[ISEA2011] Panel: Paul Vanouse – Bi­ol­ogy and Post-bi­ol­ogy

Panel Statement

Panel: VIDA: New Discourses, Tropes and Modes in Art and Artificial Life Research

This talk will ad­dress a few thorny is­sues key to VIDA’s mis­sion and my own work in emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies of art: the ten­sions be­tween com­plex­ity and re­duc­tion­ism, emer­gence and de­ter­min­ism, and liv­ing and non-liv­ing via an­other du­al­ism, Bi­ol­ogy and Post-bi­ol­ogy.  Cen­tral to this dis­cus­sion are two pro­jects Rel­a­tive Ve­loc­ity In­scrip­tion De­vice (a VIDA prize win­ning pro­ject, 2002) and Oc­u­lar Re­vi­sion (2010). The for­mer pro­ject is a live sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ment in which DNA from my own fam­ily’s skin color genes are lit­er­ally raced against one an­other in a DNA fin­ger­print­ing gel, im­ply­ing a val­u­a­tion of their speed such as ge­netic fit­ness. In the lat­ter pro­ject, the no­tion of Ge­netic Map­ping is turned up­side-down, as I cre­ate satel­lite-like im­ages of the Earth’s hemi­spheres by in­sert­ing uniquely processed E. coli DNA into a cus­tom, cir­cu­lar elec­trophore­sis ap­pa­ra­tus. These pro­jects re­flect upon epis­temic dif­fer­ences in the life sci­ences be­tween the Bi­o­log­i­cal and the Post-bi­o­log­i­cal pe­ri­ods. Whereas Bi­ol­ogy de­fined the cell as the basic unit of life and thus took upon it­self a new ob­ject, life it­self, Post-bi­ol­ogy shifts the focus of the life-sci­ences to non-liv­ing mat­ter, DNA. Fur­ther­more, this Post-bi­o­log­i­cal turn takes a fur­ther cy­ber­netic twist as the non-liv­ing mat­ter of DNA is in­creas­ingly treated as a pure code, rather than a ma­te­r­ial sub­stance. The dif­fer­ences are not sim­ply a mat­ter of scale in which more pow­er­ful tools allow us to look deeper, but rather a shift from the pri­macy of vi­sion al­to­gether to­ward a hy­per-ra­tio­nal­ized, sta­tis­ti­cal ob­ser­va­tion.  I be­lieve that these is­sues re­flect a chang­ing vi­sion of or­ganic life, a topic fun­da­men­tal to emerg­ing artis­tic prac­tices and the VIDA mis­sion.

  • Prof. Paul Vanouse was awarded the sec­ond prize of VIDA 5.0: Art & Ar­ti­fi­cial Life In­ter­na­tional Com­pe­ti­tion (2002) for his pro­ject Rel­a­tive Ve­loc­ity In­scrip­tion De­vice. He is an artist who works in Emerg­ing Media forms.  Rad­i­cal in­ter-dis­ci­pli­nar­ity and im­pas­sioned am­a­teurism guide his prac­tice. Since the early 1990s his art­work has ad­dressed com­plex is­sues raised by var­ied new techno-sci­ences using these very techno-sci­ences as his media. His art­works have in­cluded data col­lec­tion de­vices that ex­am­ine the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of polling and cat­e­go­riza­tion, ge­netic ex­per­i­ments that un­der­mine sci­en­tific con­struc­tions of race and iden­tity, and tem­po­rary or­ga­ni­za­tions that play­fully cri­tique in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion and cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion. These Op­er­a­tional Fic­tions are hy­brid en­ti­ties – si­mul­ta­ne­ously real things and fan­ci­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tions – in­tended to res­onate in the equally hy­per-real con­text of the con­tem­po­rary elec­tronic land­scape.