Catts and Zurr, the artists of the Tissue Culture and Art Project, call the biomass that grows in NoArk’s bioreactor a semi-living or sub-life neo-organism. Because of its origin in tissue samples of various kinds, their “chimerical blob” still participates in the vast domain of living things. But it is orphaned, bereft of parentage or kinship, abandoned by the Linnaean classification system that depends on organismic coherence. Yet NoArk’s sub-life is incorporated into a novel dynamic system that becomes its living context: the social body that receives and responds to it. NoArk consists of a transparent vessel reminiscent of an eighteenth century curiosity cabinet, that houses both the bioreactor and a collection of dead and preserved animal specimens. These components rotate together on a turntable and relentlessly expose viewers to the ineffable quality of living cells, whose properties are so imminent to us yet so elusive. The cell is the basic self-organizing unit of life. Cultured in a medium, abstracted from life as we know it, it is transformed into a synthetic embodiment of life processes and their artificial replication. This technique of abstraction is familiar enough in the science lab â€“ biochemist Stuart Kauffman called it “second life” long before the virtual world of the internet took up the name â€“ but it is radically new as public display in the cultural domain. The semi-living thing we see in NoArk is afflicted by an excess of freedom to cross boundaries between definitions and taxonomies, just like the limitless tagging and cross-referencing that characterizes digital information. As long as the semi-living is on life support, its bio-information persists through time and space, and poses the startling question of how such information can be deployed in “first life.”
About the authors
Oron Catts: Artistic Director of SymbioticA, artist/researcher and curator. Founded the Tissue Culture and Art Project (TC&A) in 1996. Co-Founder and Artistic Director of SymbioticA – The Art & Science Collaborative Research Laboratory at The School of Anatomy & Human Biology, University of Western Australia. SymbioticA is the winner of the 2007 inaugural Golden Nica for Hybrid Arts in the Prix Ars Electronica Oron is trained in product design (BA Hon), and Visual Art (MA).
Ionat Zurr artist/researcher of the TC&A, academic coordinator of SymbioticA. Ionat is currently completing her PhD that investigates the philosophies and ethics of Partial Life. Oron and Ionat are considered to conduct pioneering research in wet biology art practices and in particular the use of living tissue from complex organisms. Both were Research Fellows at The Tissue Engineering & Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School (2000-2001). They have exhibited and published internationally.