BioArt in Berlin: Making Dystopia Beautiful with Prostheses and the Transhuman Life
I met the curators of a BioArt Gallery in Berlin very recently and they invited me to their latest of exhibition ‘Prostheses: Transhuman Life’ by the Artist Susanna Hertrich.
The exhibition, hosted by Christian De Lutz and Regine Rapp (the wonderfully warm curators of Art Laboratory Berlin) presented ‘wearable tech’ devices made to trigger emotions, as well as just physiological responses, in the wearer. Indeed, in Susanna’s own words, these pieces were designed to ‘invoke a social criticism as well as well as showing an outlook into an alternative future‘.
For example, ‘Jacobson’s Fabulous Olfactometer’ is a sensorial prosthesis that mimics the mammalian ‘flehmen response’ when high air pollution levels are present. So, when the device detects a dangerous level of pollution the prosthesis curls back the wearer’s top lip, exposing teeth and mimicking a common reflex observed in many mammals (such as the Amazonian Tapir).
I asked Susanna on the choice as leather as being the prosthesis support (given the striking colour and ‘Old Western’ feel with which it associated) as being a little contradictory with the trope of human prosthesis and Cyborgs.
And pollution is such a current concern at the moment in Beijing (since levels have reached lethal highs), where Susanna had an international artist residency Tsinghua Art & Science Media Lab. Indeed, she has had many links to East Asian BioArt, with another stint at the Meta-Perception research group at the University of Tokyo.
The research focus there is particularly mind-bending (and deliberately so) as the group aims to ‘challenge human perception’ through intelligent sensors and systems technology, as well as augmented reality, human-computer interactions and Neurophysiology.
Now Susanna is embarking on a 3 year project in Switzerland to further explore the senses behind animal perception. Working with Shintaro Miyazaki, at the Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures in Basel, the project ‘The Sensorium of Animals‘ is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
A part of this research is looking to ‘expand human senses’ beyond biological constraints, which is an interesting concept, and we were recently asking the question – to what extent in the Medtech development field do we become ‘Cyborg’? With Bionic eyes, artificial hearts and 3D-printed prostheses, will one day more of us be labelled as a true cyborg by the government – such as in Neil Harbisson’s case?
The BioArt movement is a particularly poignant commentary on the developments in the Scientific field. Personally, I find it increasingly relevant to work in the Biotech industry too, where ethics and public opinion is becoming of greater importance to its infrastructure.
P.S. Christian and Regine are now preparing for their next Exhibition at Art Laboratory Berlin which will be on the Human Microbiome. “The Other Selves. On the Phenomenon of the Microbiome” will open in February, and I will certainly be attending.