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BioArt is an art practice where artists work with biology, live tissues, bacteria, living organisms, and life processes. Using scientific processes and practices such as biology and life science practices, microscopy, and biotechnology (including technologies such as genetic engineering, tissue culture, and cloning) the artworks are produced in laboratories, galleries, or artists' studios. The scope of BioArt is a range considered by some artists to be strictly limited to "living forms", while other artists include art that uses the imagery of contemporary medicine and biological research, or require that it address a controversy or blind spot posed by the very character of the life sciences.[1]

Bioart originated at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century. Although BioArtists work with living matter, there is some debate as to the stages at which matter can be considered to be alive or living. Creating living beings and practicing in the life sciences brings about ethical, social, and aesthetic inquiry. [2] With his essay “Biotechnology and Art” from 1981, Peter Weibel introduced the term Bioart, and defined an art movement that uses biological systems as a means of artistic expression. [3]

The creation of living beings and the study of the biological sciences bring with them ethical, social and aesthetic questions. Within Bio Art there is a debate about whether any form of artistic engagement with the biosciences and their social consequences (e.g. in the form of images from medicine) should be viewed as part of the art movement, or whether only such works of art, that were created in the laboratory are classified as organic art.[4][5]


BioArt is often intended to highlight themes and beauty in biological subjects, address or question philosophical notions or trends in science, and can at times be shocking or humorous. One survey of the field, Isotope: A Journal of Literary Science and Nature Writing, puts it this way: "BioArt is often ludicrous. It can be lumpy, gross, unsanitary, sometimes invisible, and tricky to keep still on the auction block. But at the same time, it does something very traditional that art is supposed to do: draw attention to the beautiful and grotesque details of nature that we might otherwise never see."[6] While raising questions about the role of science in society, "most of these works tend toward social reflection, conveying political and societal criticism through the combination of artistic and scientific processes."[7] Works of bioart are most oftenly seen as a contribution to the social, political and economic questions that arise from scientific research, however at times contribute and make advancements in research.[8]

Artists in laboratories[edit]

While most people who practice BioArt are categorized as artists in this new media, they can also be seen as scientists. In Bio Art, artists often work with scientists, and in some cases they are scientists themselves. While some artists have prior scientific training, others must be trained to perform the procedures or work in tandem with scientists who can perform the tasks that are required.[9]

Historical BioArt[edit]

In previous centuries artists dealt more critically with the images from the life sciences and understand them not only as a mere illustration of biological findings, but as a process linked to the time and the respective style vocabulary. Leonardo Da Vinci born 1452, renowned for masterpieces like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, was deeply invested in the intersection of science and art. To produce accurate and realistic art, he conducted firsthand, extensive studies of anatomy by dissecting around 30 human cadavers, sometimes dissecting multiple bodies in a single day. [10][11] His pursuit of knowledge across the sciences, including detailed studies of plants, optics, and light, was driven by Da Vinci's goal to enhance his artistic representations.[10][11] Leonardo da Vinci's deep exploration of human anatomy and movement anticipated modern robotics, as he connected anatomy to engineering and designed automata that mimicked human motion.[12][13]

Ernst Haeckel was a German biologist, zoologist, and artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who used art to illustrate his scientific findings before macrophotography and photographic microscopy. He meticulously recorded the hidden intricacies of natural forms through his vibrant and stylized drawings. His celebrated publication "Kunstformen Der Natur" (Artforms in Nature) from 1904 is regarded as a "visual encyclopedia" of living organisms even to this day. His work fusing biology and art, not only promoted Darwinism in Germany but also deeply influenced art, design, and architecture of the early 20th century.[14][15]

Contemporary BioArt[edit]

The concept of transgenic art (transgenic art) was coined in 1998 by Eduardo Kac [16] and refers to an art form “which works with genetic methods to transplant synthetic genes into one organism or natural genetic material from one species into another and thus to create unique living beings.”[17] Already before this definition, Reiner Maria Matysik presented an art project in 1986 named Rekombination[4] The goal of transgenic art is to create organisms that carry foreign DNA within them. In Kac's vision, art can continue evolution and make an actual creation of new living beings. Eduardo Kac's best-known works include Genesis (1998/99), The Eight Day (2000/2001) and GFP Bunny (2000) which he commissioned in 2000 as the creation of a transgenic GFP rabbit. "The PR campaign included a picture of Kac holding a white rabbit and another rabbit photographically enhanced to appear green."[18]

Symbiotica developed one of the earlier art/science laboratories for artists interested in working with BioArt methods and technologies.[2] Some of the founders of SymbioticA,Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr also founded The Tissue Culture & Art Project.[19][20] Since the early 1990s, The Tissue Culture & Art Project has been working with the artificial production of biological tissue whereas the cell culture serves as an artistic medium. The works of TC&A deal, among other things, with foods bred foods, tissue-growing clothing, sculptural forms from fabric culture and the changing relationship between the living and non-living company, among other things. Within the framework of their artistic research, the artists have developed the term “Semi-Living” to describe a new category of life that was created in the laboratory.[21][22]

In 2003, The Tissue Culture & Art Project in collaboration with Stelarc grew a 1/4 scale replica of an ear using human cells to create the Extra Ear project. The project was carried out at Symbiotica: the Art & Science Collaborative Research Laboratory, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia. [23] In 2006, Marc Stelarc had the first of two experimental surgeries to have his “Ear On Arm” implanted. The second surgery was to implant a microphone in the implanted ear so it could hear. The implanted ear then projects the sound to other parts of the world, so people could listen into what the ear on arm was hearing. He has connected it to the internet, which further connects his bio to technology but also opens the possibility of being hacked. The project took over 12 years.[24] [25] [26]

In 2004, Suzanne Anker and Dorothy Nelkin's The Molecular Gaze also helped establish the integration of molecular biology with artistic practice.[27]

In 2015-2016 Amy Karle created Regenerative Reliquary, a sculpture of bio-printed scaffolds for human MSC stem cell culture into bone, in the shape of a human hand form installed in a vessel.[28][29][30][31]

Bioart continues to evolve into the 2020s to address issues of environmental sustainability and social justice.

Art addressing topics in biology and society[edit]

The scope of the term BioArt is a subject of ongoing debate. The primary point of debate centers around whether BioArt must necessarily involve manipulation of biological material, as is the case in microbial art which by definition is made of microbes. A broader definition of the term would include work that addresses the social and ethical considerations of the biological sciences.[32] Under these terms BioArt as a genre has many crossovers with fields such as critical or speculative design.[33] This type of work often reaches a much broader general audience, and is focused on starting discussions in this space, rather than pioneering or even using specific biological practices. Examples in this space include Ray Fish shoes, which advertised shoes made and patterned with genetically engineered stingray skin,[34] BiteLabs, a biotech startup that attempted to make salami out of meat cultured from celebrity tissue samples,[35] and Ken Rinaldo's Augmented Fish Reality, an installation of five rolling robotic fish-bowl sculptures controlled by Siamese Fighting Fish.[36]


Artworks that use living materials created with scientific processes and biotechnology in itself brings up many ethical questions and concerns.[37] [38] Wired magazine has reported that the "emerging field of "bioart" can be extremely provocative, and brings with it a range of technical, logistical and ethical issues."[2] Bioart practitioners can and have at times aided the advancement of scientific research and researchers in the process of creating their work; however, bioart and bioartists can also cross into controversy by challenging scientific thinking, by working with controversial human or animal material, or by releasing invasive species, as they are not regulated to adhere to standards, including biosafety or biosecurity. [39] [40] [41]

Another big issue are the dangers that come from errors and fringe activities that could occur through creating in non-regulated or not completely safe lab spaces, DIYbio, biohacking, and bioterrorism. One of the most publicized instances of a non-scientist being arrested for suspected “bioterrorism” was the case of artist Steve Kurtz, a founding member of Critical Art Ensemble (arrest in 2004, bioterrorism charges never brought). [42] He was investigated by the FBI for four years and culminated with him being indicated for mail and wire fraud for obtaining a strain of bacteria commonly used in school lab experiments. He was planning on using that bacteria in a project critiquing the United States. His bioart work was considered pioneering in politically engaged art, biotechnology and ecological struggle. [43] [44] [45] The ordeal became the subject of a book and a film. [46] [47]

BioArt has been scrutinized and criticized as it may lack ethical oversight. USA Today reported that animal rights groups accused Kac and others of using animals unfairly for their own personal gain, and conservative groups question the use of transgenic technologies and tissue-culturing from a moral standpoint.[7]

Alka Chandna, a senior researcher with PETA in Norfolk, Virginia, has stated that using animals for the sake of art is no different from using animal fur for clothing material. "Transgenic manipulation of animals is just a continuum of using animals for human end, regardless of whether it is done to make some sort of sociopolitical critique. The suffering and exacerbation of stress on the animals is very problematic."[7]

Many BioArt projects deal with the manipulation of cells and not whole organisms, such as Victimless Leather by the Tissue Culture & Art Project.[48] "An actualized possibility of wearing 'leather' without killing an animal is offered as a starting point for cultural discussion. Our intention is not to provide yet another consumer product, but rather to raise questions about our exploitation of other living beings."[49]However, due to rapid cell growth, the exhibit was eventually "killed" by cutting off its nutrients, aligning with the creators' intent to remind viewers of the responsibility towards manipulated life.[50]

Notable exhibitions of bioart[edit]

Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria and the Ars Electronica Festival was an early adaptor of exhibiting and promoting bioart, and continues to be a pioneer of sharing and promoting bioart, life projects, and bioartists.[51] Their long-standing Prix Ars Electronica award which exhibits and honors artists in various media categories [52] includes categories of hybrid arts and life art encompassing bioart.

In 2016, The Beijing Media Art Biennale's Theme was "Ethics of Technology"[53] and in 2018 it was "<Post-Life>". The Biennale is held at the CAFA Museum in Beijing, China and includes major works in biological arts, with thematic exhibitions. The 2018 Bienalle included international artworks relevant to the thematic topics of “Data Life”, “Mechanical Life” and “Synthesized Life” and a Lab Space exhibition area that focused on showcasing international laboratory practice in art and technology. [54] [55] [56]

The Centre Pompidou in Paris, France presented La Fabrique Du Vivant, "The Fabric of the Living" in 2019, a group exhibition of living and artificial life with recent work of artists, designers, and research from scientific laboratories. The artworks question the links between the living and the artificial, as well as the processes of artificial recreation of life; the manipulation of chemical procedures on living matter; self-generating works with ever-changing forms; hybrid works of organic matter and industrial material, or the hybridization of human and plant cells. In this era of digital technologies, artists draw on the world of biology, developing new social and political environments based on issues of those living in this era. [57]

The Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Japan Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow in 2019-2020 [58] This was a group exhibition that included a "bio atelier" with bioartworks from prominent bioartists across the world. One of the curatorial goals was to evoke the contemplation – through the latest scientific and technological developments in fields such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, robotics and augmented reality used in art, design, and architecture – of how human beings, their lives, and the environmental issues may look in the imminent future because of these developments. [59] [60]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pentecost, Claire (2008). "Outfitting the Laboratory of the Symbolic: Toward a Critical Inventory of Bioart". In Beatrice, da Costa (ed.). Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism and Technoscience. The MIT Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-262-04249-9.
  2. ^ a b c Solon, Olivia (28 July 2011). "Bioart: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Using Living Tissue as a Medium". Wired. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  3. ^ Peter Weibel (1981), M.E.A. Schmutzer (ed.), "Biotechnologie und Kunst", Technik und Gesellschaft. Symposion der technischen Universität Wien in Lech am Arlberg, Wien: Springer, vol. 19, pp. 158–169
  4. ^ a b Ingeborg Reichle (2018). "Bio-Art: Die Kunst für das 21. Jahrhundert". KUNSTFORUM International. Retrieved 2021-08-05.
  5. ^ Eduardo Kac (2007), Signs Of Life. Bio Art and Beyond, Cambridge, London: The MIT Press, p. 19, ISBN 978-0-262-11293-2
  6. ^ The Art is Alive
  7. ^ a b c Pasko, Jessica M. (2007-03-05). "Bio-artists use science to create art". USA Today.
  8. ^ Stuart Bunt (2008), Melentie Pandilovski (ed.), "The Role of the Scientist and Science in Bio-Art", Art in the Biotech Era, Experimental Art Foundation, pp. 62–67
  9. ^ BIOart Archived October 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ a b Amsen, Eva. "Leonardo Da Vinci's Scientific Studies, 500 Years Later". Forbes. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  11. ^ a b McAshan, Britni R. (2017-11-01). "Curated: the Many Wonders of Leonardo da Vinci". TMC News. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  12. ^ "Leonardo da Vinci's Robots and Their Modern-Day Influence". Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  13. ^ Gorvett, Zaria. "Leonardo da Vinci's lessons in design genius". Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  14. ^ Taggart, Emma (2019-08-03). "Before Macro Photography Was Invented, This Scientist Used to Illustrate His Microscopic Findings". My Modern Met. Retrieved 2023-09-24.
  15. ^ Irmscher, Christoph (2018-04-13). "'The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel' Review: The Zoologist as Artist". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2023-09-24.
  16. ^ Eduardo Kac (1998), "Transgene Kunst", Leonardo Electronic Almanac, vol. 6, no. 11
  17. ^ Eduardo Kac (1999). "Transgene Kunst". Retrieved 2021-08-05.
  18. ^ Pentecost, Claire (2008). "Outfitting the Laboratory of the Symbolic: Toward a Critical Inventory of Bioart". In Beatrice, da Costa (ed.). Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism and Technoscience. The MIT Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-262-04249-9.
  19. ^ "The Tissue Culture & Art Project". Experimenta. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  20. ^ Zurr, Oron Catts and Ionat (2017-11-15). "The Tissue Culture & Art Project". Interalia Magazine. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  21. ^ "WA Now – Biomess: The Tissue Culture & Art Project | The Art Gallery of Western Australia". Art Gallery WA. 2019-04-19. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  22. ^ "About". The Tissue Culture & Art Project. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  23. ^ "Extra Ear 1/4 Scale". 15 December 2004.
  24. ^ "Stelarc — Making Art out of the Human Body". 10 November 2018.
  25. ^ Moore, Jack (14 August 2015). "Why This Australian Artist Has a Third Ear Casually Growing on His Arm". GQ. Retrieved 1 October 2022.
  26. ^ Pidd, Helen (13 April 2009). "Artist gets an extra ear implanted into his arm". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2022.
  27. ^ Anker, Suzanne (2004). The molecular gaze : art in the genetic age. Dorothy Nelkin. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. ISBN 0-87969-697-4. OCLC 53019483.
  28. ^ Callaghan, Meaghan Lee (2016-10-12). "An Artist Is Growing A Skeleton Human Hand In A Lab". Popular Science. Retrieved 2023-08-12.
  29. ^ Pangburn, D. J. (2016-07-06). "This Artist Is Biohacking The Body To 3D-Print Fantastical Human Bones". Fast Company. Retrieved 2021-03-31.
  30. ^ Schnugg, Claudia (2019). Creating artscience collaboration : bringing value to organizations. Cham, Switzerland. ISBN 978-3-030-04549-4. OCLC 1089014855.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  31. ^ "The woman creating art with human stem cells". BBC News.
  32. ^ See Bio Art entry in Oxford Art Online, Oxford University Press, 2007-2014. (subscription required)
  33. ^ Anker, Suzanne (2014). "The beginnings and the ends of Bio Art" (PDF). Artlink. 34 (3).
  34. ^ "The Rise and Fall or Rayfish Footwear - Next Nature Network". 19 December 2012.
  35. ^ "The Guy Who Wants to Sell Lab-Grown Salami Made of Kanye West Is "100% Serious"". 2014-02-26.
  36. ^ Prixars Electronica : 2004 CyberArts : international compendium Prix Ars Electronica : computer animation/visual effects, digital musics, interactive art, net vision, digital communities, u19, freestyle computing, the nest idea. Austria: Hatje Cantz. 2004. ISBN 9783775714938.
  37. ^ Vaage, Nora (2016). "What Ethics for Bioart?". Nanoethics. 10: 87–104. doi:10.1007/s11569-016-0253-6. PMC 4791467. PMID 27069514.
  38. ^ Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Jane Calvert, Pablo Schyfter, Alistair Elfick and Drew Endy. "Synthetic Aesthetics Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  39. ^ "Bioart: An introduction".
  40. ^ Gaymon Bennett, Nils Gilman, Anthony Stavrianakis & Paul Rabinow (2009). "From synthetic biology to biohacking: are we prepared?". Nature Biotechnology. 27 (12): 1109–1111. doi:10.1038/nbt1209-1109. PMID 20010587. S2CID 26343447. Retrieved 1 October 2022.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  41. ^ Schmidt, M (2008). "Diffusion of synthetic biology: a challenge to biosafety". Systems and Synthetic Biology. 2 (1–2): 1–6. doi:10.1007/s11693-008-9018-z. PMC 2671588. PMID 19003431.
  42. ^ "Critical Art Ensemble". 28 May 2013.
  43. ^ Mitchell, Robert E. (14 September 2015). Bioart and the Vitality of Media. University of Washington Press. ISBN 9780295998770. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  44. ^ Chatzichristodoulou, Maria; Jefferies, Janis, eds. (2016). "Performative Science in an Age of Specialization: The Case of Critical Art Ensemble". Interfaces of Performance. doi:10.4324/9781315589244. ISBN 9781317114611.
  45. ^ Hirsch, Robert. "The Strange Case of Steve Kurtz: Critical Art Ensemble and the Price of Freedom". ProQuest.
  46. ^ "Orfeo by Richard Powers, review".
  47. ^ "Richard Powers' new novel is based on the notorious Steve Kurtz case in Buffalo". Archived from the original on 2014-01-25.
  48. ^ Ransford, Matt (2008-05-15). "Victimless Leather?". Popular Science. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  49. ^ "Victemless Leather".
  50. ^ Schwartz, John (2008-05-13). "Museum Kills Live Exhibit". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  51. ^ "BioArt".
  52. ^ "Prix Ars Electronica".
  53. ^ "D SCHOOL CAFA".
  54. ^ "Cafa预告丨第二届北京媒体艺术双年展"后生命"9月5日即将登场!".
  55. ^ "Beijing Media Arts Biennale 2018".
  56. ^ ""后生命"——第二届北京媒体艺术双年展即将拉开帷幕".
  57. ^ "La Fabrique du vivant - « Mutations / Créations 3 »".
  58. ^ "Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow".
  59. ^ Flores, Ana Paola (January 2020). "Biopolitics in Future and the Arts: AI, Robotic, Cities, Life - Tokyo Exhibition".
  60. ^ "Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow".


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