One of the characteristics of the postmodern era of the 21st century is that the boundaries between fields have disappeared, with interdisciplinary methodologies or super-genre fields emerging. Science and art have already begun to cross each other's boundaries. The word "Technology" which means scientific technique in English, stemmed from the Greek word “techne”, meaning art. From this, it can be deduced that science and art have the same root. The intersection of the two fields shows that there was an intention to interpret the world in a creative and new way.
Daejeon Biennale is an art project integrating technology, nature, and humanity. The Daejeon Museum of Art has been continuously implementing the convergence of science and art and has been hosting biennials on an international scale since 2012, utilizing the technological and cultural arts infrastructure.
The main theme of the 2018 Daejeon Biennale, which focuses on the scientific and artistic identity of Daejeon, which has been designated as a 4th Industrial Revolutionary City, is “bio”. Biology and art, which deal with life instead of artificial materials, have cooperated to create a new genre called “Bio Art”. This means that the material of bio art is composed mainly of living organisms, or works that are made in a way similar to methods used in biological laboratories. The Daejeon Museum of Art will consist of four exhibition halls under the slogan of <Bio Media>, <Digital Biology>, <Dreams of Eternal Youth> and <Men of Anthropocene>.
The Brazilian artist, Eduardo Kac, coined the term “bio art”. He created a fluorescent rabbit that emits green fluorescence when it receives ultraviolet light in the dark. This rabbit, called 'Alba', is an albino rabbit that lacks pigment in its body because of genetic mutation. The study, co-authored with the National Institute of Crop Research in France, injected the fluorescent genes of a light jellyfish into some rabbits. This was not for research purposes but for aesthetic purposes. It was also the first artwork created by genetic engineering in a laboratory.
Based on bioengineering technology, bio art, which utilizes artistic imagination, showcases experimental works centered on objects in the scientific field that are not usually covered by existing art. It is also a form of art that has been transformed during the long history of artistic reproduction to the position of creators dealing with life itself. However, bio art does not just showcase biotechnology, but also raises various questions from an aesthetic and social perspective. At the same time, as the dream of prolonging life due to the advancement of biotechnology is realized, there is now an ideological dilemma concerning bioethics as well as a discussion about human identity. The purpose of this exhibition is to share the sense of responsibility that is infinitely extended to all living things through an expanded perspective on life.
Hall 1 – Bio Media
The bio art which this exhibition aims to showcase is an art form in which artistic imagination is combined with scientific methodology. Works that adopt bio media as a subject are not just limited to life-related topics. Such works tend to strengthen artistic imagination. Biotechnology, such as genetic engineering, is a means of aesthetic expression, and there are works on microbes, bacteria, cells, and DNA.
Hall 2 – Digital Biology
The term ‘Digital Biology’ refers to a digital ecosystem that is similar to real nature but has been created through a combination of biology research results and computers. Digital biology works in which organisms and technology are fused share a connection—standing on the foundation of artistic imagination. At its core, evolving artificial life plays an essential role. This extends the scope of life to machines and artificial intelligence, not just living organisms.
Hall 3 – The Dream of Eternal Youth
In the past, immortality was a distant dream, but now it is closer to reality due to the development of biotechnology and advances in medical technology. Athanasia is part of the centuries-old challenge towards the realm of God to fight for death, and artificial organs are introduced as a means to extend life. This newly designed body will influence the way we value our bodies and lives, and the identity of human beings will also be redefined.
Hall 4 / Hall 5 – Men of Anthropocene
Anthropocene refers to a new geologic age dawning after the end of the current alluvial epoch, as claimed by Paul Crutzen, a Dutch chemist who won the 1995 Nobel Prize. Bio art is a result of the present age, and macroeconomic problems are a vital issue; hence it deals with the ideological dilemma of bioethics, such as genetic recombination, animal experimentation, and life power that the present age is facing.
Art is a field in which it is difficult to judge between right and wrong. However, I think there is a moral line in the expression of art. To be honest, I did not fully understand the Daejeon Biennale 2018 exhibition; however, there were two memorable works in the exhibition: bio-art using DNA, and the art in which the bodies of newborn babies were transformed.
The first is DNA bio art in Hall 1 <Bio Media>. Biotechnology utilizing DNA has been used to reproduce the faces of complete strangers based on DNA information extracted from cigarette butts picked up off the streets and hair collected in restrooms and parks. Using the materials collected, the DNA was analyzed and combined with predictive images of skin color, eye color, sex, etc., and a 3D printer was then used to create the works. Considering that the DNA of unknown people who haven't given consent and don't know about the project was analyzed, I was deep in thought about the risk of privacy invasion. If the owner of the DNA knows nothing about how his or her DNA information is being used, and his or her DNA is exhibited as work of art, concern is the first thing that comes to mind rather than the awe of art.
The second was a human experiment in Hall 3 <The Dream of Eternal Youth>. This is a work in which the bodies of newborn babies have been transformed at the will of the artist. On one baby, the middle toe has been removed to prevent allergies and asthma, and on others, surgery has been performed on the forehead and nose to lessen the resistance to air so that the babies can run faster. There are also legal rights regarding the infant babies that need considering. I think that ignoring the rights of the babies and disfiguring babies' bodies according to the perspectives of "so-called bio-artists" is not just a matter of artistic play. If these are artistic thoughts, the human experiments conducted by the Nazi Party and Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army could also be considered brilliant works of bio art.
Who gives humans the right to spoil the essence of another object and to create something else? Who can claim that it is a work of art? Doesn't humans’ selfish desire for self-satisfaction trample the existence of another life? Life has its own meaning, and beauty of life can’t be compared with anything else. Life is not something that can be handled carelessly in the name of bio art. Bio art, which extends from human life, animals, and plants to genes, viruses, and cells, shows the concepts of life and the extension of the art genre by showing the unethical act of dealing with life as a platform for 'art.' However, the more technology develops, the more carefully we should deal with the dignity and value of life.
Dong-hee Kim, CP Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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