Art as We Don't Know It

Year 2018 marked the 10th anniversary of the Bioart Society, which created the impetus for the publication of Art as We Don’t Know It. Produced in collaboration with Biofilia – Base for Biological Arts at Aalto University, the book showcases art and research that has grown and flourished within the wider network of both organisations during the previous decade.

Rather than being a retrospective, Art as We Don’t Know It looks forward, inviting speculations about the potential directions of bioarts. Its contributions range from peer-reviewed articles to personal accounts and interviews interspersed with artistic contributions and bioart projects. The selection offers a purview of the rich variety, both in content and form, of the work currently being made within the field, troubling the porous and provisional definitions of what might be understood as bioart. The book features a foreword by curator and art historian Mónica Bello.

The 280-page book is structured into four thematic sections. The first section explores the phrase of Life as We Don’t Know It both in its biological/material sense, and as a trope. It introduces artists whose works examine the complexity of biological systems with methodologies ranging in scale from the microscopic to landscape and locate their discourse from the human body to the top of mountains or the surfaces of other planets. Its articles take their readers on a journey into contemporary biology, Xenological Life Potentials, biophilosophy and deep time.

The second section – Convergences – focuses on the different ways in which the technological and biological form new constellations through artistic practice. The artworks in the section show the multiplicity of ways in which the convergence of science, technology and art inform and shape the field. The articles engage with the entanglements of the environment and human and nonhuman bodies with technology in its various forms. The topics range from acclimatising robots to the delicate subarctic region of Sána fell to DIY hormone production in proposing Feminist Open Science.

The third section, titled Learnings/Unlearnings, reminds how keeping up with environmental issues, and technological and biotechnological development requires not only continuous learning but, for many, also unlearning previous notions and beliefs about art and/or science. The section looks into DIY tradition and do-it-with-others; citizen science, hacker culture, collaborative practices, cooperation and shared authorship. It is also about history: history of science, history and the importance of water, history of an art gallery, history of a king and his sword, a living history of all kings of materials and ideas for (un)learning.

The final section gives an opportunity for pause and for a series of texts that scrutinise and offer strategies of amendment. How do we approach that which we do not know or recognise, or perhaps not even have the means to perceive? What are the means by which we might apprehend and eventually enable art as we don’t know it?

"What worlds are revealed when we listen to alpacas, make photographs with yeast or use biosignals to generate autonomous virtual organisms? Bioart invites us to explore artistic practices at the intersection of art, science and society. This rapidly evolving field utilises the tools of life sciences to examine the materiality of life; the collision of human and nonhuman. ⁠ ⁠ Microbiology, virtual reality and robotics cross disciplinary boundaries to engage with arts as artists and scientists work together to challenge the ways in which we understand and observe the world. This book offers a stimulating and provocative exploration into worlds emerging, seen through art as we don’t know it – yet.⁠"

You can find the book as a PDF file here. Click here for the table of contents.

Editors: Erich Berger, Kasperi Mäki-Reinikka, Kira O'Reilly and Helena Sederholm

Contributors: Bartaku, Laura Beloff, Ida Bencke, Crystal Bennes, Erich Berger, Oron Catts & Ionat Zurr, Heather Davis, Elaine Gan & Terike Haapoja, Andy Gracie, Rian Ciela Visscher Hammond, Paula Humberg, Antero Kare, Denisa Kera, Mari Keski-Korsu, Adriana Knouf, Jurij Krpan, Teemu Lehmusruusu, lifepatch, Pia Lindman, Lauri Linna, Kristiina Ljokkoi & Tomi Slotte Dufva, Marta de Menezes & Luís Graça, Kasperi Mäki-Reinikka, Anu Osva, Margherita Pevere, Marietta Radomska & Cecilia Åsberg, Kira O'Reilly, Johanna Rotko, Markus Schmidt & Nediljko Budisa, Helena Sederholm, Christina Stadlbauer, Ulla Taipale, Antti Tenetz, Ian Ingram & Theun Karelse, Leena Valkeapää and Paul Vanouse.

Produced in collaboration with Biofilia – Base for Biological Arts

Publisher: Aalto ARTS Books

Graphic design: Safa Hovinen / Merkitys

Cover photo: Johanna Rotko, Living Images, Yeastograms (detail)

Articles and reviews:

Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish)

Yle (in Finnish)

Makery (in English)

Photos of the book: Johanna Salmela