Good Thinking

Art in the age of ones and zeros: BioArt

BioArt is a field that sits perfectly at the intersection of art and bioscience – the above piece displays 3D-printed faces reconstructed from anonymous DNA samples found on a city street
BioArt is a field that sits perfectly at the intersection of art and bioscience – the above piece displays 3D-printed faces reconstructed from anonymous DNA samples found on a city street
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One of the 3D printed faces reconstructed from DNA found on the street in Heather Dewey-Hagborg's Stranger Visions
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One of the 3D printed faces reconstructed from DNA found on the street in Heather Dewey-Hagborg's Stranger Visions
BioArt is a field that sits perfectly at the intersection of art and bioscience – the above piece displays 3D-printed faces reconstructed from anonymous DNA samples found on a city street
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BioArt is a field that sits perfectly at the intersection of art and bioscience – the above piece displays 3D-printed faces reconstructed from anonymous DNA samples found on a city street
Artwork created by painting fluorescent proteins onto a Petri dish
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Artwork created by painting fluorescent proteins onto a Petri dish
Eduardo Kac's controversial green glowing bunny
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Eduardo Kac's controversial green glowing bunny
These living works of art inspired by Mondrian paintings decompose as they are exhibited. At the beginning of the exhibition the work on the right was infected with a pigment eating bacteria causing the image to degrade during the exhibition
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These living works of art inspired by Mondrian paintings decompose as they are exhibited. At the beginning of the exhibition the work on the right was infected with a pigment eating bacteria causing the image to degrade during the exhibition
Art made in a Petri dish from yeast proteins
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Art made in a Petri dish from yeast proteins
This is a map of New York city comprised of microbes gathered from each corresponding location
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This is a map of New York city comprised of microbes gathered from each corresponding location
The Cryobook Archives is a project that generated books grown out of human skin tissue
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The Cryobook Archives is a project that generated books grown out of human skin tissue
Australian artist Donna Franklin makes clothes out of living organisms. This piece, Fibre Reactive, is made out of a living fungi 
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Australian artist Donna Franklin makes clothes out of living organisms. This piece, Fibre Reactive, is made out of a living fungi 
Dutch artist Jalila Essaïdi created bulletproof skin by seeding human skin cells with spider silk
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Dutch artist Jalila Essaïdi created bulletproof skin by seeding human skin cells with spider silk
A group at the NYU School of Medicine have pioneered a form of yeast art, growing several colors of yeast, pixel by pixel, in a Petri dish.
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A group at the NYU School of Medicine have pioneered a form of yeast art, growing several colors of yeast, pixel by pixel, in a Petri dish.
Yeast Art
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Yeast Art
Yeast cat
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Yeast cat
Blood Wars is an ongoing artistic experiment from Kathy High. Across a series of tournaments blood is taken from numerous participants and then placed into Petri dishes where one-on-one cellular duels take place. There can be only one winner.
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Blood Wars is an ongoing artistic experiment from Kathy High. Across a series of tournaments blood is taken from numerous participants and then placed into Petri dishes where one-on-one cellular duels take place. There can be only one winner.
Biohacker Stelarc has nurtured the growing ear on his arm for over ten years and is planning on several additions in the future
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Biohacker Stelarc has nurtured the growing ear on his arm for over ten years and is planning on several additions in the future
Sugababe is a living replica of artist Vincent Van Gogh's ear. The work incorporates living tissue implanted with genetic material from one of Van Gogh's living decedents 
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Sugababe is a living replica of artist Vincent Van Gogh's ear. The work incorporates living tissue implanted with genetic material from one of Van Gogh's living decedents 
Heirloom is a work by artist Gina Czarnecki where she grows living portraits of her daughters faces. After taking tissue samples from their mouths and making casts of their faces, Czarnecki grows delicate cellular ecosystems on the glass facial moulds
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Heirloom is a work by artist Gina Czarnecki where she grows living portraits of her daughters faces. After taking tissue samples from their mouths and making casts of their faces, Czarnecki grows delicate cellular ecosystems on the glass facial moulds
The glass casts of her daughter's faces growing unique cellular ecosystems in Heirloom
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The glass casts of her daughter's faces growing unique cellular ecosystems in Heirloom
The MRSA Quilt by Anna Dumitriu is stained blue by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The patterns are then generated through the application of different antibiotics
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The MRSA Quilt by Anna Dumitriu is stained blue by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The patterns are then generated through the application of different antibiotics
Intricate Bioart made from a variety of bacteria grown on Petri dishes by Maria Penil and Mehmet Berkmen
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Intricate Bioart made from a variety of bacteria grown on Petri dishes by Maria Penil and Mehmet Berkmen
Intricate Bioart made from a variety of bacteria grown on Petri dishes by Maria Penil and Mehmet Berkmen
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Intricate Bioart made from a variety of bacteria grown on Petri dishes by Maria Penil and Mehmet Berkmen
Intricate Bioart made from a variety of bacteria grown on Petri dishes by Maria Penil and Mehmet Berkmen
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Intricate Bioart made from a variety of bacteria grown on Petri dishes by Maria Penil and Mehmet Berkmen

Art has always been fundamentally intertwined with technology. New techniques and materials have constantly allowed artists to innovate and create new types of works. Our new series, which kicked off with examinations of "datamoshing" and ASCII art, looks at the impact of digital technologies on art and looks at how artists are creating entirely new forms of art using these modern tools. In this instalment we examine the compelling and controversial field of BioArt.

As various biotechnologies evolved late in the 20th century, artists began looking to science to influence their practice. Incorporating bacteria, living tissue, biohacking and a variety of biological practices, the field of BioArt arose as the perfect intersection between art and science.

A group at the NYU School of Medicine have pioneered a form of yeast art, growing several colors of yeast, pixel by pixel, in a Petri dish.
A group at the NYU School of Medicine have pioneered a form of yeast art, growing several colors of yeast, pixel by pixel, in a Petri dish.

The term "BioArt" is generally tracked back to contemporary artist Eduardo Kac, who coined the name in the late 1990s. Early iconic examples of Kac's BioArt include Genesis (1999) and GFP Bunny (2000).

Genesis involved Kac translating a line from the book of Genesis into morse code and then converting that code into DNA base pairs. Dubbed the Genesis gene, Kac then incorporated the gene into bacteria, which was displayed in a gallery under ultraviolet light causing the bacteria to dynamically mutate as it was exhibited.

Eduardo Kac's controversial green glowing bunny
Eduardo Kac's controversial green glowing bunny

GFP Bunny is probably Kac's most well-known, and controversial, work, in which he genetically modified an albino bunny with a jellyfish gene, causing the bunny to glow green when exposed to a certain light. The work was extraordinarily divisive, resulting in debates surrounding the ethical questions about whether it is right to manipulate life forms for our aesthetic enjoyment.

The entire field of BioArt seems to implicitly embed these debates into the work and many BioArtists view the ethical questions as fundamental to the work.

Biohacker Stelarc has nurtured the growing ear on his arm for over ten years and is planning on several additions in the future
Biohacker Stelarc has nurtured the growing ear on his arm for over ten years and is planning on several additions in the future

The transhumanist culture of biohacking is often seen as a fundamental part of the BioArt field, with body-modifying performance artist Stelarc leading the way, most dramatically in 2007 when he had an ear surgically implanted into his arm. Made from a biocompatible frame, the implanted ear scaffold quickly bonded with Stelarc's own tissue and is now a permanent part of his body. He plans to continue to grow elements on it before ultimately planning on implanting a microphone that will be permanently and wirelessly connected to the internet.

One of the 3D printed faces reconstructed from DNA found on the street in Heather Dewey-Hagborg's Stranger Visions
One of the 3D printed faces reconstructed from DNA found on the street in Heather Dewey-Hagborg's Stranger Visions

Other compelling examples of BioArt include Heather Dewey-Hagborg's Stranger Visions, a work where she gathered chewed gum and cigarette butts from the street and extracted DNA from the objects. She then reconstructed what those individuals may have looked like using forensic DNA phenotyping and 3D printing.

Heirloom is a work by artist Gina Czarnecki where she grows living portraits of her daughters faces. After taking tissue samples from their mouths and making casts of their faces, Czarnecki grows delicate cellular ecosystems on the glass facial moulds
Heirloom is a work by artist Gina Czarnecki where she grows living portraits of her daughters faces. After taking tissue samples from their mouths and making casts of their faces, Czarnecki grows delicate cellular ecosystems on the glass facial moulds

Joe Davis, colloquially known as the mad scientist of MIT, has been a pioneer in the field of BioArt with an insane variety of projects, from genetically engineering silk worms, to spinning metallic gold as a new take on the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, to creating an audio microscope that translates light into sound allowing the participant to listen to bacteria.

The field of BioArt is strange, confronting and varied, but as we travel deeper into the 21st century we're sure to find artists in the field pushing the limits even further.

Take a trip some of our favorite, odd, and confronting examples of BioArt in our gallery.

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