New works by Gina Czarnecki, Neal White, Critical Art Ensemble with Beatriz Da Costa, and Brandon Ballengee challenge our responses to biotechnology and explore its origins and implications
Exploring ideas of contamination and containment, ethics and accountability, the works in the CleanRooms exhibition ask the audience to decide how far they themselves would go with the emerging powers of genetic manipulation.
CleanRooms included major installations by Gina Czarnecki, Neal White and Brandon Ballengee, with performances of GenTerra by Critical Art Ensemble.
In Gina Czarnecki's Silvers Alter, life-size human forms "live" within a large video projection in the gallery. They are the subjects for you to manipulate and mate. The 'beings' you create have never existed before. Silvers Alter raises a simple question; to what extent are we prepared to participate in all that we have made possible and that we aspire to make possible for ourselves?
Neal White's Uncontrolled Hermetic recreates one of the controlled areas or clean rooms used in industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. You, the visitor, fulfil the final part of this system, as the contaminating or contaminated body, the weakest link in the ultraclean technology chain: a human being.
US group Critical Art Ensemble with Beatriz Da Costa present their participatory performance GenTerra. Lab-coated representatives from the GenTerra biotechnology corporation introduce their transgenic bioproducts. An installation and a video of the performance explains their work and explores the pros and cons of transgenics
Brandon Ballengee's installation From Farm 2 Pharm, created as a participatory project alongside the Oldham exhibition of CleanRooms, traces the history of humankind's struggle for dominance over natural evolutionary forces with a gallery installation of images of domesticated/engineered organisms.
The exhibition was part of the extensive programme of associated Darwin Centre Live events including artist residencies by Brandon Ballengee and Michael Carklin and the Working with Wetware forum.
Working with Wetware, 20 June 2002.
This forum explored the work of artists who work directly with living biological systems. Speakers included Steve Kurtz (US), Oron Catts (Aus) from SymbioticA, Marta De Menezes (Portugal), Ruth West (US), Sandy Knapp (UK), Brandon Ballengee (US) and Gina Czarnecki (UK). The forum was chaired by Kodwo Eshun.
GenTerra performances by Critical Art Ensemble, 21-22 June 2002
Biotech drama workshops led by Michael Carklin 7 - 18 July 2002
For over 20 years, Neal White has critically explored art in relation to new ideas, forms and technologies. As part of numerous collaborative endeavours – he has been developing projects, research and artworks, publications, archives, fieldworks, critical excursions as bus tours and exhibitions with academics, architects and activists. His current work explores situated practices and knowledge - drawing together environmental and ecological matters of concern with marine biologists, ecologists, coders, architects and volunteers in Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island, Dorset for Arts Catalyst's Test Sites programme.
Gina Czarnecki is a British new media artist born in Immingham in 1965. She studied painting and film-making at Wimbledon School of Art 1984-87 and a Postgraduate Degree in Electronic Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College Dundee from 1991-2. Her work spans a variety of mediums, including film, video, sculpture and installation art. Through a varied and often unconventional practice her work engages us with the visceral, psychological and biological grey areas, hybrids and developments that provoke questions on so many levels. Her research focuses on technologies and culture.
Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) is a collective of five tactical media practitioners of various specialisations including computer graphics and web design, film/video, photography, text art, book art and performance. Formed in 1987, CAE's focus has been on the exploration of the intersections between art, critical theory, technology and political activism. The group has exhibited and performed at diverse venues internationally, ranging from the street, to the museum, to the internet. Museum exhibitions include the Whitney Museum and the New Museum in NYC, Corcoran Museum in Washington D.C., ICA in London, MCA in Chicago, Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and the Natural History Museum in London.
Beatriz da Costa was an interdisciplinary artist, based in Los Angeles, who worked at the intersection of art, politics, engineering and the life sciences. Da Costa’s work usually took the form of public participatory interventions, locative media, conceptual tool building and critical writing. In 2010, Beatriz presented “A Memorial for the Still Living” at the Horniman Museum in London, a project commissioned by The Arts Catalyst as part of the Dark Places project. The exhibition showcased British animal and plant species on the edge of extinction, focusing on “still living” species. The ‘dark place’ refers to the storage rooms of the museum and consequential oblivion, sparingly illuminated by memories of the dwindling few who have encountered the specimens over the years. To realize this exhibition, da Costa worked in collaboration with collection curators at the Horniman Museum and the Natural History Museum in London. In the exhibition, taxidermied specimens of endangered animals lay alongside botanical samples of plants under threat. Each specimen was given a “birth date” (the date of classification and inclusion into the corpus of western science) as well as a “death date” (the date of projected extinction).
New York artist Brandon Ballengee creates multidisciplinary works from information generated by ecological field trips and laboratory research, exploring the boundaries between art, science and technology. Since 1996, Ballengee has collaborated with numerous scientists to conduct primary biological research and advanced imaging procedures. His works have been exhibited in New York, Beijing, Vienna, London and other cities.
The CleanRooms catalogue is available to buy online from Cornerhouse Publications
Pages 48, Binding softback, illustrated in colour and b&w
Dimensions 220mm x 200mm, Weight
Gallery Oldham, Oldham, Greater Manchester, UK
5 October - 30 November 2002
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7, UK
20 June - 3 August 2003
Stills, Edinburgh, Scotland
Gina Czarneckis's Silvers Alter was also show as part of the Designer Bodies: The Future Of Human Genetics exhibition at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, 3 April - 6 June 2004