Leonel Moura with Henrique Garcia Pereira (2005)
Bioart is a new kind of biological inspired art that campaigns for the emergence of a new artificial, dynamic and self-sustainable Nature. Hence, the main point is to generate life as an artistic expression (but not life as it is, rather life as it could be). In such a feature, this new kind of art departs radically from the (sad) idea of using human and animal bodies transformed in art works, as well as from the practice of employing organic materials in the pieces and installations that have plagued 20th century museums and art galleries.
The distinctiveness of this new kind of art may be addressed in the following five topics:
Creation is viewed in the sense that bioart does not want just to represent or imitate Nature but seeks to build the conditions for a new Nature to emerge, an artificial one (or a manipulated one in some instances). Even if criticism, always welcomed, can say that we are still very far from that, it is clear that bioartists aim to do exactly that: to create an artificial Nature to be regarded as an artistic expression that supplements natural Nature.
Combination is an essential aspect of scientific and cultural innovation. However, in the case of bioart, synergy, blending and recombination are mechanisms that are not only present at the level of the research, but on the origin of the concept. In contrast with many previous artistic tendencies where the ‘scientific’ served as an external reference or as a means to stimulate imagery, bioart is as much art as it is science. In order to produce bioartworks, artists need to become themselves scientists.
Symbiosis as interspecies cooperation is at work in many and diverse ways in bioart (sometimes between man and other living creatures, in most cases between man and smart machines). Man-machine interaction and cooperation is one bioart’s most outstanding aspects. Art, because it is free from purpose and predetermined goals, plays an important cultural and scientific role in the process of developing intelligent machines. Far from the fitness constraints so common in the military, industrial or even entertainment applications, man-machine cooperation in art is purely creative, i.e., a contingent trial and error process that generates truly autonomous new artificial beings.
Randomness is part of the adaptive behavior. In the human species art and culture are adaptive behaviors based on randomness. Considering the culture in which we live as our environment, we use art to evolve and adapt. But adaptation here means that the artist does not seek a solution for any problem. He just makes things run and sees what happens.
Bioart introduces some relevant changes in the millenarian process of adaptation. For the first time in human culture, art is not just interpreting or redesigning nature, but seeking to use the biological random mechanism to originate a new kind of Nature.
Post-humanity is an important issue in bioart, since it contributes to liberate the human species from a putative neurotic superiority that has given rise to such a perverse and massacring relation with the rest of living beings. In bioart the human narrative, so tediously exploited in mainstream contemporary art, is rarely a subject. Bioartists are mainly interested in the mechanisms of life, rather than in typical human moralistic approaches. In this context, to know that the human is as important as, for example, a small ant is a crucial point (and for those working with swarm intelligence the ant behavior can be much more stimulating and rewarding).
These five topics on bioart are enough to demonstrate that a new kind of art is emerging. In some features, it is plain art as we know it, rebellious, ingenious and innovative. But its cultural environment is very distinct from the ongoing debate on contemporary art, which is too focused on anthropocentric non-problems. And that is perhaps the main reason why this new kind of art, now already present in the academic and scientific domain, is taking so long to reach a wider public in the art world. Anyway, les jeux sont faits.
AIR (Art Insect Robots, 2008), private collection