edited by Assimina Kaniari. Grigoris Books, Athens, Greece, 2017. 190 pp. Paper. ISBN: 978-9606120190.
edited by Ignacio Nieto and Marcelo Velasco. Adrede Editora, Santiago, Chile, 2016. 220 pp. ISBN: 978-95693409.
Artists, critics and historians affiliated with the field of bioart embrace the fact that its identity is in flux, always in process. The becoming-nature of bioart is testament to its fundamental connection to cutting-edge science and technology, the performativity of its contents (think here living matter), and its avant-garde position as critic, midwife and transformer on the edge of the precipice of the new, even when recycling the histories of art, science or technology. Two recent books, editor Assimina Kaniari's Institutional Critique to Hospitality: Bio Art Practice Now and Ignacio Nieto and Marcelo Velasco's Open Science: Singularity and Emergence on the Boundary of Artistic Practice, grapple with the field's general sense of self. At base, the two texts are strong evidence of the international character of bioart's identity, with Kaniari's published by the Greek house Publications Grigori and Nieto and Velasco's by the Chilean Adrede Editora.
If the essays in Kaniari's anthology query bioart's placement within art history, looking in particular to its connection to institutional critique, then Nieto and Velasco's monograph gives the field ballast by at once historicizing it within the deep temporal trajectory of scientific discovery and analyzing it according to a scientistic pragmatics of artists in comparison. While one book seeks to hew bioart closer to art history and the other to the history of science, both end up revealing bioart to be a hybrid species that is something always and altogether new: a field with guy ropes in conceptual art and the history of science that brings fresh problemsolving design tactics and big science criticism to the field of contemporary art. Rooted in what I have identified as "morphogenic modernism," the formal-cum-logical engine of bioart generates that which is largely unpredictable, namely the ongoing process of time-based emergence itself. Form gives way not so much to formlessness but a profundity of protean shapes, tools, design strategies and site-specific performances. In Kaniari's anthology, New York bioartist Suzanne Anker says this in plain, unruffled terms, shifting the focus of art from static subject-object [End Page 209] relations to an actively unfolding protoplasmic holism: "What we are talking about here are not lenses but biochemical reactions, synthetic sequencing, and they [sic] ways in which parts and wholes can be dissected to create new entities" (p. 45).
The thirteen essays of Kaniari's Institutional Critique to Hospitality interrogate bioart's relationship to the strain of conceptual art that is known as "institutional critique." The Derridean-cum-Levinasian theme of "hospitality" is stitched to this but never fully fleshed out, leaving open provocative possibilities for a textual sequel from Kaniari. Rosalind Krauss's pithy A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (Thames & Hudson, 2000) codified institutional critique by focusing on Belgian conceptual artist Marcel Broodthaers's "Museum of Eagles" (1968–1972), a project that spoofed the institution of the museum by calling it out as culturally and intellectually bankrupt. Institutional critique's roots go back further, to Yves Klein's empty vitrines in the 1958 exhibition Le Vide at the Iris Clert Gallery in Paris and arguably to the spoken-word actions and odd-body installations of Dada at the Zürich nightclub Cabaret Voltaire in 1916. A productive tension concerning origins—those of bioart and institutional critique—emerges in Kaniari's Introduction, where she evaluates bioart's relationship to the objects held within the late–sixteenth-century Kunstkammer and Wunderkammer. In making this connection, Kaniari does not simply expand institutional critique, but breathes new life into the old tactic of shredding hoary institutions for the sake of making new art. She shows how bioart's deployment of science, both its artifacts and...