BioArt: Contemporary Art and the Life Sciences (Leiden)

Jennifer Willet in collaboration with Bioart: Contemporary Art and the Life Sciences Class. InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2008

BioArt: Contemporary Art and the Life Sciences
Jennifer Willet 2008
Fridays April 04 – May 23, 2008
Lecture Hall 07, LCB 9 (May LCB 21)

jswillet at

Do artists cross the line when they breed plants or animals, or use the tools of biotechnology?  Scientists routinely cross the line.  So do farmers, business people, military men, and doctors.  Only artists and certain religious people hesitate.  Of course one of the great human dilemmas is that we do not know the extent of our powers.  We invent outrageously and casually as we breath, but we have no idea where our inventions will take us.  Extinction?  Slavery?  1000 years in Disneyland?  Even if the Holocaust had never happened, we would have good reason to worry about where knowledge of genetics and DNA will take us.  We will need all the awareness we can muster to engage evolution.  To the extent that art favors awareness, the more artists who cross the line the better.

George Gessert

BioArt: Contemporary Art and the Life Sciences is an innovative course that will allow for non-specialist students to engage theoretically and practically in the biological sciences towards fostering a critical participatory engagement with the biological sciences from a fine art perspective.  This course is a studio art and science crossover lab intended for students from various disciplines to foster interdisciplinary exploration of the intersections between art and life through hands-on laboratory protocols, critical readings, and the production of contemporary artwork.

Together we will explore the ethical debates, issues of access and accountability, and overspecialization that arise from contemporary biotechnologies and BioArt practices.  Lectures will address a range of topics including; the biological sciences, historical crossovers between the fine arts and the hard sciences, and contemporary artists in the art/science field.  Practical workshops will provide students with introductory experience with mammalian tissue culture, microscopy, DNA extraction and imaging, and genetic modification (amongst others) with an emphasis on health and safety and proper laboratory technique.

Students will be expected to complete weekly readings, participate in class discussions and lab workshops, and produce individual and collaborative artworks and critical written texts.

Additionally, each student will participate in a final class project in collaboration with artist/instructor Jennifer Willet Called InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies.   Each class will include a 30 min meeting in preparation for the final installation/performance.

For each class the students will be required to complete the assigned readings.  These readings will be available on line for a period of one week before the class.  After that time, they will be removed for copyright purposes.  The readings can be found at:


33.33% Class Participation:

Students will be expected to attend ALL 7 classes, and actively participate in class discussions and workshops.  Class participation will include the student’s participation in the collaborative project InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies.  Additionally, each student will (with a partner) select a reading from the course outline and prepare a 10 min discussion in regards to that reading.  Each Presentation will address the following questions.

What are the central themes of the reading?

How dose this relate to questions of bioart raised in the class?

What arguments within the reading do you agree/disagree with?

33.33% Individual or Collaborative Bioart Project:

Each student will devise an individual or two-person bioart project.  This work can be completed either in the laboratory (with permissions) or at home.  Students are encouraged to work in consultation with the instructor in developing their project.  Amateur Science texts will be made available to the class, to assist in developing individual artworks and protocols.

33.33% Individual Research Paper:

Each student will develop an individual research paper exploring questions of bioart from  critical, historical, ethical, and aesthetic perspectives.  Theoretical sources can be drawn from class readings and the class bibliography – however, students are also encouraged to draw upon communication theory, media criticism, literary criticism, notions of post modernity and the post-human, gender theory and post-colonial theory from outside sources.  Final papers should be approximately ten pages long, with a one-page bibliography.


The Art and Genomics Centre, The University of Leiden