas for the rest of us to try out and refine over millions of years. Given what we now understand of sustainable cultures (our Pleistocene ancestors had it down) we are in a better position to apply some of their ideas more widely at a pace we can comprehend. The unprecedented availability of information, good ideas and global instant communication has the real potential to help today's humans survive the current lack of planning that threatens the globe. GMOs, much like the aforementioned European Starling, have the potential to spin out of control in wildly unpredictable ways. I think we're far likelier to be able to direct the spread of useful ideas throughout the world than we are unprecedented DNA combinations in the wild. Both can be devastating if applied unethically but we are simply more practiced at managing people and ideas than manipulating gene splices.

Kathy High - And what about including interspecies communication? I need to throw this into the mix as I also think it is crucial for this dialogue. Because we affect the mutation of other species more than just ours and have for generations through selective breeding, grafting and cross-pollination, so our ability to speak with these species is vital.

Your question is really asking if our words can effect change? Could we effect and intervene into the scientific process through our questions and inquiries? Can we engage in a way to shape the decision of where the tools of science might be applied next? I think this is why we are all engaged in the kind of art we are at present. For me, I want to work in a way to interject another view, a different perspective, and ask a question that maybe isn't asked. Much of scientific practices are all questionable procedures in some way? Who gets to ask the questions and who listens to them? Can artists and their works open up a more public dialogue about science? Can we encourage and build that??

Ellen K. Levy - Many scientists (certainly Gould and Dawkins are notable in this respect) have pointed out that culture is Lamarckian in its nature, and it is certainly much quicker than evolution.

I think it extremely interesting that the current research in 'directed mutagenesis' (an oxymoron?) in bacteria raises the possibility of a Lamarckian approach as opposed to a Darwinian approach to evolution. It would seem to fundamentally challenge standard evolutionary theory, which emphasizes natural selection and random variation and instead emphasize change (in bacteria) as due to environmental stimuli. My (only partial) understanding is that it involves reprogramming a DNA molecule that in turn directs the synthesis of a protein with an exchanged amino acid with the aim of creating enzymes with new specificities. It therefore would seem to offer a useful way to study gene expression and the relationships between structure and function of a protein. I gather that the hope is that some fundamental understanding of biology might be gained which could answer the question of whether there is any direction in evolution, even to a small degree.

George Gessert - In the grand scheme of things, who knows? But for me personally, the pen and paintbrush are essential tools of living and discovery. The political dimension of discovery in art, discovery of what is literally right before one's eyes, is that by defining experience for ourselves we come up against images and powers - not just biotechnological - that would define experience for us and direct our lives. Art may or may not significantly affect the world, but that's no different from most other human activities. I've tried horticulture, teaching, graphic arts, local politics, and forest management, and art is the best way available to me.

Adam Zaretsky - Can we talk a little bit about Mutaphobia? Mutation is a natural process. We are all mutants. We are all off the locus. Chromosomes shuffle, viruses insert, environments alter, transcripts dupe inaccurately, your parents choose each other for unverifiable reasons, so… what are we afraid of? We Humans are quite advanced at couching xenophobia, greed and class warfare in the rhetoric of benevolence. Can we consider the project of fast-forwarding difference amorally, if even for a moment? Is the Monster not our equal? By all means, lets critique the gene-centric ideologues of these ideological times. But, what if health, knowledge, competition, profit, creativity and even the carnivalesque were just excuses for applying engineering towards living, radical difference? Do we fear chance itself? Do we want to preserve an Ideal Nature so we can blame her later for any pathogenic extinction? Is fear of the mutant a fear of guilt? Shouldn't we feel guilty for Mutaphobia in the first place? Finally, after a sort of Kabalistic permutative exhaustion, do we fear the confrontation of all possibility? Is this a fear of Mortality? Banality? Complexity? Anarchy? Genomic Democracy? Or is there something else bothering us?

George Gessert - People with debilitating abnormalities are as human as everyone else and sometimes have uniquely valuable qualities of character due precisely to abnormality. But that said, the questions blur differences among mutation, gene recombination, and gene transfer and conflates all of these with environmentally created abnormalities.

The questions blur differences among mutation, gene recombination, and gene transfer.

We are right to fear biological mutation (deliberately induced or not) because something like 90% of mutations are lethal, 5% nonlethal but damaging, 4% neutral and 1% advantageous. The overwhelming majority of mutations are undesirable except from the perspectives of science fiction and the death wish. As for that tiny percentage of blessed mutants: when they're human, by definition they'll do just fine.

The realm in which we may not recognize the value of mutation is among nonhumans. How to recognize the virtues of a genuinely new plant or animal has always been a challenge to breeders. In general breeders seek small variations on what they already know. The question of what is "superior" arises only when consciousness is involved. This is why the history of plant and animal breeding is so important today: they demonstrate exactly what happens when consciousness gets involved. It's mostly a cautionary tale.

Gene recombination is quite different from mutation, and ordinarily does not produce serious problems. So we have little to fear from gene recombination, at least in our own species.

Gene transfer via biotechnology sometimes produces extremely dramatic changes such as blue roses and glowing tobacco plants. These kinds of changes have seized the public's imagination, and aroused many hopes and fears. A fair number of artists are interested in gene transfer. I certainly am, but I wouldn't do it to a human being. When we open this door, we open the door to human speciation.

Ionat Zurr & Oron Catts - Let us argue with the main premise of your question -we only fear some types of mutants and monsters while we celebrate other types. Human culture seems to admire extreme individuals; our culture celebrates sports people and models which are plain freaks. So what was the question?

Shannon Bell - Monsters are our equal. The socially created fine line between beauty and monstrosity is always shifting.

We fear and fetishize chance.
ImMortality and Banality couple.
What is bothering us is the play between chance and control.

Kathy High - The etymology of mutant and mutation: funny, how "mutation" simply implies change - unbiased and neutral. But "mutant" implies a further judgment of the object becoming strange and odd, with a leaning towards the negative. So where exactly does the change become viewed as strange?? The process is ok but the product is threatening?

My problem with encouraging mutation is the corporate dominance within science now. The fact that GMOs can illegally be found in China in different parts of Mexico where they were not grown is a kind of mutation that has been dominated by commerce in the name of science. So I don't trust who will mutate what and for what ends??

Sam Bower - From a spiritual perspective we may doubt the idea that we are immortal souls reincarnating into different shapes so we can help our spirits evolve into a deeper understanding of context. So, we fixate on the form and become attached to our current identities. What's bothering us is that it pains us to die and make a mess of things and our amnesia makes compassion difficult because the stakes seem so high.

Dmitry Bulatov - Mutaphobia is just one of the elements of the discussion extensively evolving in public consciousness. Now everyone is occupied with research of the Different (Alien, Mutant, etc). Unbridled speculations based on differences most brightly show themselves in the mass media and pop-culture, where the key problem is always what kind the Different is and where the Different is. All of a sudden it turns out that the whole mechanism of the liberal values of contemporary society was ideally tuned for liberation, understanding and recognition of differences. Relying on illusions of exchange and contact the society aims at destruction of the notion Different itself after overcoming estrangement of differences. However it doesn't make the situation any better, on the contrary, we've recently become witnesses of a series of catastrophes, the logical consequence of such a strategy. For me being brought up in the USSR totalitarian regime it's quite obvious that the root of the problems are not in the phenomenon of the Different, but in the reasons of appearance of The same. Instead of pet subjects of pop-art and pop-culture where the difference between man and machine, man and mutant is dominating, we must pay our attention to the tragedy of similarity, typicalness, and programmability. Contemporary bio- and gene engineering posits this very subject precisely. Impetuous development of reproductive technologies denotes abundance and overproduction of The same, unrestrained reproduction of typical and identical. One should beware not of distinctions of the Different (distinctions allow us defining ourselves as individuals) but of the dangerous proximity of one' own copies (where indistinguishability turns into reality).

Jennifer Willet - Let me tell you a little story. For years I worked part-time in a bridal shop selling consignment wedding dresses, cake toppers, and custom made wedding paraphernalia. It paid for school - and proved a very interesting interface with the outside world. On a particularly slow day I was visiting with the owner and her daughter, two practicing Christians. We were making fun of my toes. It was a hot day, and I wore sandals - witch I often do not - because I have the shortest wiggly little toes I've ever seen. (My Aunt used to say they looked like someone had cut them off with an axe.) To rebut their jokes - I said that I had read somewhere that in a biological sense it seems that we do not really need our toes anymore, and that scientists believe that we might be evolving towards a toeless foot for mankind. So, possibly, my little toes are indicative of my evolutionary station in life, as closer to the ideal then my colleagues. The room went quiet. My boss pursed her lips. She said, "We do not believe in evolution - we believe in Creation."

Adam Zaretsky - This last question pertains to Steve Kurtz's case. Various attacks have been leveled at Artworks that are imbedded in Biotechnical process. Some say that Biology as an Arts process is merely a promotional tool for Big Science. However naïve or megalomaniacal the artist, the net result of any Biological Artwork amounts to the callusing of the social to ease the future acceptance of any and all biotech innovative/invasive change. The other role branded onto artists exploring the technoculture of Biology is the foil. The FBI's implied subtext to Steve K.'s case is, "artists and other unprofessional, non-scientists shouldn't play with things they can't comprehend." This is damaging to the culture of the home hobbyist and tends to support the mystification of speculation as a process for the trained mind only. It also implies that the lifeworld would be under the thumb of command and control, "if it weren't for those meddling kids!" This is a preposterous intimation. Is your aura as an artist that of the botchy art jester who shows the public how Science is too complex for your average citizen or are you an opportunistic industrial public relations airtime jockey looking for a paycheck in your backdoor? Is there a social role for tech savvy Bioartists that isn't automatically either industry or incompetent? How do you navigate that precipice in your art process/practice?

Ionat Zurr & Oron Catts - We believe it is possible but tricky for a bioartist to maintain a satisfactory level of autonomy, while being aware of the risk in domesticating these technologies (or becoming reluctant or willing agents in the promotion and normalization of biotech). By constantly re-examining our own practice and strategies of dealing with issues of partial-life, our work through TC&A is trying to actively map this new terrain, in the hope of locating the traps which are inherently there. Autonomous art can only be, according to Kockelren, "that form of art which places a walkable platform above our constitutional lack of foundation. It can do so by testing the mediations we require for that. In that way, art is an accomplice to the diffusion of conventional form of disciplining, but at the same time it represents a critical potential to resist them".

Irony is yet another great tool which enables keeping the artist constantly re-negotiating their position without falling into self righteousness or complete cynicism.

Oron Catts - Through my work in SymbioticA I try to democratize the "secret" knowledge of life science to allow people to engage with the manipulation of living systems and form a phenomenological, visceral and informed position.

Kathy High - I have always liked tool builders and DIY (do-it-yourself). I am not an expert. But from an amateur's perspective I investigate, and ask questions. I want to encourage everyone who is not a scientist to do the same. I want more public bio-art works to elicit questions and debates and arguments. I know CAE and Steve Kurtz and others have been doing this for a long time - demystifying processes. I am just following suit. I work with animals. I want people to think about what it means to work with animals, not in a way to dismiss all science practices with animals, but to create a collaboration between experimenters and experiments. I want to give more autonomy to the subjects and to have them form the questions that need to be asked as well.

Ellen K. Levy - It strikes me that a number of people, Eugene Thacker among them, have clearly voiced some of the conflicts between medical health needs and biotechnology's market interests. Such conflicts have fueled certain kinds of artistic activism such as Steve's as well as political activism from others (e.g., Action Aid, Newman and Rifkin).

Remember that the Science Wars were about the resistance of some scientists to having the general public intrude on their territory. In this regard, during the Sokol hoax a deliberately falsified account of science was published in a well-regarded literary journal to embarrass the post-modern editors and readership. Some groups read a subtext into this hoax as the wish on the part of some scientists to cast doubt on the public's abilities to deal with science. Obviously the public is entitled to gain an understanding of the science of biotechnology as well as an understanding of its relationship to economics and other interests. Genetic 'home kits' like those of Natalie Jeremijenko effectively underscore those beliefs.

Please note that I agree with many others that we are not automatically entitled to release genetically altered organisms into the environment and do not see that as contradicting our rights to understanding techniques of biotechnology. I also think it fair game to consider who is most likely to make best use of limited resources for scientific research. I do wonder if/how artists can make significant contributions in the area for example of 'directed mutagenesis' since it presupposes rigorous scientific background, including establishing productive experimental conditions and then correctly interpreting the results. I think art is an adaptive process to rapid environmental changes and innovations (such as those brought about by biotechnology), but that does not mean that the answers for Bioartists are as polarized as you suggest (i.e., either industry or incompetence). Indeed, as you will agree, some of the artists are performing scientific critiques and exposing built-in assumptions.

It is always difficult to proceed when there are few relevant models for bioart. However there are some strong historical models of art and science exchanges that might be fruitful to consider. Think of the dynamic exchanges between Galileo and Cigoli or between Al Copley and Waddington. I also believe that people should address the other side of the coin (of bioart). While wet labs are now accessible to some creative artists, perhaps we should make studios accessible to scientists who wish to tap their own creative power in a different medium.

George Gessert - Politicians have always tried to use art and science to enhance their power, and always will. To the extent that genetic art gains public attention, we can expect our works to be used for ends that we oppose. It's one of the oldest stories in art, but we shouldn't let it stop us from doing our work. Part of my faith as an artist is that by mastering languages of art, and by saying what we have to say with everything that we can bring to bear, we can communicate in spite of those who try to use us for narrow ends. Now and in the future there will be individuals capable of looking closely and carefully at works or records of works, and benefit. But if there are not such individuals, then in the words of Melville, consider the magniminity of the sea which leaves no records. We operate in cultural contexts over which we have little or no control.

Art is a whirlpool persisting for thousands of years where aesthetics have always been more important than politics or science. Intermittently I have been politically active (and my immediate family is very active), but in my art I put primary emphasis on aesthetic considerations. Many kinds of corruption abide in aestheticism, but it can also be a realm of wonder, freedom, and connection with our human and nonhuman ancestors. It can provide a glimpse of wholeness. I try to remember the original reasons I was drawn to art as a child, and work from there.

Dmitry Bulatov - I noticed long ago that the system that fights against terrorism, in the course of time, becomes similar to the terrorist one. It happened to Russia and USA, Great Britain and Spain before them. After all terror is not only horror of violence, but also horror of intimidation. In the pre-revolutionary Russia, for example, the terrorist groups, which staged murderous assault of the tsar, incurred a more severe punishment than one that was proper for a real murderous assault. It allows one to draw the conclusion that a murderous assault on the principle of reality itself is a more serious offence than real aggression. This statement applies not only to Steve K., but in general to all artists who have doubts about the established order of reality.

Concerning the methods and strategies of bioartists. In my opinion, it's an inexcusable folly to consider art as a promotional tool for science, politics and any other field. Because such art is whatever (PR, science, politics) but not art. Art, like any self-evolving system, is always preoccupied only with conditions and possibilities of its existence. Art can only be existent by means of attempts to stage its own death. Not the death of the artist or the spectator, not of a human being at all, for man is not interesting for it and his life and death are also not interesting for art. Man is interesting for mass culture only. Art is interested just in its own death. Artwork is interesting as long as it stages this death again and ritually reproduces it. Artwork can do so by trying to realize this operation of contemplation again and again, by providing new and new impossibilities, new and new bans and prohibitions. Contemporary art is, as a matter of fact, the tabooing of practice of art itself. This tabooing is understood as one more type of real practice. Every following artwork prohibits something to us, something, what we haven't yet guessed about so that it can be prohibited. Most striking is that we always discover, when we see a new artwork, that something happened to be prohibited, but we all survived; we still can look at it. Somehow, there is nothing to see anymore; everything has already disappeared, broken down; nothing can be found anymore; there is only rubbish around, and, nevertheless, it happens that we still look and it happens that somethings can be prohibited; something impossible can still be done, and we all shall still look at it. Today, we have a very rare moment for art history, a chance to have another look, this time in the light of biotic and genetic technologies, at the total image of art, i.e. at his majestic corpse.

My own tactics in contemporary art are based on the documenting of these very prohibitions and impossibilities. Actually this work consists in revealing the prerequisites of appearance of a new environment, the creation of its ontology and the description of environmental ethics and aesthetics. In short, it's the designing of a new media phenomenon, i.e. it's presupposed that a new artistic reality emerges with its obverse of system benefit and reverse of system problems. Testing of these obverses and reverses in respect to the art system (neither human being nor society, but art system!), works on shifting stresses which is a strategic task of contemporary artist.

Sam Bower - I run an online museum ( and my own history as a collaborative and solo artist is less about the techno-fetishism of cutting-edge science and more about how my own abilities and aesthetics can be of use to the world in other ways. In terms of lasting impact, art which principally comments about issues ultimately relies on humans to apply what they learn and then change their behavior out in the world. It can yield great results on a vast scale if the ideas catch on but risks being subsumed into the larger discursive babble of humanity if it doesn't, leaving very little physical trace, besides a bit of landfill. An artwork designed principally for non-humans (art that controls erosion, creates habitat, etc.) can fail to work as a physical intervention or fail as a cultural meme and literally disappear into the landscape, living on as an isolated good deed like a tree in the forest where no one hears it grow. Unless it becomes part of the larger human story its message and larger impact as a beneficial idea which could be propagated remains mute or limited. The challenge of making art that makes a difference is perhaps about striking a balance between addressing the larger cultural needs of our society and the meta-human Gaian concerns of our planet. If we strive to address more than one audience with our work we might be better able to mitigate the dangers of being co-opted or misunderstood by any one group. I often ask myself what artworks the trees would like. The wider our aesthetic net is and the more it is in support of values we believe in, the more difficult it will be for any one group to control and the greater impact we are likely to have.

Shannon Bell - Artists, artwork, and artspace can function as sources and sites of knowledge and critique.

Interview by Adam Zaretsky


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