bioart blog

Bio-data and Human Value

By Marco Locatelli, IMRSV Arts

Quantifying and measuring our human characteristics is a result of our desire to understand and conceptualize the world around us, as well as a result of the Scientific Method. Since the 17th Century the Scientific Method has proven to be one of our most effective technological innovation as humans and has taught us to systematically observe, measure, experiment and formulate hypotheses on phenomenon that surrounds us.

 

As a technology, it has given us the chance to learn more about our physical humanity, and as such, gave space for great scientific discoveries and broadened the understanding of our biology and the relationship with our environment. At the same time, bio-metrics (technical term for body measurements and calculations) has raised great philosophical, social and political questions. This is especially true since events such as Facebook’s scandal with Cambridge Analytica, the advent of Info-tech, Big Data and the coming of Artificial Super Intelligence arise. Its controversial usage in authentication and identification has also made us pessimistic for a dystopian, Orwellian, Big-Brother-like future. But maybe there is more to this phenomenon than just human exploitation. Perhaps there is a deeper beauty in Bio-Data and there is more space for dialog about this technology.

 

IMRSV Arts’ Interest in Bio-metrics

 

Where there is controversy, there is space for art, and as IMRSV Arts we have made our mission to show the (good and bad) potential repercussions of emerging technologies for society. All of our attempts at expression, are for the purpose of educating and facilitating innovative thinking and creativity.

 

Our interest in bio-metrics and bio-data-visualization is a result of our effort to find the most seamless and intuitive systems to represent the human experience authentically, so that, as a human living on planet Earth, you can learn more about yourself through a biological lens.

Integral Molecular

 

A great opportunity recently surfaced. We were given the chance to partner with the University City Science Center and biotech company Integral Molecular, to work in their BioArt Residency program. Our objective is to conceive an artistic project after diving into their world. We have taken this opportunity to talk about some of the most pressing questions that are of interest for us, such as the social responsibility around vaccination, methods for educating the community, biotechnology and bio-data.

 

Integral Molecular is a research-driven biotechnology company which creates various innovative technologies as well as therapeutic antibodies for “membrane protein targets”. Their expertise lies in membrane proteins, antibodies, structural biology and virology.

 

Bio-metrics in Art

 

The parallels between Integral Molecular and IMRSV Arts’ work become more apparent during each interaction of our residency.  Even if we tend to solve and analyze problems from different perspectives and for different purposes, there are interesting similarities and overlaps that would be great to analyze during our time there. A prevailing topic that seems to recur in our discussions is the perceived and added value (monetary, scientific, political and over all “human”) given to bio-data. As mentioned previously, the monetary value of data is undeniable, as is the scientific value of learning, quantifying, and measuring the efficiency of vaccines, the immuno-response to them, the study of viruses and new scientific discoveries.

 

The perceived value of science and the validity of the scientific method is being questioned, and can be seen in a surge of groups such as “anti-vaccers” and “flat-earthers”. It is for this reason that IMRSV Arts is interested in taking a closer look into the causes of these groups as we plan and develop our installation.

 

Bio-data as a Mirror of Yourself

 

One figure who really inspired my artistic career for his use of “bio-data”, is the Italian artist Piero Manzoni. His  ironic approach to avant-garde art has influenced a generation of Italian and international artists such as myself.

 

The series of works that I will focus on this post are built around the value of the artist; how a human, just by his presence, has the capacity to add value to an object and even to pieces of the artist itself.

 

A great example of this concept is encapsulated in his piece “Artist’s Breath”. This is a series of red, white or blue balloons, inflated and attached to a wooden base and filled with the artist’s own breath, or “essence”. Another controversial artwork is Manzoni’s famous “Artist’s Shit”; 90 small cans, 30-grams each and priced by weight based on the current value of gold. The artist shows how even the breath or bio-waste of an artist can be as valuable as gold.

 

The similarities between Manzoni’s work and the monetary value we add to bio-data as a society today is striking, and suggests to me that his current work might have involved data as we see it now.