Friday 10.29.04 — MIT Symposium — Bio-art, Biotech, and Bio-politics

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Friday 10.29.04 — MIT Teach In — Bio-art, Biotech, and Bio-politics
1. About this Friday
2. Questions
3. Introduction
4. Schedule — 8 Short Talks
5. About Participants
6. Useful Links
7. Address — Directions
1. About this Friday
What: 8 short talks on bio-art, biotech, and bio-politics When: Friday
October 29, 2004 1-6 pm
Where: CAVS at MIT (N52-390) is located on the 3rd floor of 265 Massachusetts Avenue, next to the MIT Museum. For more info, call 617.452.2484 or http://web.mit.edu/cavs/
Who: Klare Allen, Gene Benson, Sujatha Byravan, Beatriz da Costa, Jonathan King, Eugene Thacker , Nato Thompson, Charles Weiner, Faith Wilding
Building a Critical Public for the Biotech Century 8 short talks on bio-art, biotech, and bio-politics
Is a one day event we are organizing this friday in collaboration with MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. Please feel free to participate especially if you are in the MIT area, and to forward the email friends who might be interested in the Boston area.
This event is a follow-up/result of the talk we had in summer in relation to the actions taken by the US Government against artist, professor and activist Steve Kurtz and the Critical Art Ensemble.
2. some questions
generating the discussion
What is the relation of art and politics?
How should artists play a role in society as activists, catalysts, and critics?
As the Steve Kurtz case unfolds, we ask these perennial questions in relation to others:
What are the politics of biotechnology under global capitalism, especially at a time of open-ended war?
What are the private and public institutions that govern its development and control its interpretation and use?
What should be the status of biological expertise and biological literacy in a democracy?
Is freedom of speech relevant to contemporary science, and is freedom of research relevant to contemporary art?
How do critical artists and socially engaged scientists relate to one another, and to the multiple movements around the world—including in Boston itself—fighting for what might be
called biopolitical justice?
Can these multiple voices come together to form a critical public sphere for the biotech century?
3. Art, Biotechnology and the Public Sphere: The Steve Kurtz Case and Beyond
On May 11 2004 ,SUNY Buffalo art professor Steve Kurtz awoke to discover that his wife had died of cardiac arrest in her sleep. Responding to his emergency call, police discovered in his home microbiology equipment and bacteria cultures, prompting them to call the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Taskforce. Kurtz was detained for 22 hours, his laboratory was confiscated, and he became the subject of a grand jury investigation. The material in question (all of which was later deemed by the county health comissioner to be harmless and legal) related to an art exhibiton dealing with the public health implications of genetically modified food by the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), a collective of artists co-founded by Kurtz dedicated to exploring intersections between art, technology, radical politics and critical theory.
The Kurtz case is the point of departure for this event, a daylong symposium/teach-in organized by 16 Beaver Group to be held at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS). The case crystallized and confronted us with a set of urgent questions, many of which exceeded our typical frames of reference and made clear the necessity of an informed cross-disciplinary response.
What are the politics of biotechnology under global capitalism?
What are the private and public institutions that govern its development of control its interpretation?
What is or should be the status of scientific expertise in a democracy?
Is the prinicple of freedom of speech relevant to contemporary science?
Is the prinicple of freedom of research relevant to contemporary art?
How does activist art relate to activist science, if there is such a thing?
How might these forms of activism engage the multiple social movements around the globe˜from communities of color in the South End of Boston to Indian peasant farmers˜fighting” for what might be called biopolitical justice?
Beyond designing museum dioramas and illustrating textbooks, can artists or ordinary citizens contribute in developing peadagogical means for creating a literate public debate about the constituion of life itself in the contemporary world?
Established in 1967 by George Kepes with the mandate of bridging the divide between the humanities and the technosciences, the CAVS is a uniquely appropriate venue in which to address these questions. While Kepes’s original desire to stimulate dialogue and experimentation between what C.P. Snow famously called the the Two Cultures remains a crucial point of reference for our endeavor, his assumption that the proper task of art was to “harmonize” the”inner sensibilities” of humanity with the otherwise “disorienting” advances of science is no longer tenable. The Third Culture to which this event seeks to contibute must proceed on the assumption that science and art alike as social practices embedded in the power relations of their time, and as such should be treated as terrains of conflict rather than taken-for-granted means of human improvement.
In this sense, we are animated not only by the work of recent groups such as Critical Art Ensemble, but also by a document that appeared in the year following the founding of CAVS that haunts the techno-utopianism of Kepes’s statement: The 1968 MIT Faculty Statement which gave rise to the Union of Concerned Scientists (http://www.ucsusa.org/ucs/about/page.cfm?pageID=1006)
Explicitly invoking Vietnam and the nuclear arms race, the document condemns the “misuse of scientific and technological knowledge” as a “major threat to the existence of mankind” and proposes “to initiate a critical and continuing examination of governmental policy in areas where science and technology are of potential significance” and “to devise means for turning research applications away from the present emphasis on military technology toward the solution of pressing environmental and social problems.”
Bringing together professionals from the fields of molecular biology, science studies, law, public policy, political organizing, art, and critical theory, this event will probe the dialectical tension between these two historic documents of “Visual Studies” and “Concerned Science.” In attending to their genealogical traces in the present, we will cooperate in elaborating what Nato Thompson would call a “Resistant Visual Culture” (www.journalofaestheticsandprotest.org) for the biotech century informed by science, activism, and art˜provided of course that the latter forego its all-to-frequent investment in the rhetoric of the genomic sublime”.
4. eight short talks —
1:00-Beatriz Da Costa, collaborator of Critical Art Ensemble, will discuss the Kurtz case and show their work.
1:20-Nato Thompson, Curator at Mass Moca, who was paid a visit by the FBI for showing CAE’s work. He will talk about the museum as civic pedagogical space, as well as his own experience with the media in the aftermath of Kurtz’s arrest.
1:40 Sujatha Byravan, director of Council for Responsible Genetics, will discuss the history, philosophy and practical campaigns of CRG/Genwatch (selected CRG documents are included in reading packet)
2:00-Charlie Weiner-Professor of Science, Technology and Society at MIT will discuss the history of socially engaged scientists, leading up to present debates in biotechnology.
2:30-3:00 Discussion
3:00-3:20 Break
3:20-Jonthan King, Professor of Microbiology at MIT will address the politics of life patents and their implications for scientific research. (His co-authored paper “Patents on Cells, Genes and Organisms Undermine the Exchange of Scientific Ideas” is available in the reading packet)
3:40-Faith Wilding, Professor of Art at the Art Institute of Chicago will deliver a paper entitled “Notes Towards a Politics of Biotech Art for a Third Culture” (this text is available in the reading packet)
4:00-Gene Benson, Staff Attorney at Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) will address the concept of environmental justice and discuss the current campign to stop the proposed Boston University Bioterror Laboratory.
4:20-Eugene Thacker, Professor of Literature and Communications at Geogria Institute of Technology will discuss the intersection of critical cultural theory and biotechnology, as well as the new publication Biotech Hobbyist, of which he is co-editor.
4:40-6:00 General Discussion
5. About the Participants
5.1 Klare Allen
(participation tentative) Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project Co-Director and Community Organizer, Klare X. Allen joined Alternatives for Community and Environment staff in 1995. Prior to joining ACE, she founded the Mother’s Coalition, a group dedicated to promoting the interests of homeless women and their children. Klare has received numerous awards for her organizing and teaching. Most recently, in 1999, she was honored with the Parent’s Magazine “As They Grow” Award. In 1998, she received the African Achievers Award from the Black Community Center. In November 1996, she was selected as the Conservation Teacher of the Year by the Massachusetts Audubon Society for her role in launching the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project. Earlier that year, she also received the Green Leaf award from the Environmental Diversity Forum.
5.2 Gene Benson
Staff Attorney at Alternatives for Community Empowerment, received his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. Before joining ACE in 2003, Gene was Associate General Counsel at Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, where he led the Environmental and Regulatory Law section. Gene‚s previous jobs include Executive Director of Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services in Cambridge, MA; Chief Attorney of the Legal Aid Bureau office in Frederick, MD; and Managing Attorney and Staff Attorney of the Prince George‚s County Senior Citizens Law Project in Mt. Rainier, MD. Gene is on the Steering Committee of the Environmental Law Section of the Boston Bar Association and wrote the chapter on Water Pollution Control in Massachusetts Environmental Law (MCLE 1999 and 2002). He chairs the environment task group in his town and was president of the Mystic River Watershed Association
5.3 Sujatha Byravan
Executive Director at the Council for Responsible Genetics, a non-profit/non-governmental organization devoted to fostering public debate about the social, ethical, and environmental implications of the new genetic technologies. She was Director of the Fellows Program at LEAD (Leadership for Environment and Development) International from 1999-2002, and in that capacity was responsible for developing and executing the program for the graduates of LEAD, who number over 1000 and work all over the world in many sectors.
Before joining LEAD, Sujatha worked in the area of science communication. She was coordinator of the Science Training and Communication Centre in the National Centre for Biological Sciences (TIFR) in Bangalore, India. She was also editor for Resonance, an undergraduate science journal produced by the Indian Academy of Sciences and freelanced as a science journalist. Sujatha has a Ph.D. in Biology and completed postdoctoral work at the University of California in Los Angeles, U.S.A. She is a Fellow of the Salzburg Seminar on Biotechnology: Legal, Ethical and Social Issues.
5.4 Beatriz da Costa
Beatriz da Costa is a Machine Artist and Tactical Media Practitioner. Coming from a sculptural and emergent technology background, Beatriz has incorporated robotic technology into her art and cultural practice and is interested in the use of various technologies within a critical public context. She is dedicated to a participatory practice and interaction with the public represents one of the key components of her work. Beatriz has worked in collaboration with Critical Art Ensemble since summer 2000 and has taken part in the development and implementation of various bio-tech initiatives and models of contestational science. Current projects include Swipe, a collaborative project with Brooke Singer and Jamie Schulte, concerned with the social implications of driver‚s license data collection. Beatriz has performed and exhibited work at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle and The New Museum in New York. Recent shows include ISEA 2002 in Japan, and the World Information Organization in Belgrade.
5.5 Jonathan King
Jonathan King is Professor of Microbiology at MIT. WE NEED A MORE BOBUST BIO
5.6 Eugene Thacker
Assistant Professor, School of Literature, Communication, & Culture, Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the author of Biomedia (Minnesota 2004) and The Global Genome, forthcoming from MIT press. He is also co-editor at Biotech Hobbyist magazine.
A number of readings are available at http://www.lcc.gatech.edu/~ethacker/
5.7 Nato Thompson
Nato Thompson is Assistant Curator at MASS MoCA and curator for the exhibition “The Interventionists.” With Greg Sholette, he is co-editor of The Interventionists: A Users Manual to the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life, published by MIT press.
His Contributions to a Resistant Visual Culture Glossary is available at:
5.8 Charles Weiner
Professor, Program in Science, Technology and Society at MIT Professor Weiner was educated at Case Institute of Technology (B.S., Metallurgy, 1960; Ph.D., History of Science and Technology, 1965). He was Director of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics from 1965 to 1974, when he joined the MIT faculty. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
His research and writing focus on the political, social and ethical dimensions of contemporary science and the responses of scientists to public controversies arising from their work. His publications have dealt with the history of controversies over academic patenting of biomedical research, the environmental, safety and ethical aspects of genetic engineering and biotechnology, and the development of nuclear physics. He is the editor of four volumes in the history of science and a new edition of his book, Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections (with Alice K. Smith) was published in 1995.
5.9 Faith Wilding
Wilding is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work addresses aspects of the somatic, psychic, and sociopolitical history of the body. Recent publications, lectures, exhibitions and performances focus on issues of cyberfeminist (women and technology) theory and practice, with particular emphasis on biotechnology. Wilding has exhibited and lectured widely in the USA and Europe. Her audio work has been commissioned and broadcast by RIAS Berlin; WDR Cologne; and National Public Radio, USA. Wilding has published in MEANING, Heresies, Ms. Magazine, The Power of Feminist Art, and other books and magazines. She is the recipient of two individual media grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently, Wilding is a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the MFA in Visual Art Program at Vermont College of the Union Institute and University. She is also a member of subRosa.
http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/fwild/faithwilding/, subRosa:

About subRosa

6. links to participants sites

About subRosa

http://www.lcc.gatech.edu/~ethacker/ http://www.beatrizdacosta.net/
http://www.ace-ej.org/staff.html#EB http://www.gene-watch.org
to the 16beaver page
7. address — directions
CAVS at MIT (N52-390) is located at 265 Massachusetts Avenue. Take the Red
Line to Central Square or #1 Bus to NECCO Factory stop. Enter on Front St,
next to the MIT Museum. Take the elevator to the 3rd Floor. For more info,
call 617.452.2484 or http://web.mit.edu/cavs/.