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Review

Glossary of Bio Art: Top 10 Commonly Used Terms

© Lauren Holden. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Info
DATE2020.07.24
TEXT KU Kuang-Yi, Paul GONG
Bio ArtscienceArt

#1 BioArt

BioArt is an art practice where living matter such as human cells, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), plant and animal tissues, and microbes are used as the medium to create art pieces. The processes of the practice often involve applications of biological knowledge and technology, including tissue culture, synthetic biology, genetic engineering, for instance. A broader definition of BioArt would also include works that discuss the ethical, social and environmental issues surrounding biological science researches, rather than being strictly limited to specific practices or artworks using real living beings.

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#2 Art & Science

By the juxtaposition of art and science – two subjects both covering a diverse range of branches and disciplines – a new field has emerged. Artists and scientists are encouraged to exchange knowledge and ideas in an equal and reciprocal relationship to co-create new projects or knowledge systems. These projects are expected to engage in dialogues in the field of art while they are also required to give feedback and reflection to the pursuit of scientific truths in the natural world. Blurring the boundaries between humanities and science, Art & Science has the excellent potential to explore brand new modes of knowledge production.

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#3 Wet Lab & Moist Media

In the field of science, a laboratory that focuses more on electronic instruments or computational mathematical analyses to simulate physical models of experimental materials is called a “Dry Lab”. In contrast, a “Wet Lab” is the type of laboratory for chemical and biological experiments, where chemical, liquid, or other biological substances are tested and analyzed using liquid solution or reagents. In the field of new media art, artworks or projects created with the technology used in wet labs (e.g. BioArt related projects) are hence referred to as “moist media”. The concept of moist media, defined by Roy Ascott, a British artist, teacher, theoretician, and pioneer of cybernetic and telematic art, has expanded the possibilities as well as the original definition of BioArt.

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#4 DIY Biology/DIWO Biology

Do-it-yourself biology (DIY biology) and do-it-with-other biology (DIWO biology) are a biotechnological social movement in which individuals, communities, and small organizations study biology and life science using the same methods as traditional research institutions. DIY and DIWO biology are mainly practiced with leaders who have received extensive research training from academia, institutes, or corporations with other biology enthusiasts as participants.

Though some of them received little to no formal training, by exploring the applications of biotechnology as well as practicing biological experiments outside the scope of academic and commercial institutions, DIT and DIWO enthusiasts have been making contributions towards democratizing and demystifying biotechnology through their non-profit endeavor for community learning and open-science.

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#5 Biohacking

“Biohackers” or “wetware hackers” break down biology based on their own lifestyle, interests, and health needs. Biohacking is closely related to the DIY Biology Movement and the Grinder Movement 1 , both of which follow the ethics of hacker culture—one expanding open-biotechnology and bio-experimentation, the other transforming or introducing biochemicals into its practitioners’ bodies to enhance or change their functionality.

Biohackers’ activities often raise concerns and discussions about ethical and safety issues. However, the public’s fear of potential risks may be addressed through further research and education, allowing more individuals to discover new possibilities for the artistry of biotechnology from within themselves.

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#6 BioDesign

Unlike the so-called “green design”, BioDesign is a growing design movement which transforms living organisms into indispensable design elements. Professionals from different fields such as scientists, artists and designers work together to develop products that sense and adapt to the environment with the ability to self-improve and self-repair. Industrial and mechanical systems are replaced with biological processes here. BioDesign goes beyond bionics and biomimetics, bridging biology and technology while dissolving the boundaries between organisms and objects.

BioDesign and BioArt often overlap, however, BioDesign usually implies more practical and functional purposes.

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#7 Speculative Design

Speculative design is a design method that enables us to move away from real-world constraints through speculative and fictional scenarios. Through hypothetical extrapolations and speculative scenarios, speculative designers often explore the possibilities for newly emerged research fields such as biotechnology and artificial intelligence to produce social, cultural and ethical meanings that could be understood by everyone, including experts and the public. In addition, speculative design works dealing with biology-related themes are often categorized as a type of BioArt work regarding the future.

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#8 Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology, also known as SynBio, is an interdisciplinary research field aiming to purposefully create new biological parts, devices, and systems, or to redesign systems already found in nature through artificial or natural materials. Driven by the decrease in cost and the improvement in accuracy and reaction rates, synthetic biology has developed considerably. In the near future, building a genome from scratch will be much quicker and easier.

Due to its growing potential as well as the moral and ethical concerns about artificial life, synthetic biology is often set as the starting point to envision future possibilities and the ethics regarding future biological and social development for BioArt practitioners.

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#9 CRISPR/Cas Gene Editing

CRISPR/Cas gene editing is an emerging genetic engineering technique based on the bacterial CRISPR-Cas antiviral defense system that makes it easier and faster than ever to cut and modify DNA.

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a family of repetitive DNA sequences found in bacterial genomes. Each time when infected by a virus, the bacteria capture snippets of DNA fragments from invading bacteriophages to create clustered DNA repeats exactly matching the viral sequences. The bacteria then use the system as a “mugshot” collection, a database to “remember” viruses that had previously infected them.

If the virus attacks again, the bacteria would produce RNA segments based on the CRISPR array and use an enzyme called Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) to detect and target the virus’ DNA. Cas9 uses CRISPR sequences as a guide to recognize the virus’ DNA and then cuts it, disabling the virus.

Scientists have applied the CRISPR-Cas9 system to genetic modification or genetic engineering, using CRISPR/Cas9 to separate a desired location from within genomes and then remove existing or add new genes. This technology is also applied in various medical researches.

With the rapid pace of scientific development, gene editing has also highly interested artists in its ethical concerns and its implications for the future. More and more BioArt works have begun to involve the technique or discuss related issues.

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#10 Tissue Culture

Tissue culture is a type of biotechnology, separating biological tissues or cells from the parent organism and further cultivating them in liquid, semi-solid, or solid growth medium containing essential nutrients for living organisms. Its technological applications include cultured meat produced by animal cell cultures and the commercial production of plants via the use of plant tissue cultures.

Tissue culture is often practiced in BioArt. Using cells and tissues as materials to create works, artists again strike up discussions about the ethical and social issues derived from the use of living organisms.

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Info
DATE2020.07.24
TEXT KU Kuang-Yi, Paul GONG
Bio ArtscienceArt
Footnote
01
The Grinder Movement advocates body modification or enhancement, encouraging the actual implantation of DIY cybernetic devices inside organic bodies. This is considered a method working towards transhumanism and techno-progressivism. Individuals who engage in the movement are called Grinders.
Author
KU Kang-YiCurrently living in the Netherlands and Taiwan, he is a dentist, biological artist and speculative designer. His works focus on expanding the possibilities of combining art, design and science.
Paul GONGBorn in the United States, he is a speculative designer, artist, and curator. He is currently a full-time assistant professor-level professional and technical staff in the Department of Industrial Product Design of the University of Practice. He believes that design is a research method and thinking tool, exploring various possibilities, criticizing the past and the present, and inferring the future.
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