Altering Nature

Volume 97 of the series Philosophy and Medicine pp 275-321

Technogenesis: Aesthetic Dimensions of Art and Biotechnology

  • Suzanne AnkerAffiliated withFine Arts Department, School of Visual Arts in New York City
  • , Susan LindeeAffiliated withDepartment of the History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
  • , Edward A. ShankenAffiliated withCalifornia NanoSystems InstituteArt/Sci Lab, University of California
  • , Dorothy Nelkin

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From material processes to elusive patterns, artists and scientists seek models of explanation (Kemp, 2000). Sometimes illusionally evocative, sometimes rigorously formulaic, and at other times sculpturally bounded, these conceptualizing tools have historically linked art and science. Bring to the fore new technologies, digitally driven, and a vast array of alternative schemes become possibilities. High resolution images of cells, scanned helical DNA structures and synaptic neural connections can presently be viewed in real time. Add to the mix embodied transgenic life forms and fabricated animal models, and our conceptualizing tools expand the possibilities for dimensional invention.

The accelerating dynamic between cultural and genetic evolution produces what can be termed a co-evolution between technical knowledge and living matter. And it is this co-evolution between technical expertise and animate matter we term technogenesis. 2 In other terms, technogenesis is the way in which the interactions between technology and biology impact our understanding of how nature exists, or would be, conceived and reconfigured in the future.

But how do art practices and the life sciences rely on the efficacy of images? And what part do these images play in the acquisition, comprehension, dissemination and even funding of visual or scientific study? In what ways do images reflect the socio/ economic and cultural conditions of producing knowledge? Located somewhere between illusion, proof and cognitive projection, images, hence, become critical fictions operating within the cultural imaginary. They often traverse contested territories situated elsewhere on the axis between fact and fiction. These visualizing models, ubiquitously employed by artists, scientists, designers, corporate advertisers, journalists and politicians, clarify, mislead, aggrandize, stimulate and document. In brief, they are representations embedded in social structures, policy decisions and commercial ventures. As aesthetic devices such images perform their semiotic function activating thought and emotion by their salient powers of communication and circumscribed belief (Anker, 2004).