[-empyre-] to Paul and to Soyo and Yiyn

Soyo Lee soyo at vegetablelamb.org
Wed Mar 1 13:25:52 AEDT 2017

Hello Everyone,

I am posting to the list for the first time, and would like to thank Tarsh and Renate for pointing me to the discussion.

I will briefly introduce myself, while following up on Renate's question,

>> Soyo and Yiyyun do you have public labs that you create work in and conduct research or do you have personal lab/studio spaces? 

I studied with our last week’s artist Kathy High at Rensselaer for a valuable 8 years before moving back to my hometown Seoul in 2013. My first encounter to ‘biological’ art was through a university research initiative(The BioArt Initiative) while working on an academic degree - so I had opportunities to access actual biological research processes within scientific contexts and laboratory procedures. As a student, I was also influenced by works of many artists working in academia, including Paul Vanouse, who were actively challenging institutional boundaries, scientific objectivity and capitalism.

I eventually ended up studying natural history specimens of human anatomy at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, discovering their historical and cultural peculiarities (completely different from European models or contemporary clinical/scientific models), while performing conservation work at the museum's Collections Management department - which was another type of institutional bio lab.

Since returning to Seoul, I am no longer affiliated to an academic or research institution. I now work at my tiny home kitchen. To keep my cats away from the work, I installed a glass door so the cats can still talk to me while I do something. I mostly use scavenged household instruments, and the most expensive equipment I have is a $400 kimchee fridge to store biological tissues and reagents. I collaborate with other makers and independent researchers from all fields of art-science-technology rather than just ‘bio’ people, because our number is so small and we need solidarity. At the start of this year, I started an independent press + artist-run-space called Lifeforms in Culture to publish and exhibit artist research projects. The type of techniques I can perform in this setting is rather low tech and primitive at the moment, but I also feel the information and resources I can access and share as a regular citizen is expanding as I work.

Before adjusting to working independently, I went through a few different short changes. When I first came back to Seoul, no one had ever heard of ‘bioart’(as an umbrella term of course). I had no commissioned work for two years and the best job I could find was to teach college classes about Nam June Paik and video art. Then I was invited to present at an academic conference organised by Swiss artists in 2015, which dramatically changed the way the local art administrators saw my work. I was suddenly contacted by the national art museum and various governmental departments, who provided funds to exhibit or curate art-biology shows and events. I eventually came to realise they were not interested in my work or any ethical/technical issues surrounding the manipulation and display of living being. Rather, my American PhD degree in ‘bioart’ research was good presentation for the new government plant for “Fourth Industrial Revolution” http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/business/2016/12/15/0504000000AEN20161215009800320.html <http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/business/2016/12/15/0504000000AEN20161215009800320.html>. I must skip the details and jump to the conclusion - I now understand Korea’s (and probably not just Korea’s) topdown-DIY-artistic-convergence oxymoron kills the independent art scene rather than nurturing it. It is divorced from the artists’ concerns, and has no connection to life and ethics of the public.

Many artists and researchers in Korea share this realisation from first-hand experience working with government funding. Fortunately, I see the independent art-science community continuing to grow as a result. We are seeing more citizen-run maker labs and open labs each year, and institutional scientists or professional engineers are sharing protocols and materials through online and offline platfoms. Just last month, young bio-medicine students and researchers in Seoul held a meeting called the “Mad Scientist Festival”. It was a self-organized Pecha Kucha night in which anyone interested in the biological sciences do a 2-minute presentation about their work. The event brought together about 150 participants talking about their research as well as various issues they encounter within academia. I hope this ‘movement’ will continue to expand upon an independent spirit, but funding is always the biggest issue as a lot of our work rely on government grants.

More Soon,

> On Feb 28, 2017, at 7:49 AM, Vanouse, Paul <vanouse at buffalo.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi all, this first reply is to Renate and my next post to Erin,
> You asked specifically whether:
>> From your point of view there needs to be more stringent ethical parameters or ethical tools and I think you mean logistic standards for all researchers (not just solely artists, researchers within the artistic/biological disciplines, and students within these realms) that will have direct effects on humanity, culture and society. 
> I didn’t mean more stringent standards or rules per se.  I’m thinking about a much deeper, multi-disciplinary theorization and implementation that for instance we might mean by post-human ethics, or a non-human inclusive ethics, or an ethics that considers systems, scales and intensities … an anthropocene ethics.  I’m being deliberately grandiose here because I’m suggesting an artistic/humanistic endeavour on par with that of a scientific project like the human genome and micro biome projects. Some of these socio-ethical tools have already been written or performed into existence, like by Dominguez or DaCosta, or Zaretsky or Zylinska for that matter…, but I’m hoping that we can further and better implement and absorb.
> On a related issue, I’ve had terrific response to the Coalesce center from the UB community.  One biology professor and former chair told me that he’d seen alot of research initiatives in his time but “this time the university finally got it right!”  But I’m still also running into the misconception that some have that bioart is just about crossing existing ethical boundaries, whereas I want to be clear that bioat has primarily questioned and highlighted existing boundary crossings, often of massive scale, that are too often obfuscated. We tend to be those that make visible.  
> However, again, I don’t find that traditional ethics are fully capable of addressing contemporary issues and thus this toolkit needs updating...
>> On Feb 25, 2017, at 1:15 PM, Renate Terese Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Dear Paul, Kathy, and all, 
>> We are incredibly happy to welcome both Soyo and Yiyun who I have never met. Of course Paul lives only about three hours from Ithaca so we see him often.  In fact both Tim Murray and I attended the opening of Coalesce the new Biology Lab and Art Studio that opened a couple of semesters ago.  Thanks Paul for giving us an insight into Coalesce and I have some specific questions for you below about ethics.   But at this point I was curious__Soyo and Yiyyun do you have public labs that you create work in and conduct research or do you have personal lab/studio spaces?  Cornell is situated in the middle of a huge university that is highly funded in the sciences.  Last year I proposed that my students and I  do some research with ecology and evolutionary biology hoping to collaborate with one the world renowned scientists who found the eggs of micro-organisms that were thousands of years old layered beneath layers of rock at the bottom of Cayuga Lake. He and his lab nurtured them to hatch.  Needless to say the project that I proposed never got funded by the university. The thing that I noticed about Coalesce was that this lab/art studio inventively appropriatee and reused older vintage lab equipment that was still usable within a space that was between the art studio and the science lab.  There is a brilliant deja vous feeling or Sci Fi feeling to the environment.  It is a sacred space or one that can allow for a creative and scientific mix of potential. 
>> Paul I know that this issue of ethics also came up in our panel at CAA New Media Caucus and I wanted to push you on it at least from my limited understanding of the issues.  From your point of view there needs to be more stringent ethical parameters or ethical tools and I think you mean logistic standards for all researchers (not just solely artists, researchers within the artistic/biological disciplines, and students within these realms) that will have direct effects on humanity, culture and society.  Artists have used a variety of  theoretical and critical tools to deconstruct these issues and I think we talked about irony, humor and laughter being perhaps within those categories. Going beyond that though  I am thinking of some of the work by Ricardo Domingues (The Trans-Border Immigrant Tool that conceptually allowed immigrants between Mexico and the US a way to “look for safety and water” and enjoy poetry.  I am also thinking about Beatriz’ last work “Dying for the Other.”)  Both of these projects dealt conceptually and logistically with life and death.  I think what you might be proposing is the possibility of artists affecting  national and international criteria and standards for the development of ethical tools relating to life’s matter:  bacteria, cells, DNA, etc?
>> My apology for the simplicity of my questions and I am hoping that they are clear.  It’s a fascinating proposition the potential for artistic intervention to affect real life policy. The blend between the real and the simulated/fake, amateur questions.  
>> Thinking out loud this Saturday Morning and saying hello to Soyo and Yiyn who are probably out on Saturday night. 
>> Best to all of you.  Renate
>> ___________________________________
>> From Paul
>> <snip>
>> So, I suppose this would be a good place to mention/discuss my main recent project this year, the Coalesce Center for Biological Art.  The Center was initiated as a component of the Community of Excellence in Genome, Environment and Microbiome at the University at Buffalo. Our mandate is to help address the grand challenge to our social and ethical tools by recent advances in the biotechnology; complementing UB’s expertise in the life sciences by addressing questions and issues vital to public understanding and participation, but beyond the analytical constraints of most disciplines.
>> Coalesce has been in the works for a few years, but this is the first year fully operational in all aspects.  We now teach interdisciplinary courses and workshops with biological media, offer graduate assistantships and undergraduate internships, support faculty research, and offer visiting artist residencies.  This year’s residents were selected after a call for proposals in the summer 2016, and have been the center’s guiding spark: Nicole Clouston (CA), Heather Dewey-Hagborg (US), Kathy High (US), Timo Menke (Se), Zbigniew Oksiuta (US), Byron Rich and Mary Tsang (US), and Lucie Strecker and Klaus Spiess (At).  
>> After working in with biomedia for the last twenty years, the Coalesce center and our residents have forced me to think in greater breadth about many issues our field interrogates.  Needless to say, I wouldn’t have attempted such an enterprise if not for the residency I completed at Symbiotica, with Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, 2005 in Perth, as well as at Biofilia, 2014 in Helsinki.  The questions that now sit upon my desk, staring back at me, are particularly these “ethical tools”, which I mention in our mission statement.  I’ve always considered theoretical frameworks to be “critical tools” and find updating our ethical tools crucial at this stage.  It would seem that many of the funds and incentives for the development of ethical tools have been diminished and compromised since the beginning of the Human Genome Project in the 1980s with its 15% funds devoted to Ethical, Legal, Social Implications (ELSI) program.  Indeed, many of the seeming bedrocks of ethics and precaution have been eroded, like those of the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA in 1975.  For instance, the recent proclamations from the National Academy entrepreneurs that the highly accurate Crisper protocol means that we can now reconsider the ban on human germ-line modification?!  As if the ban were simply because of technical problems!
>> So, can bio-art be an even more explicit participant in ELSI debates in the coming years.  How do we presently conceive of the relationship between ethics and aesthetics?  
>> <snip
>> Renate Ferro
>> Visiting Associate Professor
>> Director of Undergraduate Studies
>> Department of Art
>> Tjaden Hall 306
>> rferro at cornell.edu
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