BIOMATERIA is a vital materialist mixed media and digital installation of works. The artworks in Biomateria form an inquiry into the aesthetic, conceptual and practical crossovers between textile techniques, wet biology laboratory practices and micro-ecology. Much of this work specifically comments on the relationship between nonhuman agents (cells) and human technological and creative industry, via the crafting of textile-based forms seeded with live mammalian cell lines. Through a series of reflections on making and conceptualizing, I propose a methodological strategy and philosophy for thinking around the hybrid works in Biomateria. I call this philosophy, “Haptic Epistemology”.
The process-based and hands-on nature of research-creation, in addition to the ‘matter’ (physical, political, cultural) of life science praxes, is a core research concern. The works mean to, in addition to craft and aesthetics, explore the variety of nebulous political areas concerned with BioArt: DIY bio/ bio-hacking, ethics, academic bureaucracy and institutionalism, as well as artistic goals, responsibilities and failures. Interdisciplinary practice between art and science, including methodological intersections, current policies, and thinking around the formation of new policies, have been studied as key considerations in both the execution and display of BioArt. I consider economic nuances in relation to labour practices, from a feminist materialist and craft perspective.
The works presented in this exhibition are a combination of actual and representational. Applied science/ technology, enforced institutional bureaucratic indicators, and artistic manipulations/ representations are displayed in tandem.
Site-specific Biosafety Level II laboratory
Includes biosafety certifications of laboratory users, biohazard permit, lab coats, nitrile gloves, goggles, shelving, fixed tissue culture/ biotextile specimens, laboratory fridge with culture media and falcon tubes of wet biomaterials, as well as Incubatrix Neith and incubator log sheets filled daily by gallery staff.
The Ossificatorium highlights the overzealous institutional risk assessment that occurs when biomaterials are used onsite in a gallery. This risk assessment, meant to mitigate biohazards from occurring in the workplace, is arguably more based on strict insurance carrier requirements than an actual probability of risk. However, it may also reflect social norms with regards to risk perception, and social (moral) codes about the body. The Ossificatorium is an official biosafety space within the gallery but separate from it, where public fear of contagion (though none of the materials used are contagious) is assuaged by the presence of PPE (personal protective equipment that provides bodily barriers), an impression of sterility and containment, as well as full institutional regulation/ approval.
The performed role of gallery staff in regularly monitoring and maintaining the functioning of Incubatrix Neith is a disruption in the artist/gallery relationship. Gallery staff are heavily implicated in the labour of care (which is part of the artwork) and survival of the vital material inside the incubator.
Sheet acrylic profile, DIY electronics with Arduino including various sensors, hardware and open source code, Sugru, CO2 tank and full apparatus (tank regulator, tubing, flow regulator), DIY bioreactor with flask and peristaltic pumps, biotextiles on scaffolding with live connective tissue in vitro, cell culture media, various found materials. Includes live feed microscopic digital video and monitor display. Includes hand-built, recycled wood workbench designed and constructed by Carlos Jabbour.
Incubatrix Neith contains Biotextile n=x, a vital textile created with a mash-up of low-tech traditional methods and high-tech materials/ methods. The loom used to create the biotextile was 3D-printed in miniature scale at the Pelling Lab, using polylactic acid (PLA), a cell-friendly, biodegradable thermoplastic derived from plant starch, and which promotes tissue growth. However, the loom design itself, an open source design file found on Thingiverse, is that of a traditional, basic frame loom that children often use to learn to weave. The woven material on the loom is structurally a plain weave, the most fundamental woven structure. Biotextile n=x is a constructed human/nonhuman microbiological system growing in response to and protected by its managed environment—managed by both the automated vessel, Incubatrix Neith and the artist/ gallery staff/ collaborators. In addition to this, Biotextile n=x ignores conventional scientific research rules. Normally, a researcher must not work with self-sourced bodily materials in order to avoid possible self-contamination via bio-matter that is familiar enough to bypass immune response. This particular weaving is done with the artist's own hair, which initially does not pose a threat tbecause it is considered ‘dead’ matter, but this life/death material boundary is now blurred as it has been activated by nonhuman cell forms that have taken it over and integrated it into their own ‘bodies’. Its zoonotic potential is unknown. It’s ritualistic potential is contagion magic.
Detail of the live video feed from the digital microscope installed inside Incubatrix Neith. This microscopic video feed shows the live connective tissue formation on Biotextile n=x, which appear as white areas on the biotextile in the video imagery.
Catgut sutures, cell culture media, 3T3 cells, glass petri dish, 3D printed miniature loom and tools
3D-printed ABS miniature loom & needle created at Alternate Anatomies Lab, School of Design & Art, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia with the help of Stelarc. Handwoven sterile catgut suture thread enculturated with 3T3 cells, in DMEM cell culture media + 1% Penicillin/Streptomycin + 10% fetal calf serum + Glutamate. Handwoven in-lab using aseptic technique. Grown and maintained at SymbioticA labs for approximately 16 weeks, with the assistance of Guy Ben-Ary.
Digital micrograph (40x magnification) of 3T3 connective tissue growth in culture on handwoven catgut (surgical suture) scaffold. Approximately 12 weeks of growth. Growth is shown as whitish, cobweb-like layers of tissue connecting thread intersections.
ONLINE PUBLICATION – BIOMATERIA; BIOTEXTILE CRAFT:
WhiteFeather is a Canadian artist/researcher, educator and writer currently based in Montreal.
WhiteFeather has been professionally engaged in a craft-based bioart practice for over 15 years via material investigations of the functional, artistic and technological potential of bodily matter. Her work has ranged widely, from the utilization of human hair in traditional textile techniques, to rogue taxidermy soft sculptures of found flesh and bone, to digital/ pop culture representations of the body absent in the technological world. Her current focus, spanning the last three years and encompassing four different international, laboratory-based artist research residencies is on biotextile experimentation and the creation of new, aestheticized vital specimens through hands-on tissue engineering. Additionally, hacking laboratory apparatuses as part of the materiality of the work.
WhiteFeather is a multiple-award winning scholar and professional arts grant recipient, with an MFA in Fibres and Material Practices from Concordia University. She has shown and performed work in solo, group and collaborative exhibitions throughout Canada, in the US and Australia, given artist talks internationally and been featured in international magazines, newspapers, hardcover art books and television spotlights. WhiteFeather also saw her work, Alma, go viral in 2012 with 5+ million hits in 3 days, and then again in 2015, both times via reddit front page.
WhiteFeather is laboratory technician and coordinator for the Speculative Life Lab and coordinator for the Textiles and Materiality Research Cluster, both situated within the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology at Concordia University.
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