[-empyre-] welcome

Antoinette LaFarge alafarge at uci.edu
Wed Mar 1 13:36:58 AEDT 2017

Thanks for including me in this online symposium. It appears I am here as one of the outliers, as someone just beginning to lap over into bioart and thinking about both the unfamiliarities and the attractions of this terrain. I have a few sci-art projects that are slowly fermenting, one involving an artificial biome, one involving dirt, and one involving lost innovations by 19th century women scientists, as well as one related to botanical art. (None of them at a stage where it's worth going into them in any more detail here.) It's been exciting to read about everyone's work this week, and especially to hear that Paul's Coalesce lab finally opened & is being well received. 

I find my own thinking constantly circling around the point Paul raises about the relationship between ethics and aesthetics in boiart. As Erin observed, the new materialism in which bioart participates, "invites us to revisit aesthetic orientations that look beyond the material." (Preferably without taking refuge in transcendentalisms.) Despite a history tracing back to Plato that stamps aesthetics as a child of ethics, today ethics and aesthetics are often posited as enemies -- it is implicit, for example, in refusals to 'read' a work aesthetically through the moral failures evident in an artist's biography. For me, one of the really interesting elements in bioart is the one-sidedness of the ethical dimension. We are used to arguing our ethics out among ourselves in all kinds of ways, but ultimately there are always people on all sides of a discussion. But in extending the ethical discussion beyond human beings, we must argue for, on behalf of, beings we hardly understand at all, whether mammals or our own bacterial biomes. We are stuck with an Other that no amount of argument on nonhumanist grounds seems able to fully deconstruct. So bio-ethics, if it is not utterly reductive, must of necessity be even more speculative than ordinary ethics. Meanwhile, living organisms of all kinds are constantly opting out of our plans and views, taking account of us in ways we don't expect, escaping us, causing our best research to fail and our niftiest ideas to run haywire. There is no other area of art practice where the matter with which one works is so constantly in a state of active noncooperation, so recalcitrant, so unstable. I have a good amount of experience working with people in performance projects, and in working with rough matter in traditional art making-- and so it is that I now find myself thinking that I have something important to learn from the elusive and often nonobvious resistance offered at all times by other living organisms. 

Antoinette LaFarge
Professor of Art
Claire Trevor School of the Arts
UC Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697


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