We were apprehensive about the Canadian Premiere of BioArt - Art from the laboratory described as "a documentary about the BioArt movement, its technical aspects, new visions and a new approach to mankind’s great philosophical questions coupled with insights into the amazing work of progressive bio-artists."
Whilst positively surprised compared to our reaction to the screening of Momentum - Rachel Armstrong, this was an unsettling take on bio art.
It was interesting to note that the director, Robert Styblo, originally proposed to make a documentary about retired circus artists, however, was asked by his network to come up with something more contemporary, which led him to discover bio art. The featured artists selected to represent the field were situated more in the context of body art than bio art, not surprising if the focus is on personas rather than works and the critical history that surrounds the field.
As a commercial documentary for Red Bull TV, those selected to represent bio art included Joe Davis, Paul Vanouse, Stelarc, Orlan, Jens Hauser, Art Oriente objet, Jun Takita, Sonja Baeumel, Nicole C. Karafyllis and Ingeborg Reichle.
We were slightly outraged at the scene where Joe Davis has a young girl prancing around in underwear with printed DNA sequences. The irritation was perhaps more towards the liberal arts that have invested so much in liberal ideas (e.g. race, sexuality, gender, etc.) only to flip these same values on its head by celebrating subjugation and validating this by introvertly pointing to art traditions (of always generating speculative drama).
In any case, the movie's interest was more on the side of the transgressive shock and awe - in line with the director's network. It was therefore not surprising that the video introducing the debate on bio art and had left out key practitioners.
The panel setup after the movie was perplexing as there seemed to be more experts in the audience - in terms of bio artists - than the amongst panel, prompting us to ask how serious we should take this debate. Despite this, some interesting points emerged, like the question of his particular selection of artists being more on the side of body artists rather than bio artists and as a whole, a generation still focused on the human side of engaging with bio art, prompting the medical scientist on the panel, Dr Dolores Steinman, to describe a schism between the old and new generation of bio artists: while the the previous generation focused on the human, the new bio artists are looking at completely different aspects situated away from anthropomorphism.