InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies

Jennifer Willet - InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies - The Art and Genomics Centre, The University of Leiden, The Netherlands, 2008 Photo Credit: Adam Zaretsky

InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies
Jennifer Willet

InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies is a course of research and creative production centering around the notion of a ‘laboratory ecology’ that will result in a series of performances, installations, art objects, and critical writings. This work is based on my experiences as an artist and non-specialist working in a variety of bioscience and biomedical laboratories. Essentially, I am interested in intervening in the ‘laboratory ecology,’ as I perceive it. The carefully balanced relationship between all organisms (and parts of organisms) inhabiting the lab – animal and human research subjects – cells, bacteria, enzymes, plants – the scientists themselves, and even unwanted contaminants. What interests me about this ecology is the closed relationship it possesses with external ecologies. Ideally within a lab – specimens and samples either originate in the laboratory vacuum, or enter from the external world (screened and sanitized) never to leave again. Additionally, elements of external ecologies (i.e. bacteria in the researcher’s fingernails, hair, and mouth) are presumably prevented from ‘infecting’ the environment and organisms within the lab. I wish to produce a series of works that purposefully breaks with this convention – reconnecting the closed laboratory ecology with external ecologies – revealing the ‘bodies in biotechnology’ to viewers and participants as interconnected orders of life on this planet.

This line of research has resulted in three artistic interventionist strategies. (1) I conducted a series of performances and photo shoots in laboratory settings that will draw a connection between the scientist’s body and the specimen body. (2) I brought the laboratory outside of it’s specialized environment, into public display – and into direct contact with natural environments. (3) I then brought the outside laboratory ecology in doors, into the gallery environment – on public display at The Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton, Canada) and Exit Art Gallery (New York, USA).

In May 2008, in collaboration with Anne Kienhuis and the BioArt: Contemporary Art and the Life Sciences class hosted bye The Art and Genomics Centre at The University of Leiden the first of a series of outdoor laboratories was built. This video constructed by Jeanette Groenendaal and Zoot Derks documents the one-day event at Museum Volkenkunde in The Netherlands.

I am grateful for support from SSHRC Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and The Canada Council for the Arts for this project.