Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society and Art, an exhibition of original artwork and essays that explore the complex legal, ethical and social issues of stem cell research, will make its United States debut on November 10 at Chelsea Art Museum in Manhattan. The project brings together nine internationally recognized visual artists with scientists and scholars for an interdisciplinary collaboration that marries science and art.
Stem cells are unspecialized cells within the body, which replace tissues that are gradually lost due to natural turnover – the sloughing of skin or the replenishment of blood. This ability to regenerate damaged tissue endows stem cells with remarkable potential for therapy. Rapid advancements in biomedical research are challenging traditional views of the human body and its environment. Genetic and stem cell research, for example, may bring significant improvements to human health and welfare; however, these innovations also raise complex ethical, legal and social questions that society must face. Art has an important role to play in the discourse around biotechnology because it can offer unique articulations of the thoughtfully polarized and often emotionally charged responses the public has towards technology.
The works featured in Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society and Art were inspired by ongoing intellectual exchanges between a group of artists, scientists, philosophers, sociologists and legal scholars who attended a three-day stem cell research workshop in April 2010. The exchange of ideas extended beyond the workshop to email messages, drawings, scientific images and research. Collaboration remains an important theme in this exhibition; multiple artists created some installations, others include the diagrams or texts produced by scientists, and all of them require the active engagement of the viewer.
The nine artists whose work comprises the exhibition, originally on view at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in January 2011, are Derek Besant, Sean Caulfield, Liz Ingram, Bernd Hildebrandt, Shona Macdonald, Royden Mills, Mariléne Oliver, Daniela Schlüter and Clint Wilson. Without supporting one view of stem cell research over another, the artists propound viewers to ponder current forms of biotechnology. The art works move beyond usual debates, confronting viewers with multiple and uncertain images of blood, viscera and strange, organic forms. These creations implicate visitors, sometimes placing them literally within a shaped space, and sometimes asking them to slow down and draw on their own experiences to consider how historically specific conceptions of what constitutes ‘life’ are changing once again.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same name published in July 2011 and edited by Sean Caulfield, Curtis Gillespie and Timothy Caulfield. Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society and Art is distributed by the University of Washington Press and available for purchase at http://www.washington.edu/uwpress/search/books/CAUPER.html.
For more information about the Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society and Art exhibition, please visit www.perceptionsofpromise.com.