Bioart and the Vitality of Media

Robert E. Mitchell

  • Published: 2010
  • Subject Listing: Science and Technology; Art History; Visual Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 224 pp., 23 illus., 7 x 9 in.
  • Series: In Vivo: The Cultural Mediations of Biomedical Science
  • Contents

Bioart - art that uses either living materials (such as bacteria or transgenic organisms) or more traditional materials to comment on, or even transform, biotechnological practice - now receives enormous media attention. Yet despite this attention, bioart is frequently misunderstood. Bioart and the Vitality of Media is the first comprehensive theoretical account of the art form, situating it in the contexts of art history, laboratory practice, and media theory.

Mitchell begins by sketching a brief history of bioart in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, describing the artistic, scientific, and social preconditions that made it conceptually and technologically possible. He illustrates how bioartists employ technologies and practices from the medical and life sciences in an effort to transform relationships among science, medicine, corporate interests, and the public. By illustrating the ways in which bioart links a biological understanding of media - that is, "media" understood as the elements of an environment that facilitate the growth and development of living entities - with communicational media, Bioart and the Vitality of Media demonstrates how art and biotechnology together change our conceptions and practices of mediation. Reading bioart through a range of resources, from Immanuel Kant's discussion of disgust to Gilles Deleuze's theory of affect to Gilbert Simondon's concept of "individuation," provides readers with a new theoretical approach for understanding bioart and its relationships to both new media and scientific institutions.
Robert Mitchell is associate professor of English at Duke University. He is the author, with Catherine Waldby, of Tissue Economies: Blood, Organs, and Cell Lines in Late Capitalism and, with Phillip Thurtle, Data Made Flesh: Embodying Information and Semiotic Flesh: Information and the Human Body.

"A sustained meditation on bioart as an art practice that stitches together concepts of life and concepts of affect, concepts of vitalism and concepts of mediation."
-Eugene Thacker, author of After Life and Biomedia

"Well-written, lucid, unpretentious, and admirably concise in format and presentation, this book is an original and innovative contribution to the fields of comparative media studies and science and culture studies."
-Cary Wolfe, author of Animal Rites and What Is Posthumanism?


Introduction: Living Art

1. Defining Bioart: Representation and Vitality
2. The Three Eras of Vitalist Bioart
3. Bioart and the Folding of Social Space
4. Affect, Framing, and Mediacy
5. The Strange Vitality of Media
6. Bioart and the "Newness" of Media

Works Cited

"In this concise, clearly written work, Mitchell explores bioengineered life as an artistic medium creating flows between the sciences and the humanities. Recommended."