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"Posthuman Aesthetics" Online Course Preview 6: Semi-Living Sculptures and Naked Life

This is a preview of one of the lectures from our open online course Posthuman Aesthetics.

In recent years, a number of artists have moved from the studio into the laboratory and are creating artworks with technologies from the natural sciences, using technologies from molecular biology, cell biology, nanotechnology and so forth. The artist collective the Tissue Culture and Art Project (TC&A) for instance work with cell and tissue culture technologies and create what they call ‘semi-living art’. In the artwork Extra Ear ¼ Scale, TC&A have worked in collaboration with the artist Stelarc and cultivated mouse and human cells on a downscaled scaffold of Stelarc’s ear. In the artwork cellF, the artist Guy Ben-Ary has transformed skin cells into neurons with iPS (induced pluripotent stem cell) technology.

Many of these artworks explore philosophical and ethical implications of biotechnologies and are therefore interesting to discuss in the context of the posthuman. The posthuman can entail the idea of an enhanced subject or individual. But it can also signify a challenge of the autonomy of the subject, where the boundaries of the body become increasingly fragile in different ways. Many biomedical technologies, for instance, challenge the unity of the body in time and space. An interesting example of this is cell and tissue culture technologies where tissue can continue to live outside the body it is derived from. An example: One of the most used cell lines in laboratories around the world is called HeLa and originates from Henrietta Lacks who died in 1951. 65 years after her death, her cells are still living in laboratories around the world, and they have even been on the moon.

This lecture will address a number of artists that thematize philosophical, ethical and biopolitical implications of this fragmentation and recombination of bodies.